University of Tennessee at Chattanooga football coach Tom Arth confirmed Monday that 2017 starting quarterback Cole Copeland will be suspended for this season.
Copeland has not been a part of team activities during the summer months and is expected to join the team for the start of preseason camp on Aug. 1.
The 6-foot-4, 200-pound sophomore and Southern Conference all-freshman team honoree threw for 1,177 yards and seven touchdowns in his first season. He started the final six games after injuries sidelined senior Alejandro Bennifield and sophomore Nick Tiano, becoming the first true freshman starter for the Mocs in 22 seasons.
Copeland threw for 317 yards and two touchdowns in his first game on Oct. 7 against Furman, setting freshman records for completions, attempts and yards.
Multiple sources have told the Times Free Press that Copeland is academically ineligible for the season, but Arth did not confirm it.
Copeland was expected to be in a battle for the starting quarterback job with Tiano and junior college transfer Chris James, who has been with the Mocs program since January. Copeland proved to be the most elusive of the three, but James and Tiano had a leg up during the spring. That would have created an opportunity for Copeland, who was redshirting last season until injuries forced him into action.
Now the battle for the starting job will be between James and Tiano.
A season ago, UTC found out 48 hours before the first game that Bennifield was going to have to miss the first four games due to an NCAA academics suspension. Arth made sure to point out the two situations "were very different," and Bennifield separated himself as a starter.
"I still didn't know this year - whether Cole was available or not," Arth said about the quarterback situation. "Nick has had a great offseason and who knows what Chris will be capable of doing, but they've both been working incredibly hard. It will be fun for me to be a part of; hopefully somebody steps up and wins the job, wins the team over, because it's a lot easier when they make the decision."
The Mocs will also be without all-SoCon tight end Bailey Lenoir and incoming freshman Josiah Futral. Redshirt freshman Chris Broadwater also will not be with the team, giving the Mocs three scholarship tailbacks entering the year - senior Alex Trotter, junior Tyrell Price and incoming freshman Isaiah Cobb.
"At the end of the day, this is an incredible opportunity to be a part of this program and you either do what's asked and expected of you, or you don't," Arth said. "And if you don't, you don't deserve to be a part of it, and the players who are doing what's expected of them, they don't want guys around that aren't willing to do it the right way. We've had to make some of those tough decisions, and some of those decisions have been made for us for other reasons. You try to do the best that you can for every person, for every player in the program, but at the end of the day you have to do what's best for the overall program and that's where we're at today.
"I feel great about the character on the team, and I feel great about our ability to compete. Where we go and what the season looks like will be determined as we go through it, but I'm proud of the attitude and the mentality with where we're at right now."
The Mocs picked up their second commitment of the weekend and third for the 2019 signing class Monday when Mel Dantzler, a 5-foot-10, 205-pound running back from Huntsville, Ala.. gave a non-binding pledge to the program.
Dantzler earned Class 7A all-state honorable mention honors in 2017, rushing for 1,028 yards and 10 touchdowns at Grissom. He ran for 234 yards and four scores in a 35-12 win over Arab in the season opener, ending the program's 21-game losing streak. He also finished with 221 yards receiving and a score.
He joins defensive back Karey Lee from Thomasville, Ga., and Newton, Ga., receiver Michael Mathison as pledges for 2019.
Contact Gene Henley at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @genehenley3.