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Staff photo by C.B. Schmelter / UTC quarterback Nick Tiano (7) hands off to running back Ailym Ford during the Mocs' game at Tennessee on Sept. 14. The Mocs have an open date this week and return to competition next Thursday against ETSU at Finley Stadium.

Winning changes everything.

As the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga football team went through practice drills Thursday at Scrappy Moore Field, there was a noticeable pep in the Mocs' steps.

The music was blaring as usual, but on this day it was accompanied by pockets of players not involved in drills breaking out in dance moves. Guys in leg braces were trying to join in, smiles were plentiful and the players on the field were moving quickly from drill to drill.

"It's a whole lot easier to come out and work when you've won a couple in a row," UTC coach Rusty Wright said. "It's been fine this week. We still have to get some guys healthy, but so far it's been a positive week of practice."

Even the news on the injury front has improved. Starting receiver Bryce Nunnelly was dressed at practice but did not participate in contact drills. Wright said X-rays of the shoulder the standout junior injured in Saturday's win at Mercer were negative.

"We're waiting on the results from the MRI — just took it yesterday," Wright said. "It may just be more of a joint issue than a bone issue. If anyone can fight back and get going, it's Bryce."

Running back Elijah Ibitokun-Hanks participated in some drills and hopes to be available for next Thursday's home game against East Tennessee State. Freshman Ailym Ford, who was limited by cramps in the second half at Mercer, was a full go.

"I'm feeling great," said Ford, who for the third time was recognized among the top freshmen in the country by STATS after rushing for 116 yards on 32 carries against the Bears. "I still have a lot of recovering to do. I've already done a lot and it's paying off."

Ford's 92.8 yards per game leads all FCS freshmen and he now has three 100-yard games, which ranks fifth all-time among UTC freshmen. However, Wright hopes to be able to lessen Ford's workload — for the player's own good.

"You couldn't tell if he is hurt or not," Wright said, nodding at Ford. "He will work himself to death. You have to make him come out or he will work himself until he cramps up, like he did last week.

"We've got some guys, like Ailym, fighting through it, but not enough of them. We've got to understand how to fight through some things. This is week 11 for us and everybody hurts."

While the mood was light at practice, the work was anything but. Wright and his staff had the Mocs (3-3, 2-0 Southern Conference) working on fundamentals instead of specific preparation for the Buccaneers (2-4, 0-3).

"We've come out serious this week," said right tackle Colin Truett, who has replaced injured starter Harrison Moon the past two games. "Moving forward requires focus from everyone. With Harrison going down and with EB (Ibitokun-Hanks) down, we have to be ready and focus because we know ETSU is going to come in here and give us their best shot.

"Starting out 2-0 is awesome, and we have some momentum going, but it won't mean anything if we don't keep working hard and improving."

 

Ticket specials

UTC is offering a number of ticket specials during the football team's "buy" week in several sports for purchase through Saturday.

For football, the university is offering a three-game plan for the remaining home games, which includes a bleacher seat for each game and, for the first 100 tickets sold, a pregame tailgate pass for the Nov. 16 matchup with The Citadel.

Basketball fans can purchase season tickets for the men's program with $11 off, celebrating each of the 11 NCAA tournament appearances by the Mocs, and $15 off a women's package to honor that program's 15 NCAA tournament berths.

Also, wrestling season tickets are $6 off to honor the program's six NCAA Division II individual national titles. Visit GoMocs.com for information.

Contact Lindsey Young at lyoung@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6296. Follow him on Twitter @youngsports22.

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