Wiedmer: Long road helped Rusty Wright and Mocs put together great class

UTC football coach Rusty Wright and his assistants had to work quickly in January to put together the Mocs' first signing class with Wright in charge.
photo UTC football coach Rusty Wright and his assistants had to work quickly in January to put together the Mocs' first signing class with Wright in charge.
photo Mark Wiedmer

The road trip began on Monday, Jan. 28, a little north of Nashville. New University of Tennessee at Chattanooga football coach Rusty Wright climbed into the passenger seat of a white Ford F-150 pickup truck, offensive line coach Chris Malone took the wheel and off they went on a four-day jaunt to solidify the staff's first recruiting class.

"It's not too difficult to go out and recruit," Wright said Wednesday as the fruits of his staff's labor became evident. "But I'm usually the one driving. Now I was in that other chair, and that was a little different."

They were on their way to see 6-foot-6, 250-pound offensive lineman Sam Hall, who played his high school ball in Logan, Ohio, which is near the West Virginia border, a haul of more than 435 miles from their starting point. To make the drive easier on their minds, Malone said they logged onto Pandora's Climax Blues Band mix, which features a lot of 1970s soft rock.

"We'd listen to that sometimes the first time I was on this staff," said Malone, recalling his first stint recruiting for the Mocs a few years ago.

While one of the band's biggest hits was the 1976 classic "Couldn't Get It Right," Malone and Wright could apparently do no wrong during their visit with Hall and his family.

"He committed in about 10 minutes," Malone recalled.

What kind of place is Logan, Ohio, that Hall is leaving in order to spend his next four seasons in the Scenic City?

"It's nothing but horses, goats and hills," Malone said with a grin. "You can't run from it. But it makes for tough, hard-working folks. Sam's 260 now, but he'll be 300 before you can blink and he's got a chance to be really good."

The problem with driving to Logan is that you have to return from it, and Wright and Malone needed to be in Peach County, Georgia, about 35 miles west of Macon, by Tuesday afternoon.

"We drove to Corbin, Kentucky, about five hours from Logan that Monday night," Malone explained, "then headed south the next day."

By early afternoon, he and Wright had hooked up with Peach County High School senior offensive lineman Cameron Perry, but not before Malone had to cut across traffic outside Atlanta and navigate the F-150 through some gravel in order not to miss an I-285 off-ramp that would send them toward Macon.

"I don't think I could have pulled that off in an Honda Accord," Malone said.

Countered Wright: "I'm guessing (Tennessee coach) Jeremy Pruitt isn't riding around in a pickup truck for four days when he goes out to recruit."

Nevertheless, the visit with Perry went as well as the visit with Hall had the day before. The securing of all those big, strong, agile offensive linemen Malone needs to protect UTC quarterbacks and open holes for running backs was starting to come together.

Yet there was still one more piece to the O-line puzzle that both coaches wanted to bring in. His name was Brock Bethea. He stands 6-5, weighs 300 pounds and just concluded a fine prep career at Clay-Chalkville in Pinson, Alabama - just south of Birmingham - that off the field included being inducted into the National Honor Society.

On that Thursday, after visiting with a few other prospects along the road, Malone and Wright dropped in on the Bethea family, a stop that soon produced yet another commitment.

"He's a big man now," Wright said in a UTC release. "Once we get him in here and continue to work with him, we're excited about Brock's future."

Of the 18 players currently in UTC's 2019 signing class, 15 were secured in a span of less than three working weeks (per NCAA recruiting rules) since Wright was hired in December and put together his staff.

It's a group that should excite Mocs Nation. It's balanced, surprisingly talented for being so quickly recruited, and looks as if it's filled with young men who are at least as impressive off the field as on it.

Asked how they found the energy to put in so much work in such a short period of time, Malone said, "Rusty really likes Mountain Dew and I drink a lot of black coffee."

But that only keeps up your energy level for so long, even if it surely helped on this 1,478-mile road trip.

The really important question is how Wright was able to help Malone convince so many talented kids to commit to UTC on such short notice.

"It's just so natural for Rusty to sell UTC and Chattanooga because he played here and coached here," Malone said. "And just how genuine he is. When you're upfront and honest with folks, it's amazing how far that goes."

Contact Mark Wiedmer at [email protected].