Alejandro Bennifield shows leadership amid Mocs tensions

UTC quarterback Alejandro Bennifield looks for an open receiver during UTC's spring football game day at Finley Stadium on Saturday, April 8, 2017, in Chattanooga, Tenn. This year's spring game was an open practice followed by a 40 minute scrimmage.

With tempers starting to run high during a practice early in the week, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga football coach Tom Arth finally had seen enough.

The chirping and extra engagements after plays between the offense and defense weren't ending, and it came to a boiling point when one player slung his helmet at another player while both were on the sideline.

That was it.

So after the team finished its drills, Arth called the Mocs together and gave them a lengthy tongue-lashing, followed by sending them to the line to run sprints in the 90-plus-degree heat. The team was split into two groups, offense and defense.

Players started to falter as strength and conditioning coach Chad Pearson continued to blow his whistle, signifying for the next group to run sprints from sideline to sideline. It started off fine, but then players started to grumble. Then the grumbling turned into yelling.

But then the yelling turned into encouragement. Quarterback Alejandro Bennifield, one of the players seen encouraging others to keep going, was told basically to lead himself by getting "to the front of the line." He did just that, finishing at the front alongside senior receiver Dy'Kari Hickey.

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Moments later, Arth blew the whistle, signaling the end of practice.

"We've talked about him being a leader, and that has to be when things are tough. It can't just be when things are good," Arth said of Bennifield after Friday's practice. "You've got to be willing to put yourself out there. It's not natural to you, but this is it, this is your senior year, your team, and you're going to need everybody to be at your level all the time."

The negative was turned into a positive.

And a young team looking for a leader may have found out who that might be. Bennifield is one of only three offensive players who started all 13 games last seasons - offensive linemen Josh Cardiello and Malcolm White are the others - and with the quarterback in an on-field leadership role anyway, Bennifield not backing down from his teammates may have been a defining moment.

After practice, the same players were all high-fiving each other.

"We really saw him not afraid to be vocal and get in some people's faces, which is really positive for us," Arth said. "He should, because nobody works harder than him, so he's got the credibility where everybody's going look at him and say, 'You know what, you're right.'

"At the end of the day, they were back and forth, but I see them slapping hands afterwards, so it's a good thing. We're becoming closer, and we're becoming stronger."

Contact Gene Henley at Follow him on Twitter @genehenleytfp.