As the head coach of a Football Championship Subdivision team, Rusty Wright has a much more stringent task when it comes to recruiting compared to those at the highest levels in Division I.
Wright doesn't find selling prospects on the city of Chattanooga all that difficult, though, and he had little work to do to lure in the latest recipient of a University of Tennessee at Chattanooga football scholarship — because one of his players had done the work for him.
Lafayette College transfer and Cleveland High School graduate Romeo Wykle, a defensive back who left the Pennsylvania FCS school after the 2019 season to walk on at UTC, was awarded a scholarship recently by the Mocs. Wykle's stepbrother is sophomore outside linebacker Jay Person, who prepped at Bradley Central and, like Wykle, graduated in 2018.
"I didn't even have to recruit him," Person said. "I remember him saying that if he got the opportunity, he'd like to come here, so I told the coaches about him and they were glad to have him here.
"I told him that it was going to be a grind. There's nothing easy handed to you, even though they know you can play. I just told him to keep working and doing what you're doing."
In two seasons at Lafayette, the 6-foot, 200-pound Wykle logged 10 starts with 48 tackles and four passes broken up.
He is currently expected to sit out the 2020-21 season per NCAA transfer rules, but UTC has applied for a waiver that would make him immediately eligible, with Wright noting he "feels pretty good it's going to happen" due to Wykle's decision to transfer closer to home. Having him on the field this season is important for the Mocs because Wykle could provide needed depth at the slot cornerback position behind former Ooltewah standout Rashun Freeman.
"It's nice to be able to get a player of that caliber who has college experience," Wright said after last week's scrimmage at Scrappy Moore Field as the Mocs prepare for their Oct. 24 game at Western Kentucky and the anticipated spring semester schedule that is to include Southern Conference competition. "It gives us a little more depth, and that was our biggest concern.
"He's worked hard. He got here and he wasn't in very good shape — just like all of them — and it's taken him a little while to get his body underneath him and do some stuff. But he seems to mix well, has jelled well, and it's been good."
Wykle and Person last shared the field together as teammates in 2014 at Cleveland Middle School. Person then went on to Bradley, where he was the Region 2-6A defensive player of the year as a senior, while Wykle played for the crosstown Blue Raiders, scoring 20 touchdowns in his Cleveland High career.
Looking back, their path to playing together seemed like a long shot. Person spent his first year of college at Appalachian State, playing in two games before transferring to UTC after the 2018 season. Meanwhile, Wykle was starting at Lafayette before making the decision to transfer closer to home after the Leopards won just seven games in his two seasons in the program.
"It's a good opportunity," Wykle said. "Competing with your brother is always fun. It's always something that you naturally do, but now it's good because now you get to root for them even more because you're on the same team. We both want to see each other do well, and we've got goals we want to reach for."
The Mocs have had two scrimmages in preparation for next week's visit to the Hilltoppers, with a third scheduled for this weekend. After the game in Bowling Green comes an extended layoff as UTC awaits the details of the FCS spring season and a SoCon schedule.
However, with the COVID-19 pandemic that delayed conference play ongoing and affecting teams that are playing full schedules this fall, there are no guarantees the games happen. If the trip to Western Kentucky is the only time the Mocs take the field this school year, they want to make sure they're prepared — so for Person and his teammates, that's their focus.
"I'm jacked up about it," Person said. "I've been waiting to play for almost a month now, so I'm just ready, honestly, to play against somebody other than my teammates. Someone you can actually play against and get after."