Former Bradley Central star leads UTC defense's mission to disrupt

Staff file photo by Troy Stolt / UTC outside linebacker Jay Person has 11.5 tackles for loss and five sacks in 15 career games at UTC, and he forced two fumbles in last week's season opener. His knack for getting into the backfield and disrupting opposing offenses was already apparent during his time as a prep standout at Bradley Central.

Some football players seem to have a natural talent for getting into the opposing backfield to cause havoc. For others, it's a lot more about heart and desire.

For Jay Person, it's been both.

There are other aspects of his game that the 6-foot-4, 229-pound University of Tennessee at Chattanooga outside linebacker and former Bradley Central standout is still working to refine, but there's no denying his ability to get to both quarterbacks and running backs before they get to the line of scrimmage.

It's not a new skill. Person - whose brother Romeo Wykle is also a Moc - had 54 tackles for loss in his three-year Bradley Central career to go along with 24 sacks, and he already has 11.5 tackles for loss and five sacks in 15 games at UTC.

"My dad always told me to just play 100%, ever since I was little," Person said earlier this week. "Then my high school coach (former UTC player Damon Floyd), he always honed in on flying around to the ball."

It took a while for UTC coaches to figure out how exactly to use Person.

He didn't have the size for the defensive line and was probably too big for a college defensive back. Great players such as Soddy-Daisy product Ty Boeck and Louisville transfer Kam Jones had already solidified the inside linebacker position for UTC. So that really left the outside linebacker role - which was perfect for Person in defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward's attacking style of defense, designed to force turnovers.

In last week's season opener, a 30-20 home loss to Austin Peay, UTC's Brandon Dowdell had two interceptions, but Person also forced a pair of fumbles, although the Mocs were unable to recover either one.

"He plays his tail off," UTC coach Rusty Wright said. "I mean, you watch the guy play and he plays with great effort, a great motor, and he does what we ask him to do. He's just a great competitor, and he's one of those guys you want to be around.

"He just keeps elevating his game. I think he's going to be a really good player here for a long time."

With questions surrounding the offense, Person and the rest of the defense might have to lead the way as the Mocs travel to Florence, Alabama to take on North Alabama (0-1) at 7 p.m. Eastern on Saturday. UTC could be turning to its second starting quarterback in two games, with sources telling the Times Free Press that junior Cole Copeland will get the nod; the 6-foot-4, 196-pounder will be tasked with not turning the ball over and helping a talented group of offensive players be productive.

But the defense has playmakers, too, including defensive end Devonnsha Maxwell, Boeck, Jones and Person, and a secondary that can also create havoc. They've been good as a whole, but like Person, they can all still get better.

"That's the crazy thing about it, that we have so many good players," Person said. "We lost and it's a disappointment that we let everybody down, but I feel we'll get better and get back at it, starting with practice.

"We're eager to get back on the field, trying to get back on that winning track. We're almost chomping at the bit about it, ready to play Saturday, prove our point and make a statement."

Contact Gene Henley at Follow him on Twitter @genehenley3.