The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga needs linebackers. A lot of them.
Most of the Mocs' coaching staff has been on the road recruiting this week, and head coach Russ Huesman said UTC is looking to sign players at every position. But linebacker is at the top of the shopping list.
"Linebacker is a priority, there's no question," he said.
UTC, coming off a shared Southern Conference championship and an 8-4 season, will sign at least four linebackers, Huesman said.
The Mocs lose senior starters Wes Dothard and Gunner Miller from a position that has been talented throughout Huesman's five seasons, but never deep. Dothard is the only three-time first team All-SoCon player in school history -- and could be a three-time All-American -- while Miller was a four-year starter.
Returning contributors are Muhasibi Wakeel, Nakevion Leslie and A.J. Hampton. Wakeel was sixth on the team with 49 tackles, and Leslie had 31.
UTC lost Miller, Wakeel and Hampton to injuries during the Appalachian State game -- won on Leslie's interception return for a touchdown -- and had to bring in C.J. Murrell late in the game. Murrell, a backup safety, hadn't practiced at linebacker all season.
In the season finale at Alabama, Murrell and Leslie were the linebackers the entire second half after Dothard and Wakeel were injured and Miller and Hampton were already out for the season.
UTC's numbers at the position would have been better if it wasn't for some late defections in recruiting.
"We've taken some hits there in recruiting battles, for sure," Huesman said.
Those hits included Elon's John Silas and Appalachian State's John Law, who both made the Southern Conference all-freshman team this season as redshirt freshmen after decommitting from the Mocs late in the recruiting process two years ago.
The Mocs redshirted true freshmen T.J. Jenkins and former Cleveland High School standout David Morgan and also have former Calhoun (Ga.) High School state defensive player of the year Alex Kirby, who didn't play as a redshirt freshman this season.
UTC's signing class will be between 15-20, most likely. It got a little bigger when center Patrick Sutton, wideout Bryant Belew and defensive lineman Devin Scates, all redshirt juniors, decided not to play their final season.
Another position of need is offensive line, which loses Sutton and first-team All-SoCon guard Kevin Revis. Another deep threat at wide receiver could also be beneficial, though UTC next season will have Alphonso Stewart and former Bradley Central standout James Stovall, both of whom redshirted this season.
At quarterback UTC has redshirt sophomore Jacob Huesman, the coaches' pick for SoCon offensive player of the year, as well as redshirt junior Terrell Robinson. In addition, the Mocs redshirted freshmen Alejandro Bennifield and Tyler Roberson.
Huesman said he'd like to sign another quarterback for this year's class, but it will be a quarterback who can play another position as well.
UTC is set in the kicking game with Nick Pollard returning for his final season and Henrique Ribeiro back in action after redshirting this season. Pollard will graduate this year, Huesman said, and play next season as a graduate student.
Dothard and defensive backs Kadeem Wise and D.J. Key have accepted invitations to participate in the College All Star Bowl, a showcase event for seniors. The game is Feb. 14, 2014, at Furman's Paladin Stadium.
Contact John Frierson at email@example.com or 423-757-6268. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/MocsBeat.
John Frierson is in his seventh year at the Times Free Press and seventh year covering University of Tennessee at Chattanooga athletics. The bulk of his time is spent covering Mocs football, but he also writes about women’s basketball and the big-picture issues and news involving the athletic department. A native of Athens, Ga., John grew up a few hundred yards from the University of Georgia campus. Instead of becoming a Bulldog he attended Ole ...