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Staff photo by Troy Stolt / Chattanooga Mocs wide receiver Bryce Nunnelly (19) returns a kickoff for a touchdown during the second half of the Chattanooga Mocs football game against the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers at Houchens Industries-L.T. Smith Stadium on Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020 in Bowling Green , Kentucky. The referees called the touchdown back, saying Chattanooga Mocs wide receiver Tyrin Summers (9) called for a fair catch in the end zone before Nunnelly received the ball and the Mocs would lose the game 10-13.

Playing high school sports for nearby Walker Valley, Bryce Nunnelly experienced a very quiet recruitment, choosing to play for the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, over offers from Tennessee Tech and Charleston Southern.

After four years, a UTC career that has him ranked among the top 10 receivers in school history and a decision to enter the NCAA transfer portal, the recruiting process became a little bit more treacherous. Offers and interest came from schools at all levels from Power Five schools to Group of Five programs at the Football Bowl Subdivision level — so much so that by the time the 6-foot-2, 190-pounder ultimately made his decision to transfer to Western Michigan for his final year of eligibility, there were calls and messages that he was never able to get to.

"It was a night and day difference," Nunnelly said on Monday. "I'm thankful for it, but it was a little overwhelming."

What led to the decision? Had there been a normal fall season, it's likely that he would have gone down as the most productive receiver in school history. He was a two-time all-Southern Conference selection and was already seventh all-time in receptions with 146 and third in receiving yards with 2,148, and was right outside the top 10 in touchdowns with 12. Now consider that Nunnelly was 23 receptions behind the school's all-time leader, Emanuel Hassell (2004-06) and was just 228 yards behind the leader, Stepfon Hawkins (1996-99) in receiving yards.

And with potentially eight games this spring and 11 games this fall (with the NCAA not counting the 2020-21 season towards eligibility), Nunnelly would have had a chance to crush every UTC record.

And the records would have been great. But had there been a fall season in 2020 for the Mocs, there wouldn't have been a spring season. And in that scenario, it's possible that Nunnelly would have chosen to remain and play in 2021 for the school that will be his alma mater.

"Playing in 20 games in (nine) months is a lot of football," he said.

Nunnelly — who is taking 20 hours this spring semester to graduate in May — will finish his UTC career with a degree in mechanical engineering.

There were probably better offers — Purdue and Penn State were a couple that had had shown a level of interest — but the familiarity with WMU receivers coach Greg Harbaugh, who held the same title at UTC under former head coach Tom Arth in 2018, was too much to pass up.

It probably doesn't hurt that the Broncos, who played a six-game Mid-Atlantic Conference season in 2020, threw for 286.5 yards per game and had three receivers average at least 64.6 yards per game. Conversely, Nunnelly was the Mocs' leading receiver in 2019 averaging just over 66 yards per game.

But in 2018, Nunnelly had 1,237 yards and 12 touchdowns on 79 receptions under Harbaugh, and the trust the two had built in each other made it easier to make the jump at this time, with just one year remaining.

Nunnelly made it a point to state that he would be keeping a close eye on the Mocs in the future, but especially during whatever the 2021 calendar year ultimately looks like, be it 19 games, or more, or less.

"My time at UTC was great," he said. "I learned a lot and I've had a lot of fun, and I've really grown as a person and a football player. I wish them the best, wish my teammates the best. I've formed relationships with them and they've got my respect and I hope I have theirs."

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

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