EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the final story in a series counting down the top five University of Tennessee at Chattanooga football players of the past decade.
Five games into his University of Tennessee at Chattanooga playing career, Davis Tull realized he "had it" when it came to getting the hang of college football.
During the Mocs' 28-27 home loss to The Citadel on Oct. 1, 2011, the defensive end from Knoxville — listed at 6-foot-3, 235 pounds on that season's roster — made a tackle for loss and recovered a fumble. A broken femur his senior season at Bearden High School had stunted his recruitment, which in part helped UTC land him. After taking a redshirt in 2010, Tull broke his hand during training camp the following year, which led to a slow start to the season.
Until that game against The Citadel.
"I had made a couple of good plays during a specific drive, and (then-defensive coordinator) Adam Fuller came over, looked at me and said, 'Hey man, this is it,'" Tull recalled. "From then on out, things just snowballed."
To the competition, it probably looked more like an avalanche.
Tull totaled five sacks and eight tackles for loss in 2011 on his way to earning All-Southern Conference freshman team honors, but those numbers were tame in comparison to the remaining three seasons of his UTC career, when he tallied 32 sacks and 52 tackles for loss. Each of those seasons was capped by Tull being named the SoCon defensive player of the year and a Football Championship Subdivision All-American.
His 37 sacks are school and SoCon records and the fourth-highest total in FCS history. His 60 tackles for loss are a school record and the third-highest total in SoCon history.
But equally important for Tull — as with every aforementioned name in this top five (Isaiah Mack, Keionta Davis, Corey Levin and Jacob Huesman) — is that he became part of the culture shift for UTC football. The Mocs won five games in 2011, then improved to six victories in 2012 before two-game jumps in 2013 (eight) and 2014 (10), when UTC swept through the SoCon with a 7-0 league mark, then advanced to the national quarterfinals.
"It all started with Coach (Russ) Huesman," Tull said. "He had his ups and downs while he was there, but he really, really did change the culture. He came in and brought what I assume was a tougher attitude than what was there before, because those training camps weren't always easy."
The New Orleans Saints selected Tull in the fifth round of the 2015 NFL draft, and he has since bounced around the professional ranks. In addition to NFL stints with the Atlanta Falcons, Los Angeles Rams and Jacksonville Jaguars, he spent time with teams in the Canadian Football League, the Alliance of American Football and the XFL, with both of the latter two leagues shutting down after less than a full season.
When Tull spoke to the Times Free Press on Thursday, he said his playing career was "likely over" and that he currently lives in Nashville, where he owns a real estate company.
"All of my highs were in Chattanooga," Tull said. "The relationships built and the success we had and that I personally had, I'm going to look back on it and Chattanooga is going to be the thing I probably remember the most. Being in the NFL was great, and I also made a lot of friends there, but I also had some bad breaks and some things not go my way, but it was still a great opportunity.
"Chattanooga is going to be the place that I'm most grateful for, with Coach Huesman and (Tull's defensive line coach Marcus) West, but I'm also grateful for the game. It can teach a lot of things and also open a lot of doors."
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