Senior all-Southern Conference quarterback Alejandro Bennifield will miss the first four games of the 2017 season due to a NCAA academic issue, starting with the 12th-ranked Mocs' season opener against sixth-ranked Jacksonville State Saturday at 6:30 at the Cramton Bowl in Montgomery, Ala.
Sophomore Nick Tiano will start in his place, with true freshman Cole Copeland serving as the No. 2 and redshirt freshman Dominic Caldwell the No. 3.
"Last night Alejandro's final appeal was denied," senior associate athletic director Jay Blackman told the Times Free Press Friday. "We went through a series of attempts of getting a waiver, but the final attempt was denied Thursday night."
Bennifield, one of the team's five captains, threw for 2,622 yards and 26 touchdowns in 2016 – tied for the second-most in school history – while rushing for 377 yards and six more scores, earning second-team all-SoCon honors. He is still on track to graduate in December from UTC.
"Dro's been absolutely fantastic and has done everything we've asked him to do," UTC head coach Tom Arth told the Times Free Press Friday afternoon. "He's the most respected player in the program and it's a shame that it's come to this – especially since he has a good GPA and is graduating this winter.
"It's outside of his control and it's unfortunate the way it went down."
Tiano, a former three-star prospect that started his career at Mississippi State, has thrown one pass in his collegiate career and completed it for five yards against Auburn.
"For us, it's something we talk about all the time," Arth said. "At some point in the year, you're going to be faced with adversity. It's something that's going to happen – whether in the game or something else – it's going to hit you in the face, and it's how you respond. This is an incredible opportunity for the team to come together and show what Chattanooga football is about.
"I know our guys will rally behind Dro and Nick, he's as good a quarterback as we can hope to have at a FCS school. He has outstanding intangibles and leadership traits and our team knows our offense is in great hands. Nick is more than capable of getting the job done and our players are motivated about the challenge of coming together and supporting Nick and Dro."
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