UTC linebacker Alex Mitchell says Mocs ‘have something to prove’

Staff photo by Olivia Ross / UTC sophomore linebacker Alex Mitchell runs during practice Thursday as the Mocs prepare for their Sept. 2 opener at North Alabama.
Staff photo by Olivia Ross / UTC sophomore linebacker Alex Mitchell runs during practice Thursday as the Mocs prepare for their Sept. 2 opener at North Alabama.

Alex Mitchell considers himself the king of UTC when it comes to UFC — the sport as well as the video game.

The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga sophomore routinely holds Ultimate Fighting Championship parties, sometimes featuring a fight night menu that includes "chicken, some chips and barbecue, maybe some brisket."

Enjoying the famed mixed martial arts promotion is one of his passions, as is football, with the latter a bit more pressing in terms of importance in the short term. The 6-foot, 232-pound Mitchell and junior Bo Spearman (6-1, 226) are tasked with replacing the three-year starting duo of former Soddy-Daisy standout Ty Boeck and Kam Jones at linebacker for the Mocs.

Mitchell appeared in nine games as a freshman last year, when he and Spearman rotated in, but now he's preparing for both more responsibility and more time on the field — things that will be familiar from his prep career, when he was a Tennessee Titans Mr. Football semifinalist and all-state selection.

Even with those accolades, Mitchell was largely underrecruited despite playing in Murfreesboro, one of the state's hotbeds for college football prospects.

He was briefly committed to Georgetown before backing out two months later, and he received offers from several other Football Championship Subdivision schools — including East Tennessee State and Western Carolina, which compete alongside UTC in the Southern Conference — before choosing the Mocs. It was a decision that certainly delighted former UTC defensive end Zach Rayl, Mitchell's defensive coordinator at Riverdale High School.

"He didn't want to push me too hard, but he loved it here. He wanted me to go here for sure," Mitchell said.

As the Mocs continue their preseason work toward the Sept. 2 opener at North Alabama, the shoes he's being asked to fill are pretty large ones. How have he and Spearman done?

Well, they "haven't been noticed" by head coach Rusty Wright, which in this instance isn't a bad thing.

"They're always where they're supposed to be, so I don't worry about them," Wright said. "When you've got gaping seams in the middle of the defense, then you've got issues. But Alex is really smart, he understands the game of football, understands it in the box. They've got to play, but they haven't had to go be the guy yet."

It's an observation that linebackers coach Mike Yeager agrees with, to an extent. After all, it's his job to focus on the details, so he has seen that Mitchell has improved and that he can be even better.

It's also because of players such as Mitchell, Spearman and junior transfers Kam Brown (Auburn) and Kobe Joseph (Harvard) at linebacker that the Mocs could be considered overlooked after being predicted for a fourth-place finish in the nine-team SoCon. There was so much in terms of headliners for UTC in recent seasons, but that didn't mean depth or overall experience were strengths everywhere on the field.

Despite some turnover at key positions, this could be the complete team Wright, entering his fifth season as head coach at his alma mater, has been attempting to build — even if the Mocs are flying under the radar after spending recent seasons in the national spotlight among FCS teams.

"The hardest part of this transition has just been getting in shape and condition for all the plays and the tempo and just getting used to everything," Mitchell said. "I'm just now getting used to the speed of the game and how everything's flowing, and once I started watching more film, it's helped me become a better ballplayer.

"We've got a chip on our shoulder this year. I feel like they don't believe in us, and I feel like we have something to prove this year."

If so, Mitchell and his teammates will have a lot more to celebrate at his UFC fight night parties.

Contact Gene Henley at ghenley@timesfreepress.com.

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