The first sign that something was up came at the end of practice last Wednesday. As University of Tennessee at Chattanooga all-conference safety D.J. Key jogged off the field, he turned and encouraged Keith Mayes to hustle toward the exit at Scrappy Moore Field.
Key is one of the Mocs' best players, but he's not known for being chatty. In fact, one could follow him around practice for a week and hardly hear a word. But Key is one of 10 players charged by Mocs coach Russ Huesman with speaking up and serving as "assistant coaches."
"We've got 10 more assistant coaches out here, and I want energy," Huesman said.
Huesman picked a player from each position group to serve as the leader of that position. He said he doesn't want cheerleaders or guys who simply yell out, "Come on!" Huesman selected players he thinks can be leaders, guys who can push their teammates and hold one another accountable.
"All of that stuff," he said. "Like what you saw with D.J. Key. He's not a vocal person, but now we're starting to get him more vocal."
Key said the experience is good for him, especially now that he's the Mocs' veteran safety. Before this spring Key had played with Jordan Tippit, who loved to talk.
"There's always leading by example, but it's important to talk to your teammates and let them know they need to do this or do that and help the team," he said. "I like that we're doing it and I think it will help me because I know I need to be a vocal leader."
The idea for assigning players as "assistant coaches" came to Huesman last week. He spoke at length to the team following last Monday's practice about the need for more mental toughness, and that eventually led to the idea.
"I got to thinking that I want more energy, more mental toughness -- I want better effort," he said, adding, "I don't know if it's going to work or not."
Some of the other designated "coaches" are center Patrick Sutton, running back J.J. Jackson and defensive tackle Chris Mayes. At some positions Huesman picked the obvious choice, such as Jackson or Key because of their experience. Right tackle Adam Miller, a three-year starter, was the obvious pick among the offensive linemen.
"Adam would have been everybody's choice, which is why I didn't go that way," Huesman said.
The 10 players who have the jobs at the start of this initiative will be held accountable for their positions. Huesman said he'll keep the good coaches "and fire the bad coaches."
On good days it's easy for everyone to be up and into what's happening. The challenge, Jackson said, is pushing yourself and your teammates on days when you'd rather be elsewhere.
"I'm still working on that, but we're going to get there," he said. "I think this was a good thing to implement, and I think it will help."
The Mocs practiced Monday and, just as in Saturday's scrimmage, the offense had the upper hand, Huesman said. Despite some drops by the wide receivers, the offense moved the ball and reached the end zone in team scenarios. ... The football Mocs are joining a campus effort to get students, faculty and staff to become part of the Be The Match Registry, which pairs stem cell donors with patients battling blood cancers. Blood donations and registrations will be accepted today and Wednesday in the Tennessee Room at the University Center.
Contact John Frierson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6268. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/mocsbeatCTFP.