Mocs' fifth-year seniors proud of program's turn-around - | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

Mocs' fifth-year seniors proud of program's turn-around

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CHATTANOOGA (WRCB) -- Russ Huesman made it clear after the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga's season-ending win over Elon that a 6-5 record is no longer good enough for the Mocs' football program.

"It's nice to win, and I'm going to enjoy it for about 15 hours, but 2013 starts tomorrow," he said Saturday.

A quartet of fifth-year seniors, however, will enjoy it for quite a bit longer.

Linebacker Shane Heatherly, running back J.J. Jackson and offensive lineman Adam Miller and Dustin Tate remember a time when wins were hard to come by for the Blue and Gold.

They signed their national letters of intent to play at UTC after the Mocs completed a 2-9 season in 2007, then redshirted as Chattanooga fell to an embarrassing 1-11 mark in 2008.

"It was tough," Miller said. "You really wonder if you've made the right decision. You went through the process where you thought about leaving."

The quartet made their official visits to UTC on the same weekend during the recruiting process. All four were won over by the Scenic City, and while many teammates came and went, the four remained loyal to Chattanooga.

"I did doubt it sometimes, but a lot of that comes with being homesick and all the drama that came with the 1-11 season," Heatherly said. "I still felt like I was in the right place."

Rodney Allison was ousted following the one-win season, and soon Huesman was brought in to "Restore the Glory" at his alma mater.

While the former Mocs' defensive back was undoubtedly the largest catalyst for change, the holdovers from Allison's final signing class still had to play their part to make the change they originally believed in a reality.

"I remember after that 1-11 season sitting down with the five-year guys and saying this is our job," Heatherly said. "I told them we have to turn this around. I knew we had the ability, and I feel that kind of got contagious."

The wins actually came quite quickly in Huesman's first year. The Mocs finished 6-5 for its first winning season since 2005. And with the wins, came a little more support throughout the UTC community.

"At the beginning, it was a rough time on campus for all of us," Miller recalled. "Now when you walk in class people congratulate you. It's just a feeling of everyone starting to come behind you and realize what it's taken."

It's taken a lot, but every bit of it has been worth it.

The senior class enjoyed 23 wins over the past four years, which is one more than the program won in the previous eight seasons combined. Huesman has led the Mocs to 17 Southern Conference victories, one fewer than the previous nine seasons combined.

In 2012, Chattanooga finished one win shy of sharing its first conference championship since 1984.

"That's what people want. They want a big change and us to win championships," Heatherly said. "But it takes baby steps. You have to get the right people in the right places.

"Now it's just a matter of time until it explodes here."

The Mocs lose just four starters from a 2012 team that lost three of their five games by one possession, including two in overtime, so both Miller and Heatherly are confident an even bigger breakthrough is soon to come.

When it does, they'll both smile a little wider knowing they helped put the program in position to make it happen.

"I'm going to be a Moc for life. I love it," Miller said. "And as a member of this senior class, we're proud to say we started that change."

Added Heatherly: "I don't doubt my time here. I take a lot of pride in it. I can tell my kids in the future when I come back to the games that I was part of turning that program around. It's something we'll be able to look back on and appreciate."

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