Shelton Felton's time in the college ranks finally happened.
To the benefit of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.
Felton joined the UTC football program in June after two seasons as the head coach at Crisp County High School in Georgia. He oversaw a 10-win improvement from year one to year two.
After the season, he was linked to a position on the Auburn staff, but a new NCAA rule prohibiting Football Bowl Subdivision programs from immediately hiring the coach of a prospect without consequences blocked that move.
Four-star defensive end Markaviest Bryant signed with Auburn in February.
"With the new rule, I felt like it was an opportunity, but I knew it was a long shot," Felton said after Saturday's practice. "But like I tell kids, you've got to pick yourself up and keep going, keep working, and an opportunity will present itself. God has given me an opportunity and opened the door for me to take it when it presented itself out of the blue."
There was no reason for Felton to be on UTC's radar and vice versa. But in May, former outside linebackers coach Demarcus Covington left to take a position with the New England Patriots, which opened a spot that Felton was more than willing to take.
Felton said that once he interviewed with UTC, he knew that was where he needed to be. Mocs head coach Tom Arth felt the same way.
"Shelton's been great," Arth said. "His perspective is unique to our staff, and he's been able to articulate a message in a different way than I can, and it's been really positive. He's a smart guy, really smart. He gets defensive football — he gets football in general — and I think he is going to have a great impact, not only on our outside linebackers, but the whole defense and team.
"He brings a toughness we need, and it's been great to see him interacting with the guys and coaching up the outside linebackers."
Felton gets to continue the process that Covington started, directing a position group that was nonexistent at UTC in recent seasons. Only one player in the group, sophomore Hawk Schrider, has played a college snap at linebacker, but Felton feels good about the potential.
Senior Joshua Phillips (6-foot-8, 230 pounds) and sophomore Khayyan Edwards (6-3, 240), converted defensive ends, have had most of the repetitions at the first-team position opposite Schrider, while true freshman Demond Ross (6-2, 200) and C.J. Winston (6-5, 195) have looked solid in drills but are works in progress in their initial preseason.
"We don't have that superstar in that group, but we have a great group," Felton said. "I think we can do it together as a unit; every guy brings his own knack, his own craft, to the group. I think together, they can do anything because they work hard, they're learning, and the best thing is that they're competing.
"They have bad days and good days, but every day they have to shake it off and compete. That's a good thing with a young group: You always know when the young guys are competing, and that's a good sign."
Senior LB Warren named preseason All-American
Senior linebacker Dale Warren was named Monday to the STATS FCS Preseason All-America third team. The 6-foot, 225-pounder from Covington, Ga., led the Southern Conference last year with 19 tackles for loss, including three plus a forced fumble against Alabama, and was first-team All-SoCon.
Contact Gene Henley at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @genehenleytfp.