It was the football version of kismet. A fateful relationship that is filling a void for both sides.
Since his days as an all-state quarterback at Miami's Booker T. Washington High School, Jeremiah Hay had zig-zagged a wandering, sometimes uncertain path through the college football spectrum, searching for a football home. He began as a preferred walk-on at Ole Miss but decided he wanted to go to a program where he could earn more playing time, so after one year at Pasadena (Cal.) City Junior College he began the recruiting process all over.
Meanwhile once the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga football staff finished spring practice they recognized a need for more depth at the cornerback position and began scouring the junior-college ranks for help.
Shortly into Hay's early-summer visit with Mocs coaches and players he knew he'd finally found a home. And once the staff saw the 5-foot-10, 180-pound Hay on the field they knew they'd found another instinctive athlete to solidify what had been an unsettled area of the defense.
"As soon as I got here I knew this was the place for me," said Hay, who also had offers from Murray State, San Diego State and Arkansas-Pine Bluff. "I believe I can come in and make an immediate impact and help this team, and that's what I've been looking for. I think it's a great fit for both sides.
"I like how Coach Huesman and his staff are building the program, but just as important, I like how they talk to us about being good men off the field, too. That's something I've learned, and I'm trying to pass along to some of my younger teammates here. At the end of the day, life is bigger than football, so we have to challenge each other to be better as men and football players."
Hay's perspective on life changed near the end of his junior year in high school when he became a father. He said that's the moment he had to begin growing up faster than his classmates but admits if not for his son, Jamar, now five years old and still living in Miami, he might not be playing football still or even going to college.
"Definitely from a maturity standpoint I had to grow from a boy into a man real quick," said Hay, who exchanges video messages with his son and plans to have him come to a Mocs game this season. "He changed my mindset on life and was really the inspiration for me to get my life together.
"He was the reason I got my academics in order and am in school and trying to make a better life for him and myself. Now I'm just going to go out and play the game I love and let God do the rest as far as where He takes my career."
While the Mocs defensive line is touted as one of the deepest and most talented at the FCS level, three starters from last year's secondary graduated and only two -- cornerback Dee Virgin and safety Sema'je Kendall -- have ever started a college game. Those factors mean opponents will likely test the unproven secondary, while avoiding the strength of the unit up front. But Hay's arrival should help bolster that unit this fall.
"He's an older guy that's played for two years and knows how the college game works, so he brings an experience as well as athleticism that we really needed," said Mocs cornerbacks coach B.J. Hogan. "He came in, and right away you could see how well he moves. We saw it some on film, but it's even better in person. He's fluid in his backpedal and can turn his hips and run with anybody and go one-on-one if we needed him to.
"He just came to work as soon as he got here and competed for a job right away. We had a lot of question marks with other guys but he's stepped up and earned that other starting position by doing a lot of really good things. He's a guy we can count on, so thank God we got him."
Contact Stephen Hargis at email@example.com or 423-757-6293.