Coming from junior college, Derek Mahaffey had some things to do to be able to contribute to the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga football team.
Over the course of the season, he's accomplished each of the tasks put ahead of him, and now he's getting his opportunity.
When he arrived on the UTC campus, he weighed 315 pounds, and while talent obviously was there, that talent was raw and needed to be honed.
Mahaffey cut his weight to his current 292 pounds, and as a result he has been able to work his way from the scout team to part of an already solid defensive tackle rotation that features senior Justin King, junior Taylor Reynolds and fellow sophomore Isaiah Mack.
"I just play my role and do whatever the coaches ask me to do — causing pressure inside, pushing the pocket back," Mahaffey said Tuesday. "I had to learn the playbook, learn new technique and stuff like that, but I got it and now I can run a lot more, play a lot more plays and be a lot more usable."
The coaching staff has been impressed by his emergence. A Western Kentucky signee, he spent a redshirt season there before transferring to East Central Community College in Mississippi. For the Mocs he has four games of four tackles, including the three-game stretch against Western Carolina, Wofford and Alabama.
Defensive line coach Carey Bailey calls Mahaffey "the most improved guy" since the first day of preseason camp.
"Not being able to go through the spring, getting here in August, he's progressed tremendously," Bailey said. "He's a great kid to coach and does exactly what you ask him to do. He tries to please and has been a tremendous boost, especially in the interior where you want to have more depth anyway."
With Mahaffey having two more seasons with the program, the coaches feel his best is yet to come. They wouldn't be disappointed if he showed a glimpse of that potential this Saturday against a high-powered Sam Houston State offense in the second round of the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision playoffs.
"The strides he's made since day one are unbelievable," head coach Russ Huesman said. "Technique-wise he was really poor. You could see the talent, but talent doesn't get you on the field, especially when you've got some pretty decent guys there, but he just got better and better and better and worked. He's a hard worker, he loves ball and he's fit in really well.
"The sky's the limit for him. He's good now, but I think he could be a really excellent player."
Contact Gene Henley at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @genehenleytfp.