UTC quarterback Preston Hutchinson ponders deep questions, battles for starting job

Preston Hutchinson sometimes wonders why.

An admitted deep thinker, the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga quarterback struggles with questions he can't immediately answer. One of those involves his younger cousin Trey Couch.

Couch was a starting quarterback as a kid, but about a decade ago he was diagnosed with cerebellar degeneration, a process in which nerve cells in the cerebellum, a part of the brain controlling movement, deteriorate and die. Now 20 years old and a student at Xavier University in Cincinnati, Couch's "body is failing," said Hutchinson, who added that his cousin has double vision and will soon be confined to a wheelchair.

The cousins talk every day, but it's Hutchinson who leaves the conversations with questions.

"I'll never have to face things he's facing," he said. "Just knowing that he's already faced worse than I'll ever face instills a bunch of confidence in me, knowing that I can do anything, seeing what he's battled through."

But that's where Hutchinson's struggles with faith come into play - when the questions are not only deep but difficult: Why Couch? Why this? He doesn't believe what's happening to his cousin is fair, but Hutchinson continues to try to grow personally.

He has a tattoo on his left thigh with the Bible verses Romans 5:3-5, which in part reads that "we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope." For Hutchinson, the concept of suffering also produces big questions involving life itself and the nature of God.

"I think the biggest part of faith is just that original belief factor, and I'll get there," Hutchinson said. "Something will happen in the world, or I'll look at something and I'll be like, 'How would he allow that?' A question will pop up, and then when I go to get it answered by one of my mentors or something, I won't agree with their answer and then I want to start arguing every now and then.

"I've just got to get my belief there, and I think that comes from, like football, where you practice and you get there on game day. I just have to keep attacking the Bible and keep listening to my mentors."

The verse could also apply to Hutchinson's college football career, which now enters its final season but in a new locale.

The 6-foot-2, 195-pounder came to UTC from Football Bowl Subdivision program Eastern Michigan, where he had one truly special season - in 2020, when he passed for 1,662 yards and 12 touchdowns while rushing for 206 yards and eight scores in a six-game season shortened due to the COVID-19 pandemic. His average of 311.3 yards of total offense per game ranked second in the Mid-American Conference, but that success didn't carry over to last season as Hutchinson lost his starting job to Cincinnati transfer Ben Bryant.

In Chattanooga, he also finds himself in a quarterback competition, alongside senior Cole Copeland - who was 6-3 as UTC's starter in 2021 - sophomore Ty Gossett and freshman Parker Brown. All of them have had moments during the Mocs' spring practices, which ended with Saturday's showcase event of game-like situations in front of fans at Finley Stadium.

Hutchinson joined a program that was picked to win the Southern Conference last season but fell short of that and the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs with a record of 6-5, including 5-3 in conference play. The Mocs will open this season with a SoCon opponent when they host Wofford on Sept. 3.

As the Mocs seek a sort of redemption for last season's disappointments, Hutchinson is doing the same thing in a personal way.

"I think I have a lot of unfinished business, and that's part of why I'm here for my last year, to prove myself and prove that when I was at my best that I can do that consistently," he said. "I just want to eliminate all the bad and move on from that and just try to be that quarterback that plays well at all times.

"I'm always going to be competing against the guy beside me, so I've eaten that up. It's also great because the people I'm competing with are fiery competitors and good people as well, and I've competed against people that I didn't like, and it's a lot better when you can put that to the side and still maintain a good relationship outside of football."

But when asked where he hopes to improve in his final year of college, Hutchinson went off the field and back to his faith.

And back to Romans 5:3-5.

"I'll go on spurts where I'm doing great, and God and I have a great relationship," he said. "Then something happens and I get lazy and complacent, so I'm trying to get to that point where I could be the leader of the Bible study that I'm always in instead of just one of the people listening.

"I have the Christianity tattoo on me, and I'm wondering if that's going to look stupid. But then I was like, no matter what happens, I love this verse. I believe in this verse, and I love what it means."

Contact Gene Henley at ghenley@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @genehenley3.