A handful of newcomers will be in the lineup Friday when the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga opens its 2013-14 wrestling season.
Two of them, though, brought exemplary credentials.
Michael Hooker was a four-time Tennessee state champion (three at McCallie) that signed with Navy but wound up at Navy's prep school before deciding to come back to Chattanooga. Cory Mock is a two-time NCAA qualifier from North Carolina that will have two years of eligibility remaining.
"Hooker's a unique individual," coach Heath Eslinger said as his team went through preparations for their meets at Maclellan Gym against Cumberland University and eight-ranked Wisconsin. "He is anxious to compete but he believes he can beat anybody in the country. I think he can beat anybody in the country. We're going to put him in positions where he can test himself."
Eslinger doesn't see confidence being an issue, but the 149-pounder is stepping up after spending last year wrestling open tournaments.
"This is Division I wrestling, and he's going to absorb some lumps. The question then becomes can we get him through those lumps and to that end prize," the coach said.
"I've been waiting basically a year and a half to wrestle a real college match," Hooker said. "I expect nothing less than All-American this year. My confidence is high because of the coaches. I've been doing everything they tell me."
Eslinger said Hooker had been exceptional.
"We've had to bridle some of his energy. He wants to be in the wrestling room all the time, and we want to make sure that energy is still there when it counts," Eslinger said. "When you bridle a horse you don't take away that horsepower. You steer it in a good and healthy direction. Hooker has a lot of for real horsepower."
So too does Mock, who has already proved himself to the coaching staff.
"I have had a tendency to 'break' in practice and I was complacent during sprints, content with finishing in the top 10 rather than being first," he said. "I had a meeting with the coaches and they told me they weren't seeing from me what they knew I had to give. It shocked me. I went home and thought about it and decided I'd push myself at everything."
He said that he now has the best cardiovascular shape of his college career.
"They called me out, came right at me. Sometimes you can't figure out what you need to do. Coach [Jon] Soriedas told me if I got to the point I wanted to back off to tell myself no, to shout it out loud if I had to. I have kept pushing through and trying to win everything. His advice already has helped a lot," said Mock, a two-time NCAA qualifier that's ranked as high as No. 7 in preseason lists.
Mock will be at 165 pounds.
Also making UTC debuts are Jared Johnson, the 197-pound redshirt freshman who's replacing graduated Niko Brown, and either Zach Bridson or Byron Smith at 125.
Nick Soto will be at 133, Austin Sams or Michael Pongracz at 141, Alex Hudson at 157, Levi Clemons at 174, John Shrader at 184 and Kevin Malone at 285.
The Mocs will wrestle Cumberland at 5 and Wisconsin at 6:30.
Contact Ward Gossett at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-886-4765. Follow him at Twitter.com/wardgossett.
Ward Gossett is an assistant sports editor and writer for the Times Free Press. Ward has a long history in Chattanooga journalism. He actually wrote a bylined story for the Chattanooga News-Free Press as a third-grader. He Began working part-time there in 1968 and was hired full time in 1970. Ward now covers high school athletics, primarily football, wrestling and baseball and University of Tennessee at Chattanooga wrestling. Over a 40-year career, he has covered ...