Wiedmer: Is Chattanooga about to become as well known for NFL players as it is for Moon Pies and Rock City?

Tennessee Titans defensive back JoJo Tillery (47) tackles tight end Parker Hesse (49) during NFL football training camp Monday, July 29, 2019, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
photo Tennessee Titans NFL football defensive back Kareem Orr (32) breaks up a pass intended for wide receiver Jalen Tolliver (18) during practice at Saint Thomas Sports Park Friday, July 26, 2019, in Nashville, Tenn. (George Walker IV/The Tennessean via AP)

For a city whose overall population, including surrounding counties, hovers around 550,000, Chattanooga is identified with more than its share of iconic products and landmarks.

MoonPies. Rock City. Ruby Falls. Little Debbies. The Choo Choo. The Civil War battlefields of Lookout Mountain, Missionary Ridge and Chickamauga. Gig City. A growing pipeline to the NFL.


A growing pipeline to the NFL?

"We talk about it all the time," Tennessee Titans rookie defensive back JoJo Tillery, a product of East Ridge High School, said Saturday night, after he'd been credited with five total tackles during a 22-17 exhibition game loss to the world champion New England Patriots.

photo New England Patriots offensive tackle Yodny Cajuste (54) and defensive end Keionta Davis (58) work out during an NFL football training camp practice in Foxborough, Mass., Monday, July 29, 2019. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

"There's a lot of talented young kids playing football in the city of Chattanooga."

There were four home-grown, not-so-young kids playing football for either the Titans or Patriots in Nissan Stadium on Saturday. Three of them - Notre Dame High School and University of Tennessee at Chattanooga product Kareem Orr, Northwest Whitfield High and UTC product Isaiah Mack and Tillery, who played his college ball at Wofford - were all still on the Titans roster as of Monday afternoon.

Then there's former Red Bank High and UTC star Keionta Davis, who's attempting to make the Patriots roster as a defensive lineman for a third straight season after winning a Super Bowl ring last year.

All four recorded at least one tackle each in the game and Mack had arguably the defensive play of the night for either side when he sacked New England backup quarterback Brian Hoyer for an 8-yard loss in the second period, one of four tackles he made on the night.

"Really proud of him," Davis said of Mack after the game. "He came to UTC a couple of years after I started, and I tried to take him under my wing a little. So glad to see him doing so well. And Kareem and my younger brother are close. I hope they both make it."

It's not that the Scenic City hasn't previously produced some fairly notable talent from its prep ranks. After all, the late Pro Football Hall of Famer Reggie White, the Minister of Defense, was a Howard High alum before widening that fame at Tennessee.

photo Tennessee Titans defensive tackle Isaiah Mack takes the field during training camp Aug. 1 in Nashville. Mack is a former UTC and Northwest Whitfield High School player.

Former Howard High alum Terdell Sands had a lengthy career with the Oakland Raiders before returning to assist John Starr's Hustlin' Tigers program in recent years.

Former South Pittsburg High and Tennessee star Eddie Moore played for the Miami Dolphins. Former Marion County and UT star Eric Westmoreland spent six years in the NFL. Former Baylor School standout Jacques McClendon was on league rosters for parts of seven seasons.

Mack's older cousin, City High and Memphis standout Tony Brown, was a key member of the Titans' defensive front for several seasons.

And on Sunday afternoon, Former Baylor School and Tennessee star Colton Jumper picked off a pass against the San Diego Chargers that sealed an exhibition win for the New Orleans Saints.

If Jumper's phone lit up as Tillery's has since he intercepted a pass against the Philadelphia Eagles in the Titans' first exhibition game, he may need to change numbers just to get some sleep.

"I had over 200 Instagram posts, over 200 tweets, over 100 Snapchats," said Tillery. "Social media was going crazy. I'm still getting calls."

Davis hopes he gets congratulatory calls that he again made the Patriots after the final cuts are made on Aug. 31.

"I hope so," he said, knowing that a number of websites devoted to New England football have considered this a make-or-break fall camp for him.

"It's too early to say, though. My focus right now is just day-to-day."

photo New Orleans Saints linebacker Colton Jumper celebrates with teammates after intercepting a pass during the fourth quarter of a preseason NFL football game against the Los Angeles Chargers Sunday, Aug. 18, 2019, in Carson, Calif. (AP Photo/Kelvin Kuo )

Still, Saturday was a special day for Davis, who acquired 10 tickets prior to the game for family and friends from the Scenic City.

Afterward, he and fellow UTC alum Corey Levin shared a big hug and a lengthy conversation at midfield before heading to their respective locker rooms.

"That's my guy," said Davis of Levin. "We came in together (at UTC). We got to go against each other for a few plays tonight. It's always good to come back home."

Check out the New Orleans Saints roster and Ridgeland High product Vonn Bell has become a mainstay in the defensive secondary after starring at Ohio State.

"I think this area produces a lot of good talent," said Bell during his annual football camp earlier this summer. "They just need to be seen and given a chance."

There are never guarantees when it comes to the NFL. That's why it's often said that NFL stands for "Not For Long."

Said Tillery of fall camp to date, "It's hard. Maybe tougher than I thought."

Asked which is tougher, the mental or the physical, he said, "Probably the mental."

But three weeks into camp, he's still around, along with fellow Chattanooga area rookies Mack and Orr.

"Right now," said Tillery, "I think we're all representing the area pretty well. I think it says we play pretty good football in Chattanooga."

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com.