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Staff photo by C.B. Schmelter / UTC's Juwan Tyus catches a pass at Tennessee on Sept. 14, 2019. Tyus has played both wide receiver and tight end during his time with the Mocs, and this spring he had a 76-yard touchdown catch against The Citadel.

Juwan Tyus has spent four football seasons at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga bouncing from receiver to tight end as two different coaching staffs have attempted to figure out which position suited him best.

At 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds, Tyus would have been the ideal size for a receiver in a different era, but as the game has changed, his skills suggest he's more of a tight end. But even at that position there are questions regarding Tyus, who's now being asked to block bigger, more physical players inside as opposed to being on the perimeter.

Versatility has been part of Tyus's game for years, though, and not just in football.

As a Verbana High School senior in 2016, he had 1,462 receiving yards on 74 catches with 23 touchdowns on his way to making the Alabama Sports Writer Association's all-state list, but he also had five interceptions on defense. His UTC bio says he "also lettered in baseball and basketball," and while that's true, he did a little more than just letter in basketball. He averaged 29.2 points, 17.9 rebounds and 3.8 assists as a senior — a year after averaging 24 points, nine rebounds and three blocks per game.

It has been his ability to go after the ball, a trait learned on the basketball court, that became most helpful on the football field — although that skill wasn't necessary when he was left wide open on the first play from scrimmage of the Mocs' 25-24 overtime win at The Citadel on March 6, with Tyus hustling 76 yards for a score.

"It's mostly boxing out somebody for catches or standing in front of somebody to hold a block," Tyus said. "It's going up for rebounds how we do in a basketball game. That just all correlates back to when we are on the football field with jump balls. It all just runs together."

Speaking of running, how hard was it to run that far in a game?

"I actually never thought it was going to be like that," he said. "It felt like all slow motion until I caught the ball. Instincts kicked in after that."

That big play was one of the highlights for the Mocs this spring, when they went 3-1 against Southern Conference competition to finish 3-2 overall for 2020-21, a season in which they attained a top-10 national ranking in the Football Championship Subdivision and were atop the league standings. UTC was scheduled to play this weekend at Western Carolina, but that game and two others against Samford and East Tennessee State were canceled Monday, when the Mocs announced they would not complete the season due to numerous players opting out due to COVID-19.

The Mocs look ahead now to their second season of 2021, an 11-game schedule set to open Sept. 2 against Austin Peay at Finley Stadium, and Tyus could make a difference for UTC again this fall.

He started working his way onto the field with the Mocs as a redshirt sophomore in 2019, making 16 catches for 141 yards as the Mocs' depth at receiver was tested due to injuries early that season. He plays as a hybrid, but considering that's been part of his history as an athlete, it's no surprise — and there's reason to believe he'll figure out how to be effective.

Seems he's been doing a pretty good job of that so far.

"He's willing to get better. That's the thing," UTC coach Rusty Wright said. "He's got to get a lot better at blocking, but that's the one thing we knew he would struggle with a little bit in moving him inside. But he is a matchup problem because he can run and he is long. We told him at the end of the fall last year that you're going to tight end and that's going to be the best spot for you. The biggest thing for Juwan is he is willing to go in there and try, and he has busted his butt to try and do right and do things.

"There are things he has to learn, and that comes from playing, that comes from being able to practice those things the right way and so he can see them fast enough, but I couldn't be more pleased with how he's at least trying to be a good player in there."

Contact Gene Henley at ghenley@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @genehenley3.

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