Kadeem Wise has been a gamble that has paid off handsomely for the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga football program.
"There wasn't a whole lot of film on him," Mocs coach Russ Huesman said. "He was playing [defensive back] and with DBs you just can't see enough. We didn't have him in camp; we knew Duke had offered him and he'd committed and then that fell through.
"The absolute reason we took him was not specifically what we saw on high school film. We knew he was in James Madison's camp, they offered him and we said, 'they saw something.'"
At the time, James Madison was coming off a stellar 2008 season in which the Dukes were the No. 1 seed Football Championship Subdivision playoffs and reached the semifinals.
The James Madison stamp of approval was good enough for UTC to offer the two-star prospect from Berkmar (Ga.) High School. "And it worked out good," Huesman said.
That might be an understatement.
For the past three seasons, Wise has been a model of consistency in the UTC secondary. He's also been among the most consistent players in the Southern Conference.
After redshirting in 2009, Huesman's first season at UTC, Wise has started every game at cornerback the past three seasons. He's made the All-SoCon second team all three seasons. His 10 career interceptions are good enough for fifth on UTC's all-time list.
Wise is one of five Mocs defenders named preseason first-team All-SoCon by both the league's coaches and Phil Steele's College Football Preview. Steele rated the 5-foot-10, 180-pounder as the No. 6 cornerback in the FCS.
"He's done everything we've asked of him," Huesman said.
Wise has been in Chattanooga all summer working on every aspect of his game, he said. The aspect that has improved the most in his four years at UTC, he said, is the mental part of football.
"As far as knowing the game, down-and-distance, stances, all of that stuff - mentally, I'm a lot stronger now," he said.
Wise started his career with a bang, picking off six passes as a freshman. He's had two in each of the past two seasons and has a total of 122 tackles in his career. Now that three of the SoCon's nine teams run the option, interceptions are getting harder to come by, not that Wise cares too much about putting up big numbers.
"I just want to be a better all-around DB than I was last year," he said. "I'm not too focused on the stats. Any day wins outweigh the stats. I'm a team guy and I want to see my team get far."
The Mocs report Tuesday and begin preseason practice at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday at Scrappy Moore Field.
Contact John Frierson at email@example.com or 423-757-6268. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/MocsBeat.