The meet-and-greets are over, the hiring mostly finished and the roster evaluations completed. It's time for the new University of Tennessee at Chattanooga football coaching staff to hit the road.
There are less than 30 days for head coach Rusty Wright and his staff to add to a recruiting class that currently has three members. Running back Ailym Ford signed during the early period last month and Brentwood High School athlete Avery Williams signed after Wright's hiring in December. The Mocs recently added quarterback Drayton Arnold, who transferred from Old Dominion.
So as the recruiting dead period ended Thursday, the Mocs' staff — on a day when two coaches were added — was out to make up ground.
"We're looking at every area," Wright said. "We've got quarterback needs, running back needs, O-line needs. I think the only spot on offense we aren't looking to sign someone is at tight end. All those guys are back for the next two years at least.
"Defensively, we've got to get them from the front to the back in every spot. The one spot I think is OK is corner. This class is going to be so stressed to get perfect fits."
To that end, Wright and his staff are recruiting prospects with athletic upside instead of focusing strictly on positional needs.
"We're trying to find smart kids who have some length to them, no matter what position they play, and then we'll grow them and develop them," he said. "That's what you have to do at this level. If you can find athletes who are smart and can move, you're going to be OK. The hard part is getting guys to fill our needs truly, and if you can't get them you can't just take kids to fill a class."
The immediate needs are more pressing on defense, where three of the top four tacklers are among five starters graduating. The hardest shoes to fill will be Football Championship Subdivision All-American and Southern Conference defensive player of the year Isaiah Mack and his line mate Derek Mahaffey, also an All-SoCon pick.
Two factors will help the Mocs despite the late start. One is the makeup of the staff, which consists of coaches with experience recruiting in the South. The other is the dead period, which allowed Wright time to hire his assistants and evaluate the roster's needs.
"At some point, all these guys have been on this campus before now, either as a player or coach, and they know our recruiting areas," Wright said. "The dead period helped us, without a doubt. If it hadn't been for that while we were trying to hire coaches, I might not have lasted this long."
Unlike a year ago at this time, there are more prospects still unsigned, giving schools in UTC's late-starting situation a better chance to sign an impact class.
"There are more kids out there this year than last because some of the luster went out of the early signing period," said Wright, who was recruiting for Football Bowl Subdivision member Georgia State just a few weeks ago. "There are still people looking for them, but it's not as tight a group. Instead of 10 percent it's like 20 or 25 percent still out there, which is great for us."
National signing day, part two, is Feb. 6.