Kadeem Wise looked up at the fans leaning over the railing above the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga locker room.
"Five years, I've been waiting," Wise said. "We finally got one."
That one is a Southern Conference championship.
Technically, it's at least a share of the 2013 SoCon title. But players were dancing around, pointing at their ring fingers minutes before quarterback Jacob Huesman took a knee on the final play of UTC's 20-10 win over Wofford on Saturday, starting a fervent celebration.
"We're changing it forever!" senior D.J. Key screamed as he hugged sophomore Josh Freeman after the game. "Chattanooga has changed forever!"
Key is one of five current Mocs who have been with coach Russ Huesman since day one. Key, Wise, Hunter Dockery, Wes Dothard and Gunner Miller are the only remaining players from the former Mocs safety's first recruiting class.
They kept the faith that UTC would win a championship even though they arrived on campus following a 1-11 season.
"Coach Huesman sat in my living room and said, 'Come play for us. Come win the Southern Conference championship with us,'" said Wise, who made five tackles Saturday. "I believed in him, the guys that signed with me bought into the system and we worked at it.
"I don't even know how to take it all in. I don't even know how to feel. We've been working at this for years. Now we've finally got it."
Miller's appreciation runs even deeper. As a Chattanooga native who played at East Ridge, he saw games at Chamberlain Field and witnessed years of losing football in Finley Stadium.
He wore his war paint Saturday even though he couldn't play due to an injury. Yet he whooped and hollered and waved a towel in the fourth quarter, exciting the crowd of 12,090.
"Growing up, there was no buzz and they didn't have many winning seasons, but when it came down to recruiting, Coach Huesman comes in and started talking about championships," Miller said. "He said, 'We're going to win one. If you stay here five years, you're going to win a championship.'
"He was right on that one."
Dothard, the Mocs' leading tackler, heard a similar speech and chose to be a part of building a championship program at UTC. He made nine stops Saturday, including 2.5 for loss. He also ended any hopes Wofford had of making a comeback by intercepting a pass over the middle with two minutes to play.
"The fifth-year seniors -- I've been bragging on them -- are good players for us," Coach Huesman said. "Then walking in and seeing [Ryan] Consiglio, Sloan Allison and all those guys who started this process with us, they feel as much a part of this championship as anybody in that locker room. And they should. They started the building process. I wish they would have gotten one themselves.
"They share in this just like all the guys who were here from day one."
Contact David Uchiyama at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6484. Follow him at twitter.com/UchiyamaCTFP.
David Uchiyama is a sports writer at the Chattanooga Times Free Press who began his tenure here in May 2001. His primary beats are UTC athletics — specifically men’s basketball and athletic department administration — and golf, which includes coverage from the PGA Tour to youth events. He also covers other high school sports, outdoor adventures, and contributes to other sections of the newspaper when necessary. David grew up in Salinas, Calif., and began working ...