For seven year old James McCorkle, getting to meet University of Tennessee at Chattanooga football players was great and all, but the biggest thrill was getting an autograph from 'Scrappy', the Mocs mascot.
"He's old enough now that getting autographs is a big deal for him," said James' dad, Tim, who was one of many fans who turned out for the "Meet the Mocs" event Sunday afternoon at First Tennessee Pavilion. "He's got a poster that's covered with autographs from all the players, but I think he really got excited to meet Scrappy and get his autograph."
Tim McCorkle, a 1996 UTC grad and season ticket holder for several years, said he was excited that his son is now old enough to pay attention to what's going on in the games and believes this season could be exciting for Mocs fans of all ages.
"There are some big time expectations this year, especially after winning a share of the conference last year and having a lot of those guys back," Tim McCorkle said. "I'd say there's more excitement now than there has been around the program for many, many years, and if they were to make a playoff run, that would really get the city going I think."
Shortly after posing for the team photo, the entire football team positioned themselves just outside the pavilion to sign autographs, pose for pictures and greet fans.
"It's cool that we're looked at kind of like celebrities out here," said senior running back Keon Williams. "I've met a lot of young players and talked to them, and that's always a cool feeling to talk to kids.
"I've noticed there's a lot more people out here this year than the first couple of times we did this. I think that shows us we're going to have more support around town, but also that there's going to be some pressure to live up to the expectations everybody has."
With the majority of starters back from last year's eight-win team that claimed a share of the Southern Conference title for the first time in 30 years, and with the preseason offensive and defensive SoCon players of the year, UTC is has the highest preseason ranking in program history. All of that has created a positive buzz around the program.
"We bought season tickets for the first time," said Caesar Wood, who was at Sunday's event with his wife, Christy, and their sons, 10-year old Josh and five-year old Noah. "We went on a couple of road trips as a family to follow them last year and it was exciting. I think they're going to be even better this year, and it's good to see the support that's starting to build for them."
As his dad spoke, Josh proudly held up a poster with pictures of Mocs players and autographs and said he intended to hang it up in his room.
"My favorite was the quarterback [Jacob Huesman]," Josh said. "He's a good quarterback, and that's why they win. I like watching when he throws a deep pass for a touchdown."
Mocs fans throughout the area agree with that assessment and are hoping to see plenty of those long touchdown passes this season.
Contact Stephen Hargis at email@example.com or 423-757-6293.
Stephen has covered local sports in the tri-state area for more than 24 years, having been with the Times Free Press since its inception, and has been an assistant sports editor since 2005. Stephen is among the most decorated writers in the TFP’s newsroom, winning numerous state, regional and national writing awards, including seven in 2013 and a combined 12 in the last two years. He was named one of the top 10 sports writers ...