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Staff file photo / Chris James scrambles while playing quarterback during UTC's spring showcase March 30 at Finley Stadium. James has since moved to tight end.
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Staff file photo / Chris James warms up before UTC's home game against Samford in September 2018. James moved to tight end this summer.

On the football field, some transitions are easier than others.

The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga has several players in positions new to them in Rusty Wright's first year as head coach. Most of the switches, though, are of the usual variety — defensive backs moving to offensive skill positions, linebackers shifting to the defensive line, etc.

Chris James' transition, however, has been a bit more unusual. The former quarterback, who was Nick Tiano's primary backup last year, is now the Mocs' starting tight end. He has been playing the position about five weeks and got his first start and catch last Saturday at Tennessee.

At 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds with good hands and better-than-average speed, the senior is someone Wright and his staff wanted on the field. Somewhere.

"He's a great young man," Wright said. "He understood it was going to be tough for him to play quarterback, so he just wanted to help the team. That's what you want out of your football team.

"We had talked about it in the summer with (graduate transfer) Drayton (Arnold) being here and Nick coming back, that we wanted to give Chris a chance to play somewhere. I mean, he's a big, long guy who can run. Those guys don't need to be standing on the sideline next to me; they need to be on the field."

James, who played at Gilmer High School in Ellijay, Georgia, and spent two years at Hutchinson Community College in Kansas after originally signing with Valdosta State, a Division II program in south Georgia, admits the learning curve has been steep. It's not uncommon for quarterbacks to practice running routes, but the blocking part of playing tight end — well, that's something new.

"Learning how to block is taking some time," he admitted with a slight shake of his head after practice Thursday morning. "I've been doing it for a month, and I'm just out there winging it. But the technique is getting better every day.

"Really, the decision to switch positions was easy. I just wanted to get out on the field with my friends and give this team a chance to win."

One thing going for James is that his position is coached by former UTC quarterback Jacob Huesman, who also had to learn the nuances of his new job in a short span of time. He and James work after practice on routes, and the two are often seen watching video after most of the players are long gone.

"I at least can empathize a little bit with him, having played quarterback," said Huesman, whose senior season was 2015. "We were different styles of quarterbacks, guys who didn't shy away from contact. But it's a different kind of contact now for him. He's doing great, though.

"We already knew that no matter where he is on the field, with his work ethic and his want-to, he's a guy we have to get on the field. This just shows you what type of player he is. He cares about the team first. He comes out here and busts his butt every day."

A member of the dean's list and the Southern Conference honor roll, James is studying sports management. If things fall just right, he might even have another year of eligibility because he did not appear in any games last season.

"Man, I would love to have him for another season," Huesman said, his face lighting up. "He just makes this team better by being on the field, and give him a full year to learn the position and he could be special."

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

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