For the second year in a row the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga football team suffered a devastating blow in the final scrimmage of preseason camp.
Last year the Mocs lost defensive lineman Zach Rayl to a season-ending knee injury, and this year it's an already thin offensive line taking a big hit as junior left guard Synjen Herren will miss the season with torn ligaments in his right knee.
The 6-foot-4, 313-pound Herren, who was a preseason first-team All-Southern Conference selection, suffered the injury in the final stages of last Friday's scrimmage at Finley Stadium. It was originally thought that he had a fracture in his lower leg that would cause him to miss four to six weeks, but an MRI has shown that he also tore ligaments and will require surgery.
"It's definitely not the news I wanted to hear. It's tough, real tough," said Herren, a former Northwest Whitfield star. "Especially with the preseason hype for the team and with me being named all-conference, I really was feeling like more of a leader up front.
"It will definitely be a different feeling having to stand on the sideline, but somebody has to step up in my place and I'm going to do whatever I can to help the team."
Junior Brandon Morgan is moving from right tackle to Herren's spot at left guard, and redshirt freshman Hunter Townson from Ider, Ala., is moving up from second-team right tackle.
"Brandon is a smart kid who has played a lot of positions here, and he was kind of my emergency plan from the beginning at several positions," offensive line coach Chris Malone said. "It just got kicked into effect a lot sooner than I expected. I told Brandon to show the team you're a great teammate by accepting this role. He'll be fine there.
"As far as Hunter, I felt like by the end of the year he was going to be playing a lot anyway. He's really coming on, and I like his ability and effort a lot. I hate it for Synjen because he's a great kid who works his butt off and is a great leader for us, but in the line you step on a land mine from time to time and lose guys. We have to keep moving on and get better."
The shift caused by the loss of Herren, along with right guard Chris Mayes adjusting to a position change from defensive line and having a freshman, Jacob Revis, at center all means the Mocs will be inexperienced up front heading into next Thursday's season opener at Central Michigan.
Herren already was showing what type leader he will be through the injury when he sat down with the linemen after practice Tuesday to watch extra video and give advice.
"It's a lot of responsibility and I hate that Synjen got hurt," Townson said. "I'm glad they picked me to step up and help out, though, and I'm very comfortable with the position they're asking me to play.
"I've been working a lot on either tackle, and now we all just have to come together, put in extra time and do whatever we need to to be ready for the 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 ...