A sweltering sun baking the plastic grass of Scrappy Moore Field late Saturday morning, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga football coach Rusty Wright sat in a rare spot of shade, grinning over the activity taking place before his eyes.
"Here we are outside, lifting weights," he said as more than 100 players either lifted heavy weights or spotted for those who did until it was their turn to raise the heavy loads. "Everybody's doing something except for me. It's great."
It is great. All this prolonged activity some 11 days into preseason practices — counting Sunday's work — without a single forced or unwelcome break from the vicious virus COVID-19 or its dangerous delta variant.
And for at least one visitor — UTC booster J. Clay Crumbliss, who once helped Baylor School win a football national championship — bringing the weight work onto the practice field was a stroke of genius.
"It's brilliant to put the weights out here," he said. "This way everybody can see what you're doing. There's nowhere to hide. No one can slack off out here. Very impressive."
Longtime booster Mark Smith was equally impressed with what he saw from a team that returns a whopping 72 of 76 letter winners and all 25 starters if you include the placekicker, punter and long snapper among that group.
"The hard work and physical condition of these kids," Smith said, "you can tell they've been in the weight room. And they hustle all the time. You can tell that they understand a target's on their back. These kids are all about the work and building the chemistry they need to have a great year."
Before he'd ever coached a game for his alma mater in 2019, his first spring practice had been wrecked by floods that shut down Scrappy Moore Field.
Then, after producing a surprisingly strong 6-5 record, Wright had to watch helplessly as COVID-19 wiped out all but one game — a road trip to Western Kentucky — of the 2020 season last fall, followed by a half-baked spring season against Southern Conference opponents that UTC pulled the plug on for various reasons, some of them related to COVID-19. Beyond that, longtime equipment manager Mike Royster, often seen as the heart and soul of the athletic department, retired earlier this summer.
"These guys haven't been through a regular camp in two years," Wright said. "Including the issues that first spring, we really haven't had a completely normal season since 2018, and I wasn't even here then."
But Wright's here now and more than ready to start focusing on the No. 18 Mocs' season opener against No. 20 Austin Peay on Thursday, Sept. 2, when kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. at Finley Stadium.
"The retention (from last spring) by the older guys has been good," he said. "We knocked the rust off after three or four days. I'm just really proud of the guys right now. They're working hard, and our (COVID-19) vaccination rate is pretty high up there. We've got 103 guys out here right now, and only one of them hasn't practiced and that's due to a surgery, not COVID."
One of those veterans practicing best is fifth-year junior middle linebacker Christian Snyder. A two-time Academic All-SoCon player, Snyder graduated in May with a degree in finance and investments. He is now pursuing an MBA in finance.
While working out at least four hours a day lifting weights and running to prepare for this season, Snyder also interned with Solas BioVentures and Dr. David Adair. Solas, headquartered in Chattanooga, is a venture capital firm that invests in the life science industry.
"I was an intern analyst," said Snyder, who hopes to one day become a chartered financial analyst, one of that industry's most difficult achievements, requiring as much as 1,000 hours of study just to pass the three exams needed to become a CFA. "I studied cap tables for private companies."
According to the website Investopedia, capitalization tables are "most commonly utilized for startups and early-stage businesses. In general, the capitalization table is an intricate breakdown of a company's shareholders' equity."
If nothing else, that explains why two of Snyder's most recent courses included "Microeconomic Theory" and "Quantitative Analysis." Not exactly Watching Grass Grow 101, are they?
And with the fall semester starting Monday — the Mocs will take a day off from football to better begin the school year on the right foot — Snyder's workload only expands.
"They're going to be some long days," he said.
If his effort on the football field this past spring against Mercer was any indication, there should be some very long days for UTC opponents. Snyder recorded 20 tackles against the Bears and was honored as the SoCon defensive player of the week.
Judging from the smile on the Summit High School (Spring Hill, Tennessee) standout's face after Saturday's practice, he expects similar results all season this time around.
"I'm excited," he said. "It's that simple. Instead of thinking, it's all reaction (for the defense). Everything is starting to click. We look great on offense and defense."
And that should translate to a cap table on UTC football to excite all of Mocs Nation.