University of Tennessee at Chattanooga football coach Russ Huesman doesn't normally take transfers with less than three seasons of eligibility remaining. He has gone against that philosophy this offseason, signing two defensive transfers from Bowl Championship Series schools.
Huesman said the Mocs signed former Georgia defensive lineman Derrick Lott and former North Carolina State safety Dean Haynes last month because they're good young men and good athletes who might be able to help right away. He also signed them because the Mocs have a class imbalance.
UTC will have small junior and senior classes next season, but the sophomore class is bulging with 23 scholarship players.
"This year was more of an emphasis on two-year guys than we've ever had," Huesman said of the post-spring practice transfer search. "What you're normally taking is a three-year guy, but I didn't want a three-year guy because it either had to be a four or a two.
"That three-year class is 23 people already. So when we started this process, I knew we couldn't just put more people in that class because it's already too big."
The reason coaches typically prefer transfers with three or four years left is that players can become more a part of the program and have more fruitful careers. A player often needs a year to get fully acclimated; with two-year transfers, a program may then get only one full-potential season.
UTC's senior class this coming season includes just seven players: offensive linemen Adam Miller and Dustin Tate, running backs Chris Awuah and J.J. Jackson, tight end Sean Stackhouse, linebacker Shane Heatherly and defensive end Josh Williams. Miller, Jackson, Heatherly and Williams are projected starters.
Miller, Tate, Jackson and Heatherly are the last players signed by former coach Rodney Allison. Everyone else on the roster signed after Huesman was hired in December 2008.
"The way things are going now is how they need to keep going," Miller said. "We want to make sure that, the few of us that are here, it doesn't drop at all. The ways things have been changing recently have been wonderful for UTC, and we're proud to be a part of that and just want it to keep going. Maybe by the time the incoming freshmen are seniors, there will be an even higher standard."
The junior class has, with the additions of Lott and Haynes, 11 members, including as many as 10 starters. Like the senior class, the junior group has experienced attrition that has willowed its numbers.
The big sophomore class includes a lot of players who redshirted in 2010 and began their careers last season, as well as the eight true freshmen who played in 2011.
Consider the following defensive linemen: Davis Tull, Zack Rayl, Toyvian Brand, Josh Freeman, Devin Scates and Keyon Reed. They're in the sophomore class.
"You normally need five tackles and four ends [on the roster]," Huesman said. UTC has nearly that in one class.
Playing all those true freshmen last season skewed UTC's numbers and has put Huesman in an unusual position.
"It seems weird to say that I would rather have a [two-year player] than a three, because I've never believed that, but to even up classes that's what we've got to do," he said. "Twenty-three is brutal. We played to win last year and we thought these kids could help us -- and that's kind of where we are."
The Mocs have a 15-member freshman class joining the program, plus the seven freshmen who redshirted. UTC will try to redshirt as many true freshmen as possible this year, but several likely will play.