With preseason football practice starting for the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga in the next couple of weeks, the Times Free Press is taking a daily positional look at the Mocs, with today's preview at running back:
The Mocs have the luxury of being the only team in the Southern Conference that returns two running backs with all-league accolades during their careers. It starts with 5-foot-9, 205-pound sophomore Ailym Ford, the 2019 SoCon freshman of the year who rushed for 1,081 yards and nine touchdowns in just 10 games (eight starts). He finished fifth in the voting for the Jerry Rice Award, which is given to the nation's top freshman in the Football Championship Subdivision. Ford took over after the second game when 2018 All-SoCon second-team selection Tyrell Price was lost for the season to a knee injury, and Ford missed the final two games for the same reason. The 6-foot, 220-pound Price, who is back for a final season, had 10 total touchdowns in 2018 to rank third in the league. Ford and Price provide a combination of speed and power, but junior Jeffrey Wood II (5-8, 170) provides a gamebreaker. Having made the move from slot receiver to running back late in 2018, Wood flourished in the backfield last season in a reserve role, rushing for 132 yards and scoring three touchdowns (two rushing, one receiving).
An already talented backfield added some additional firepower in Western Kentucky transfer Gino Appleberry, who as a Hilltoppers freshman in 2018 rushed for 80 yards and two touchdowns in a 37-34 loss to Old Dominion. Lance Jackson, who redshirted in 2019, and Deonte Woods will provide depth.
Numbers are a strength. In Ford, Price and Appleberry, the team has a trio of backs who have produced at the college level, a number that goes to four if you include Wood, who scored all three of his touchdowns in a 60-36 homecoming win over Western Carolina. The versatility and the experience of the backfield should allow the Mocs to ease in an inexperienced quarterback — Drayton Arnold, Cole Copeland and Ty Gossett are the scholarship player options there — regardless of who wins the starting job behind center heading into the Sept. 3 season opener at Western Kentucky.
If there is one, it's health. Ford, Price and Wood are all coming off of knee injuries that cut their seasons short, and while each seems to be healthy now, not having spring practices due to coronavirus restrictions prevented them from getting back into a flow of hitting and being hit. It may be a small thing — and social media has suggested all three are fine now — but it won't be until official practices begin that those things will be definitively known.