When the phone call he had been waiting on for four days finally came early last week, Chattanooga defensive line coach Marcus West couldn’t contain his elation, so he went bolting from his office and down the hall to share it with his boss.
Head coach Russ Huesman knew immediately why West had come barreling into his office brandishing his cell phone. On the other end of the line was former Navy defensive tackle Danny Ring, who announced in early June his intention to leave the Academy, and he had good news. Ring, who would have been a starter at nose tackle this season, was transferring to Chattanooga.
“I was fired up,” West said.
“We were pretty excited,” Huesman said. “We were also nervous. We weren’t sure (where Ring was headed). That was a huge get for us. So yeah, we were pretty excited.”
That Chattanooga was in position to offer Ring a scholarship was no accident. Under Huesman, who has helped return the program to respectability as he begins his fifth season, the UTC staff has always been active in the FBS transfer market. Not so active that the Mocs’ recruiting program is built off transfers. But if a player leaves an FBS school, happens to fill a need and happens to meet certain criteria, chances are good the UTC staff will hunt him down and try to sign him.
Huesman makes sure there’s always a scholarship or two waiting in reserve, just in case a player like Ring happens to turn up during the summer. In Ring’s case, it was a week before fall practice begins, proving that at UTC, recruiting is a yearlong pursuit.
“We don’t ever want to spend all our recruiting efforts trying to get FBS transfers,” Huesman said. “We’ll never do that. It’s always a specific need. And then there’s also gonna be a lot of research put into it, and there are a couple of things we have to rule out right away. We’ll never take anyone who’s had a criminal background in some capacity. Anybody that’s failed a drug test, we’ll never take. And obviously, the academic component has to be there.
“And then there’s need. If we don’t have a specific need, we don’t get involved. We’ve turned down a few running backs the past couple of years we probably could have gotten in on. With (quarterbacks) Jacob (Huesman) and Terrell (Robinson) and our two signees, we’ve turned down any quarterback transfers, too.”
Ironically, Ring joins a position group that is loaded. The Mocs already have two FBS transfers on their starting defensive front, Chris Mayes (Navy) and Derrick Lott (Georgia), to go along with preseason All-American Davis Tull. But Ring was too good to pass up.
“Defensive line is a tough position,” West said. “Because all the big bodies are gone. First you’re talking about the BCS schools, then other FBS schools. So by time they filter down to FCS programs like ours, there aren’t many. So you always want to have an opportunity to get those types of guys (from FBS programs). We never want to have to tell a big body no.”
The Mocs have had good success with FBS transfers under Huesman’s watch, though he figures their average is no better or worse than any other FCS program.
“If you look back at our track record and probably just about every FCS program, it’s 50-50, hit or miss,” Huesman said. “The more research you do, the more you check into backgrounds, the less of them you take, the better chance you have.”
Huesman didn’t want to mention the names of FBS transfers who didn’t work out, but there’s a long list of those who have, starting with former Tennessee quarterback B.J. Coleman, who became a three-year starter and helped turn the program around. If not for his shoulder injury in 2011, the Mocs would be working on a string of four consecutive winning seasons, a streak that hadn’t been seen at the school in more than 20 years.
Brian Sutherland, a transfer from Miami (Ohio), made 50 catches for 720 yards and led the Southern Conference in all-purpose yards in 2010, but he left the team in 2011 because of personal reasons. Despite Sutherland’s premature departure, Huesman singles him out as an example of an FBS transfer who met expectations.
There have been others. This season alone, the Mocs will put six former FBS players on the field. Three of them are defensive linemen, including Lott, the 300-pounder from Georgia.
“What a great hit he’s been for us,” Huesman said. “But he didn’t play that much at Georgia. I spoke to (Georgia head coach) Mark Richt about him. Richt didn’t want him to leave and loved the kid. We had Thomas Brown on our staff who had worked with him and thought he was a good worker. We had so much positive feedback even though there wasn’t anything for us to see that made you think, ‘wow.’ We hit right on that one.”
The Mocs also scored with Mays, and on the other side of the ball, former Tennessee offensive lineman Kevin Revis, who has helped in more ways than one.
“Kevin Revis is another great one for us,” Huesman said. “Not only a really good player, but a great teammate. Academically he’s been phenomenal. He’s a leader. He’s been great. And he also helped us get his brother Jacob (a 6-2, 295-pound freshman).”
If Daniel Ring makes anywhere close to the impact of a B.J. Coleman, Derrick Lott or Kevin Revis, Huesman and his staff would be thrilled.
West doesn’t doubt Ring will make an impact.
“I said it when we got him,” West said. “When we signed that kid, I think it just won us two more games.”