The Derek Mahaffey of 2017 is not the same as the 2016 version.
This one is a lot meaner. A lot more physical. In a lot better shape.
And the 6-foot-2, 295-pound defensive tackle is expecting to be dominant this season for the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. Regardless of what defense the Mocs choose to play, Mahaffey will be in the rotation.
The one-time Western Kentucky Hilltopper had 23 tackles, including one for loss, in 2016, but he said Thursday that he came to UTC "out of shape," which put him behind in so many ways.
"I'm here to be the best," he said after Thursday's practice. "I feel like last year I came in late and didn't take it serious like I should have and it cost me, so I promised myself after the last game I would go my hardest to become better, and that's what I did."
Head coach Tom Arth used the words "consistency" and "domination" when describing Mahaffey's efforts through the first two weeks of preseason camp.
"We talk about, when you come out to practice, you need to have this unrelenting desire to dominate, and I think of every player in our program, I don't think there's anybody that exudes that more than Derek," Arth said. "He's got this will like, 'I'm going to go out there, win this rep and dominate whoever is across from me.'
"I love that about him. That (mentality) trickles through our entire defensive line, our entire defense; it makes our offensive line better, which makes the entire offense operate at a higher level. He's been great in so many ways."
The Mocs' new coaching staff came in ready to make the change to a 3-4 defense but lately has flirted some with a change to a 4-3, Tampa-2 look, going back to defensive coordinator Tom Kaufman's roots from his time at Syracuse. Mahaffey will be in the middle up front regardless of the defense, slimmer and feeling better, more confident than ever.
"My goal is to be more physical than the person in front of me," Mahaffey said. "Once I set the tone, the other stuff will fall in place."
Kaufman said that while Mahaffey has had a really good preseason so far, the best part is that there are still areas where he can be better.
"With the Tampa-2 stuff we're starting to do, he's got to have the ability to play both nose tackle and the three-technique, and he's done a nice job there, too," Kaufman said. "He brings a lot of value and is a really good player, and he works his butt off, too.
"He's very confident, and he's a good leader. When he talks, people listen."
What a difference a year makes.
UTC is offering ticket mini-plans for the upcoming season, with fans available to pick any three games with prices starting at $57 for general admission.
The home season opener is Sept. 16 against UT-Martin at 6 p.m. The other home games are Sept. 30 against Western Carolina at 6, Oct. 7 against Furman at 4 (homecoming game), Oct. 21 against The Citadel at 2 and Nov. 18 against East Tennessee State at 2.
The mini-plans can be purchased on the tickets page on GoMocs.com.
Contact Gene Henley at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @genehenleytfp.