Buster Skrine has a knack for making the most of his first opportunities.
As a true freshman in 2007, the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga cornerback had two interceptions, returning one 45 yards for a touchdown, in his first career start.
Last season, in the opener against Glenville State, he kicked off his junior year with an interception on the first series of the game and added a mesmerizing 75-yard return of a blocked extra point.
Come Saturday, in the Mocs' season opener against No. 3 Appalachian State at Finley Stadium, what will Skrine do next? It could be anything, according to Mocs coach Russ Huesman.
"He's as good or better than everybody I've ever been around," Huesman said Monday after speaking to the Chattanooga Quarterback Club.
The senior was a preseason first-team All-Southern Conference pick and has started 22 games in his career, with four interceptions. Skrine predicted before last season that he would pick off seven passes in 2009, but he managed only two, in part because teams stopped throwing his way very often.
"I'm not putting a number on that this year," he said.
Good numbers would help his chances of getting a shot at the NFL. Skrine has been clocked in the 40-yard dash at 4.22 seconds and he's technically very sound, but at 5-foot-9 his height could be a hindrance.
"I know I'm fast and all that, but I know [NFL scouts] still want to see me make plays," he said.
Several scouts attended Mocs practices during preseason camp, and Huesman said the feedback he's received has been very positive.
"I don't know what they're looking for in the NFL, but I do know they like him a whole bunch," the coach said. "He's got everything you look for, and if he was a 6-footer he'd be a slam dunk."
Huesman and defensive coordinator Adam Fuller regularly use words such as "tenacious" and "conscientious" about Skrine.
"I would love to have Buster for my own son. That's the type of kid he is," Huesman said.
Said Fuller: "There's not a thing about him that's a negative, from his tangible things to his intangibles - the way he prepares, the way he listens. We'd like to have 22 of him."
Of all his memorable plays so far, Skrine said the two that stand out are the interception return for a touchdown against Western Kentucky in his first start and the score against Glenville State.
The interception return was his "first pick for a touchdown at any level," he said.
The play against Glenville State started with a blocked extra point that defensive tackle Nick Craig recovered. Craig flipped the ball to Skrine at the UTC 25-yard line and Skrine zigzagged his way down the field before diving into the end zone.
"It was a crazy play," he said, smiling at the memory. "I couldn't even breathe. You saw that Joe [Thornton] had to help me off the field. Once I made it to like the 30 I was like, I've got to score. It would have been too much work for nothing."
During Huesman's QB Club talk Monday, he declared that "someday we'll win big. We'll win a national championship here someday. I don't know how long it's going to be, but all the ingredients are here." ... The Mocs were off Monday and will practice at 3:30 p.m. the rest of the week.