Moments after completing spring practice with the Blue & Gold game last Saturday, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga football coach Russ Huesman was looking ahead to the next few months.
Last Saturday marked 128 days - it's 125 as of today - until the Mocs open the 2011 season against the Nebraska Cornhuskers. And Huesman said it's what the players do between now and then that will determine the kind of season they have.
"I think as long as I'm in this business, and I'm not the only one, but I think those are the most important [days] for a football team," he said. "How many players buy in? We're going to have a lot that buy in, but you need everybody.
"It's important, and it's not just because Nebraska's coming up. It's to get ready for a football season."
The Mocs were pleased to go 6-5 in 2009, Huesman's first season and UTC's first winning season since 2005. They were bitterly disappointed to finish 6-5 last fall, having blown a few fourth-quarter leads and been blown out in the finale at Wofford.
Safety Jordan Tippit said the team's goals always are high, and it's time to start reaching the big ones.
"Since I've been here the expectations have been to win the Southern Conference championship, and that's not going to change," Tippit said. "The goal is to win the SoCon championship and see what we can do in the playoffs, see if we can get to the national championship game."
The Mocs proved last season that they can play with the best teams in the Football Championship Subdivision. They beat playoff semifinalist Georgia Southern and went down to the wire against Appalachian State and Jacksonville State.
Both Huesman and defensive coordinator Adam Fuller are confident that the Mocs' defense will be much improved from last season. Playing with very few backups, the defense struggled late in the season and allowed at least 27 points in five of the final six games.
"We've got to play collectively with 11 - that's what I told them," Fuller said. "Next year we've got to punch the clock every single day and have consistent efforts, and it's going to take a lot of people. ... We have to have four defensive tackles, we have to have three defensive ends - it has to happen."
Quarterback B.J. Coleman heads into his final season determined to make sure the Mocs are prepared for their Sept. 3 opener against the Cornhuskers. He said he's going "put a lot of responsibility on myself" to make sure everyone is doing everything possible during the next 120-plus days.
He thinks the rest of the Mocs are going all in as well.
"I think they've got a little bit of that blue-collar grit in there," he said. "They're willing to scratch, claw and fight and do whatever it takes, because they want to be apart of something great, and that's something that hasn't happened here in a long time."
Contact John Frierson at email@example.com or 423-757-6268. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/mocsbeatCTFP.