Now settled in at UTC, Artopoeus ready to lead Mocs' chase for playoffs

Staff photo by Robin Rudd / Chase Artopoeus, who transferred to UTC in January after four seasons at UCLA, passes during the Mocs' spring football showcase at Finley Stadium in March. Since then, Artopoeus has won the starting quarterback job and taken on a more vocal leadership role with the Mocs.
Staff photo by Robin Rudd / Chase Artopoeus, who transferred to UTC in January after four seasons at UCLA, passes during the Mocs' spring football showcase at Finley Stadium in March. Since then, Artopoeus has won the starting quarterback job and taken on a more vocal leadership role with the Mocs.

Rusty Wright may have had a minor gripe with Chase Artopoeus after the former UCLA quarterback arrived on the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga campus to compete for the starting job in January, but not being prepared wasn't on the list.

Both had to become a bit less of who they'd been — Artopoeus has a laidback personality befitting someone from California, directly opposite of the in-your-face nature of Wright, who's entering his fifth season as head coach of the Mocs — but little by little, they have started to jell as a pairing.

"There's no question it was an adjustment, but it's been good," Wright said candidly. "I get to being me sometimes, and it's probably not good for him. They always say you should never yell at quarterbacks and kickers, and I have a hard time with both of those, I'm not going to lie.

"But he's been wanting this his whole life, and I think he's in a really good spot now to handle it because he's prepared himself. It's not like he's getting completely thrown in the fire mentally. He's prepared himself for this a long time, and I think that's going to give him an advantage, but it's also done because he's going to handle the situation and go play."

After four seasons as a backup with the Bruins, Artopoeus will make his first collegiate start Saturday, when the Mocs open their 2023 schedule by visiting North Alabama (0-1) at 7 p.m. Eastern in Florence. It's an opportunity he prepared for long before he'd even considered UTC.

"I've trained for it. I've envisioned it a lot, so it's exciting," Artopoeus said. "It's actually coming to fruition, and it's finally my turn to get on that field and show everybody what I've got.

"The biggest difference is just the fact that I know I'm going to play, so I'm trying to prepare for that. I always prepared to be the starter at UCLA. I don't think I was taking weeks off, and I knew the game plan, I knew the defense, and I felt like I had a pretty good idea of what was going to happen during the games, so it's not a huge difference necessarily besides the fact that I'm actually going to be in there taking the hits, throwing the touchdowns and making all the plays."

Since being named the starter, Artopoeus has become more vocal — a change from when he arrived and he was feeling things out. Offensive coordinator Joe Pizzo, who also hails from California, said he understood the new quarterback's personality but still knew that he'd have to establish a voice in the locker room.

"We all kind of told him, 'Hey Chase, you've got to speak up more,' but it's tough," said Pizzo, who also called Artopoeus "the hardest-working player we probably have on offense."

Now the vocal leadership aspect is coming along.

Said Pizzo: "You come in as a transfer quarterback, you're battling for a job, the players don't know you, they don't know if you're going to be the starter, so to take that leadership role, until you become the starter, it's a hard thing to do. He's more of a coach on the field, which is good."

Coaching is what Artopoeus wants to do in the future. That's what led him to pass over some Football Championship Subdivision opportunities coming out of high school to go to the Football Bowl Subdivision and UCLA and learn under coach Chip Kelly.

He's constantly in Pizzo's office, wanting to learn more. The coaches and players have noticed the change in the quarterback since the spring: He wants to lead. He wants to attempt to guide the Mocs back into the FCS playoffs for the fifth time in program history and the first time since 2016.

"You see the confidence on the field, getting more comfortable with the offense," running back Ailym Ford said. "Being a leader on the field, telling guys where to go, making play changes. Just a lot of confidence since he first got here."

Contact Gene Henley at ghenley@timesfreepress.com.

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