Wiedmer: Isaiah Mack and Kareem Orr give UTC fans an extra reason to cheer the Titans

Staff file photo / Kareem Orr, shown during a home game against Samford in his 2018 senior football season at UTC, is now with the Tennessee Titans.

NASHVILLE - Isaiah Mack should have been excited for himself above all else Sunday afternoon.

The former University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and Northwest Whitfield High School star recovered the fumble by Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston that led to the Tennessee Titans' first touchdown of the game in their eventual 27-23 win.

And the rookie defensive lineman was proud of the fumble recovery, calling it "one of my biggest moments, just because it changed the field and got the offense close to the end zone."

But what he really wanted to talk about was his former UTC teammate and fellow Titans rookie Kareem Orr, who was elevated from the practice squad to the 46-man active roster on Saturday.

"I just want to talk about Kareem," Mack said more than once. "I'm so proud of Kareem. He's worked his (behind) off for this. He's a baller now."

Orr's now a baller with an NFL contract, all that hard word leading to his signature on the dotted line on Saturday, which allowed the defensive back to take the field wearing No. 20 on Sunday.

"I was speechless, actually," said Orr, who played his high school football at Notre Dame. "I've dreamed of this since I was 4 years old."

It wasn't that Orr had no idea this might come to pass. He had been singled out more than once during training camp for his smart, aggressive play in the secondary. He said his position coach, Kerry Coombs, even told him if he kept practicing as hard and intelligently as he was, "You'll get your chance."

So after he signed the contract he'd been dreaming about most of his life, he called his girlfriend Sydney Shutters and his daughter Scottie Jade - who were both at Disney World - to give them the good news. Right after that he phoned his mother Marion Orr at her home in Chattanooga.

"It's been a lot of fun," Orr said. "But I'm still in shock."

photo Staff photo by Robin Rudd / Isaiah Mack watches Jacksonville State quarterback Bryant Horn during his 2017 junior season opener at UTC. Mack is now a rookie for the NFL's Tennessee Titans.

In many ways, Mack has been a pleasant shock to Titans brass since the start of training camp. It began with a preseason sack against the New England Patriots. It has continued well enough through the first eight games of the regular season in which Mack has eight total tackles, 1.5 sacks, six quarterback hurries and one very big fumble recovery in games that count.

"Huge, huge," Titans coach Mike Vrabel said of Mack's recovery and the three other takeaways his team came up with to improve to 4-4 heading into next Sunday's game at Carolina. "I think that without that it's obviously probably a different story."

Indeed, thanks to forced turnovers, the Titans' first two scoring drives covered a total of 11 yards. Just how different might the story have been without those turnovers? At halftime the Titans led 17-15 on the scoreboard despite the Bucs owning a 215-70 advantage in total yardage and a 2-1 edge in time of possession.

"It's like Coach says: We're 1-0 this week," Mack said of the win, which wasn't secured until the Titans stopped the opposition on fourth-and-1 for the second week in row near game's end.

Befitting two former Mocs, both were upset by UTC's tough overtime loss at Wofford on Saturday.

"I've already called a few of them up," said Mack of his former teammates. "That was tough. So close."

Added Orr: "I was very upset."

But Orr was anything but upset Sunday as he stood on the sideline as an active player, more than ready to take the field if needed.

"I didn't get in, but I had a blast cheering my teammates," he said. "The game was so surreal."

One thing Mack intends to keep very real is his fumble recovery, right down to the football itself, which was at the foot of his locker waiting to be taken to his residence.

"This is going home with me," he said as a big smile spread across his face.

Could he still provide details of the recovery, which came with six minutes gone in the first quarter?

"I saw Jameis bobble the ball" after a poor snap, Mack recalled. "I knew I had to try and get it. It was him and me fighting for it. There was no way I wasn't going to come up with that ball."

Mack recovered at the Tampa Bay 10. A neutral-zone infraction against the Bucs moved it to the 5. Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill hit Jonnu Smith for the touchdown.

"Getting it off the quarterback when we had to get it off him," Vrabel said of the fumble recovery. "Those are ways to help the offense, to get those turnovers in huge critical spots on the field."

For Orr, as good as it was to watch Mack recover that fumble and set up a touchdown, in some sense all of this isn't that different from the game they first fell in love with in their youth.

"It's still football," Orr said. "We've been doing what we are doing now since we were young."

But now both of them are getting paid real money to do it each autumn Sunday in front of tens of thousands of fans both at the Titans' Nissan Stadium and across the NFL. Sometimes the dreams we dream as 4-year-olds really do come true.

photo Mark Wiedmer

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @TFPWeeds.