Poll one million Southern college football fans about what songs their favorite team's players would be most likely to sing at a talent show, and it's a safe bet not a single one would choose a tune from "Phantom of the Opera."
Country offerings from Kenny Chesney or Blake Shelton perhaps. Rap creations by Kanye West or Lil Wayne. Maybe even something soulful from Cee Lo Green (non-Riverbend edition), Lenny Kravitz or Johnny Legend.
But "Point of No Return" from Phantom?
"For most of us, it's something funny to do," University of Tennessee at Chattanooga coach Russ Huesman said as he reflected Tuesday on his team's recent "Mocs Got Talent" night. "You're hoping one or two guys can play an instrument, sing a little, show some real talent. But it's mostly for laughs."
At least it was until junior offensive lineman Brandon Morgan stood to belt out one of Andrew Lloyd Webber's most memorable numbers.
"The first thing you think is, 'He's singing opera?'" Huesman recalled two days before the Mocs' season opener against visiting UT-Martin. "Why would he like that? You figure most guys would sing a country song or something. Opera? You're sure you're going to bust out laughing."
Given that mindset, there was great cause for concern that Morgan was about to reach a point of no return regarding the future respect of his teammates and coaches. Especially if he was taking this seriously and the rest of the Mocs thought it was a joke.
But the left tackle has been singing since early childhood, when he first joined the Little Friendship Baptist Church choir in Ensley, Ala., a suburb of Birmingham. He knows his musicm and unlike most of his teammates, he favors "classical instrumentals."
All of which led an aging sports writer to gently ask the 6-foot-2, 290-pounder for a second favorite stage production.
"Moulin Rouge," he answered.
Just a hunch, but Morgan might be the only athlete in the Southern Conference who would refer to "Phantom of the Opera" and "Moulin Rouge" in the same conversation, much less sing songs from them.
Throw in the fact that he's majoring in electrical engineering and is the recipient of the FCA Endowment Scholarship and you have the clubhouse leader for UTC's Renaissance Athlete of the Year, if such an award exists. If not, maybe the school should start one in his honor.
Especially since the first giggle never leaked from his teammates or coaches.
"Brandon did a great job," said senior cornerback Kadeem Wise.
"The whole team stood and applauded," added Morgan, who also insisted, "They really accepted me."
Said Huesman: "It was a really a great thing. Really special."
But what equally impressed Huesman and Wise was what senior offensive guard Kevin Revis told the team before Morgan sang.
"Kevin stood up and said, "Brandon's going to sing opera,'" Huesman said. "He said, 'This is not a joke. He's not to be laughed at.' I think that says a lot about the leaders we have on this team."
Revis is one of five UTC captains, the others being senior linebacker Gunner Miller, senior defensive back Chaz Moore, sophomore quarterback Jacob Huesman and Wise.
"And we could have had 12 captains," Coach Huesman added. "We had another five or six guys with multiple votes."
Some would say that when it comes to college football, leadership leads best when it leads talent. No matter how much discipline and determination a player has, if he runs a 4.7 40 and he's chasing a guy who runs a 4.4, he's probably going to get beat.
Leadership aside, for the Mocs to reach the FCS playoffs for the first time since 1984, they must above all be better football players than their opponents.
But football also is the ultimate team sport, each player relying on his 10 teammates on every snap.
So when Wise said Tuesday, "This is our time," it sounded different than in past years. More believable. More doable.
Added the songbird Morgan: "There's just this special feeling of togetherness this year."
It all sounds perfect, the way every statement should before a season begins. Even the coach has trouble seriously poor-mouthing his fifth Mocs squad.
"I think we're going to be pretty good," Huesman said of his fifth UTC team. "But it's up to [the players] to be great."
And if they're not, or if they at least fail to win at least seven games for the first time since 1997, get ready for the long-suffering Mocs Nation to begin singing their own version of "Point of No Return" minus any and all applause, acceptance the last thing on their minds.
Contact Mark Wiedmer at email@example.com.
Mark Wiedmer started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press on Valentine’s Day of 1983. At the time, he had to get an advance from his boss to buy a Valentine gift for his wife. Mark was hired as a graphic artist but quickly moved to sports, where he oversaw prep football for a time, won the “Pick’ em” box in 1985 and took over the UTC basketball beat the following year. By 1990, he was ...