Like a character from the Snickers commercials Russ Huesman just wasn't himself Wednesday. But it wasn't the sugar rush of a candy bar the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga football coach needed to settle himself down, it was the start of preseason football practice.
Huesman's demeanor was noticeably different before and after the Mocs' first practice at Scrappy Moore Field, going from antsy to satisfied once he had two-plus hours of practice video to pour over.
"I had a headache all day so I can tell there's some tension and nerves," Huesman said just before the first of the Mocs' 21 practices. "I sat in my office for two hours looking at my watch. Time was crawling. This is what you do it for."
As he made his way back toward the coaches office, Huesman seemed content with the attitude and effort, summing up what he had seen with a shrug.
"Pretty typical first day," Huesman said. "Little bit of rust. But it looked like they were excited to be out there. If they weren't we've got some serious issues. It's hard to tell until we get in and watch the film how everybody looked but the main thing was it looked like they were excited and working."
There was no shortage of enthusiasm throughout the workout. The combination of perfect weather, the return of players who had sat out spring drills with lingering injuries, and the addition of the incoming freshmen from the top-rated FCS signing class also cleared to practice all made for a positive start to fall camp.
As hip hop music blared throughout the afternoon, helping to keep the pace of practice up-tempo, the Mocs began working toward determining a pecking order at several positions.
"It's a whole lot better getting back into a routine," offensive lineman Synjen Herren said afterward. "A lot of guys were here working out over the summer, but now we can start putting it all together and work toward the season.
"It's a good feeling to have everybody out here and working toward the main goal."
With just four weeks remaining before the season kicks off at Central Michigan, there's a limited amount of time to establish a rotation for a team with lofty goals.
The Mocs are scheduled to return to the field this morning at 6:30 and will shift gears to full pads on Sunday.
After having to sit out spring practice recovering from ACL injuries, defensive linemen Zack Rayl and Vantrell McMillan will no longer be held back. Rayl will be in a battle with Keionta Davis, the spring game MVP, to start at right end, while McMillan, who coaches praise for his athleticism and high motor, is backing up two-time All America Davis Tull.
With 18 lettermen back on both sides of the ball, it could be tough for new arrivals to earn playing time. None of the incoming freshmen are listed higher than third-team on the depth chart entering the fall, meaning they'll have to prove themselves over the course of the next few weeks to get on the field.
"Sometimes they're so far down on the depth chart that the young pups are going to have to show what they can do during the individual portion and when they're working with their individual coaches and with one-on-one situations," Huesman said. "Every team has a different approach. Either you have something to prove if you were picked high or you've got a chip on your shoulder if you're further down in the pack. I think our guys have a pretty good grasp on where we need to be."
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 ...