Physical play helps at Mocs' Strange position

Cole Strange works on the offensive line in a feet, hips and finish drill on the first day of Mocs football practice at Scrappy Moore Field.

Having never played on the offensive line before, Cole Strange doesn't always know what he's doing.

But little by little, the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga redshirt freshman is figuring it out.

The 6-foot-5, 265-pound Strange is coming off his first career start for the Mocs, and with his presence they rushed for 82 yards on 22 attempts (excluding sacks) in the 30-10 loss at Mercer. While certainly not explosive stats, they did show a level of promise in what has been a stagnant season rushing the ball.

Strange was an all-state defensive end and also played tight end in high school at Farragut. He committed to UTC in 2015 but later signed with Air Force. After a last-minute change of heart, he decided to play in Chattanooga after all, only to have an injury take away his entire first year.

His first college football action was the 2017 preseason camp, and he quickly worked his way into a backup role behind left tackle Malcolm White. Coach Tom Arth said the staff finally decided to give him a shot at starting, moving him to left guard.

"Cole played well last week, and that's exciting," Arth said. "To go back and watch tape and see the way he played was really exciting and encouraging. He can be a very good offensive lineman. We decided to throw him out there and live with his mistakes, but he really didn't make very many. He played very well; his attitude, his nastiness really rubs off on the entire group."

Arth spoke of a conversation with center Josh Cardiello in noting Strange's presence "raising the level of his teammates."

"He's someone who's very physical," Cardiello said. "The kid plays hard. He may not be doing the right thing every single play, but you know he's going to give 100 percent effort every single time. He makes everyone play harder with how hard he plays: You think your block is over and here comes Cole going 120 miles per hour right next to you, so you've got to pick it up.

"His potential is through the roof; he will be a good player for this team."

Strange credited his improvement to extra time spent with offensive line coach Nick Hennessey, who has been working with the unit before and after every practice to ensure his linemen know every position, just in case. It's how he was able to make the move from tackle to guard to try to help the Mocs turn their season around. They're 1-6 heading into Saturday's game against The Citadel (3-3, 1-3) at Finley Stadium.

Strange said his "nastiness" that Arth mentioned just comes from effort.

"I just try to play," he said. "I get into it a lot; I think some of the defensive guys don't like me, but (offensive coordinator Justin) Rascati tells me to play through the echo of the whistle, so I try to do that. It's tiresome, but it's football.

"That's what it's supposed to be, I think."

Contact Gene Henley at Follow him on Twitter @genehenleytfp.