One of the wild cards on what should again be one of the top defenses in the Southern Conference is University of Tennessee at Chattanooga defensive end Keionta Davis.
The former Red Bank High School standout will be in the rotation at end, which may be one of the Mocs' deepest positions. How well the 6-foot-4, 242-pound Davis plays is anyone's guess. Not even Davis is sure.
While the size and athleticism are there, experience is not. In fact, Davis hasn't played in a real game since the final game of his junior season at Red Bank.
"I played against Maplewood and we lost," he said of his junior finale -- he finished the season with 33 tackles, five sacks and three blocked punts.
While preparing for his senior season, Davis suffered a knee injury in a non-contact drill that required surgery and cost him his senior season. Davis redshirted as a true freshman last fall and is ready to see what happens when he takes the field in the Mocs' opener against UT-Martin on Aug. 29.
"I think the speed of the game is the only thing I've got to get used to," he said. "Practice only helps you so much."
What has helped Davis, he said, is practicing alongside the likes of 2012 SoCon defensive player of the year Davis Tull, as well as fellow ends Zack Rayl, Toyvian Brand and some of the inside guys.
"They teach you, they help you, off the field, on the field -- it's easy to play with these kinds of guys because they're so good and such good teammates," he said.
With the talent the Mocs have at end this season, even with the loss of fellow redshirt freshman Vantrell McMillan, who is out with a knee injury, Davis knows it's not going to be easy to get a lot of playing time.
"If I get playing time, I just want to be a consistent player and help the team where I can and make a few plays," he said. "I just want to be a dependable player.
"Whatever they need me to do, I'm going to go in there and do it -- special teams, third-down situations, getting a stop on fourth-and-1. I just want to get back out there and make plays."
That first game, against UT-Martin, a Thursday night contest that should have a great atmosphere, will be a special moment for Davis. He'll finally be rewarded after more than two years of hard work.
"I'm in my hometown so I know I'm going to have a lot of fans coming out here and rooting for me no matter what," he said. It's going to be just like a dream come true, you could say, to finally be out there playing. All my hard work I've put in since I started playing football, it's finally paying off and I want to keep it going."
Contact John Frierson at email@example.com or 423-757-6268. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/MocsBeat.