Of all the new starters on the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga football team this season, the biggest surprise of them all might be center Patrick Sutton.
Sixteen Mocs have made their first career starts on offense or defense in UTC's first eight games. A former walk-on and a redshirt freshman who wasn't on any of the coaches' radar as a potential starter, Sutton earned the job in the preseason and has been in the lineup each week.
"That's the right way to put it -- out of nowhere," head coach Russ Huesman said Tuesday when asked about Sutton's emergence. "He's been crucial for us. He was a walk-on that came out and just plugged away and plugged away ... and before you know it he's your starting center and has done a great job for us."
After Justin Galyon's career ended last season, it was expected that junior Austin Wilson would slide back to center from the left guard spot he took over in 2010. The Mocs' other center candidates were Sutton and true freshman Shaun Hill.
Instead, UTC (4-4, 2-3 Southern Conference) kept Wilson at left guard and had Sutton and Hill battle for the starting center job. With Hill slowed by injuries, Sutton took command of the job and kept it.
"Last year, I never would have thought that I'd have started the first eight games so far," Sutton said. "It's pretty cool and it's neat and I'm thankful for it, but I've worked hard for it, too."
Sutton, Wilson and junior right tackle Adam Miller have been the only linemen to start every game. Sophomore Kevin Revis started the first seven at right guard before missing last week with a sprained knee. He was replaced by redshirt freshman Taylor Dodds, who started four games at left tackle before true freshman Brandon Morgan earned the starting job.
Revis did not practice Tuesday but is expected to play Saturday against Furman (4-3, 3-2).
Dodds suffered a knee injury during Tuesday's practice -- Huesman didn't know the extent of the injury -- so Revis' return is needed. Hill, who had worked almost exclusively at center, filled in at right guard after Dodds went down.
Offensive line coach Geep Wade said the more run-oriented system that UTC has used with Terrell Robinson at quarterback has probably suited the line more than the pro-style, pass-heavy offense the Mocs run with B.J. Coleman, who has been out with a shoulder injury since Oct. 8.
"Things don't always have to be perfect," Wade said, when Robinson or the running backs are carrying the ball.
The line's lack of size -- the heaviest lineman is Morgan at 280 pounds -- can hurt in pass protection. But its speed is an asset in the run game.
"We're smaller but we're faster," Sutton said, "and getting out and running on the edges and setting up the speed option and stuff like that, it's a little bit better for us because we're a little smaller.
"We just adapt to whatever they've got in the game plan."