For many collegiate football programs, the first few days of spring practice can be considered a time for adjustment. The arduous winter workout and conditioning sessions are behind them, and the players, donning practice shorts and helmets, have begun the process of getting re-acclimated.
“These are important days,” UTC head coach Russ Huesman said. “We got a lot done here in the last two days. Will it show who will hit who? No, but at least we got a bunch done. I like the enthusiasm and excitement out here.”
Chattanooga will pick up the pace Friday when it puts on full pads for the first time this spring, but for at least two Mocs—senior Chris Mayes and sophomore Tolerance Shepherd—that adjustment period will persist.
It’s through no fault of their own, either.
Mayes, a 300-pound former defensive tackle, is transitioning to the offensive line this spring, while Shepherd, a converted running back, has found a new home in the secondary.
“A lot of people think it’s a simple transition, but there’s a big change in the technique used and philosophies,” said Mayes, who hadn’t played O-line since his senior year at Riverdale High School.
“It’s like learning the game of football from a different perspective,” added Shepherd, the offensive MVP of last year’s Blue & Gold spring game. “I didn’t even play defense in high school.”
Early struggles are to be expected, but with the relative lack of depth and experience at those respective positions, both are expected to contribute this fall.
For Mayes, the switch made sense for a couple of reasons.
The graduations of Kevin Revis, Pat Sutton, Hunter Dockery and Shaun Hill left plenty of holes along UTC’s offensive front—one of which is right guard, where Mayes has been taking reps with the first-team offense.
“He’s got to get better fast,” Huesman said. “We need him to be really good.”
“It’s been progressing pretty good, according to Coach,” Mayes added. “Not as fast as I would like, but to them it’s going just like they expect it to be.”
In addition, the Mocs’ defensive line is so loaded up that Mayes couldn’t possibly be as impactful on that side of the ball.
“Last year he helped us,” Huesman said. “He was in the three-man rotation. He got probably 25 snaps a game. He’s a competitor. Twenty-five snaps is not enough. ... We’ve got three pretty good [defensive] tackles right now, and if they stay healthy there’s just not enough snaps.”
Shepherd, who missed Day 1 due to illness, was a little more surprised when he heard the news this offseason.
“Maybe like a week after the season had ended we all had position meetings and coaches meetings, and Coach Huesman told me I was going to move to corner,” he said. "It was kind of shocking at first. We had talked about it when I first got recruited, but I was expecting to be a running back for four years.”
Like Mayes, though, the 5-10, 180-pounder has a much better chance of seeing the field from his new position. Shepherd, the squad’s fourth-string running back a season ago, is now taking reps with the second-team defense.
For the Fitzgerald, Ga., native, the initial disappointment has been overcome by optimism for the future.
“I was going to be the fourth or fifth back coming into the spring,” Shepherd said. “Now I’m like the second cornerback. I feel good about my chances; I’ve just got to continue to progress and get better.”
Michael Murphy covers UTC athletics for Nooga.com. Follow him on twitter @MichaelNooga.