One common theme on the defensive side of the ball throughout GoMocs.com’s Training Camp Rundown, is the presence of preseason All-Americans. Today’s look at the linebackers continues that trend with senior Wes Dothard.
Dothard is the head of a group of 11 linebackers suiting up for the Mocs this fall. He and fellow senior Gunner Miller (6-1, 230) are two returning starters who are leading the talented middle of the Chattanooga defense.
“Gunner and I are going to be the leaders this season,” said Dothard following a recent workout. “Being here the longest, and this is our third year of playing with each other, we are going to be leading these younger guys.
“We are improving every day. We still have to work on fundamentals. We know what to do and we know how to play the defense, but we need to continue to work on the fundamentals and get in the right spots. We need to take on the blocks in the correct way.”
Dothard is a two-time All-American from Carrollton, Ga., who has been among the top defensive players in the nation over the last two years because of his attention to the fundamentals. He finished 25th in the 2011 Buck Buchanan Award voting for national defensive player of the year honors. He moved up to 19th last season and is again among the 20 players in the nation on the preseason Buchanan Award Watch List.
Dothard (6-1, 235) led the team with 94 tackles last season and has 214 during his career. Both Phil Steele and The Sports Network picked him as a preseason All-American heading into 2013. The Southern Conference coaches also tagged him first team preseason all-league. He will again hold down the Mike (middle) linebacker position.
“When you think about the linebackers over the past couple of years, the first name you think of Wes Dothard,” said Miller. “He is a great player and an All-American. We are expecting a lot of great things out of him and a lot of leadership.”
Junior Muhasibi Wakeel (5-11, 220) backs up Dothard in the middle and is in his fourth year in the program. He has played in every game over the last two seasons, mostly on special teams. He has 25 career tackles and forced a fumble against Western Carolina last season.
Redshirt freshman Alex Kirby (6-0, 210) and freshman Sam Mullaney (6-1, 200) are also competing in the middle. Kirby is a two-time all-state prep player from nearby Calhoun (Ga.) High School, while Mullaney is an all-district standout from Brentwood (Tenn.) High School.
Miller, a Chattanooga native, has started 21 games over the last three years, including eight in 2012. He is No. 1 on the depth chart at Sam linebacker and one of the leaders on the team. Known for his trademark face paint, Miller has 121 career tackles and added two interceptions in 2013.
Sophomore A.J. Hampton (6-1, 240) is battling for time behind Miller. He came off the bench in 2012, playing mostly on special teams where he made eight tackles. Sophomore Whit Shelton (6-1, 215) and freshman Austin Hall (6-0, 195) are also competing for time at the Sam.
“We have Wes Dothard and Gunner Miller and they have had great camps,” said linebackers coach Rusty Wright. “Those two guys have played a lot of football around here. We are just trying to get them in great shape so they can play a bunch of plays.
“The next thing we have to do is find some depth. Muhasibi Wakeel and AJ Hampton have had good camps, but we have to keep building them and keep bringing them along. We need to make sure we are healthy and create a little more depth. We need competition in that group.”
Look for redshirt freshman Nakevion Leslie (5-11, 210) to step into the Will (weak) position. Leslie practiced as a defensive back as a true freshman in 2012. He added some weight in the offseason and moved up to linebacker. He will be pushed by true freshmen T.J. Jenkins (6-2, 210) and David Morgan (6-2, 215). Jenkins was a two-star prep prospect at Plant High School in Tampa, Fla., while Morgan was a standout at nearby Cleveland (Tenn.) High School.
“They are hard workers,” stated head coach Russ Huesman. “I feel like there is a lot of good experience with Wes Dothard and Gunner Miller because they have played a lot of football here. Muhasibi Wakeel has been doing a great job and AJ Hampton in the best shape he has been since he has been here. We believe he can be a factor this year. Nakevion Leslie has been very good for us on the outside. He is still learning, but he has a lot of ability and I think he will be good.”
Preseason camp is nearly over with the start of classes just around the corner on Monday, Aug. 19. The Mocs are set for their second scrimmage on Friday, Aug. 16. At 4:00 p.m. (E.D.T.) at Finley Stadium. This is open to season ticket holders and UTC Mocs Club members. The Mocs’ Mobile Ticket Van will be on hand selling season tickets to those who have not purchased or renewed for the upcoming six-game home slate.
Fans can also check out the linebackers and the rest of the team at Meet the Mocs on Saturday, Aug. 17. The autograph and photo session begins at 1:00 p.m. in the First Tennessee Pavilion with an open practice in Finley Stadium at 2:30 p.m.
The Mocs open the 2013 season on Thursday, Aug. 29, against UT Martin. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. at Finley Stadium. Tickets are on sale now on GoMocs.com or by calling the UTC Ticket Office at (423) 266-MOCS (6627).
Linebackers Depth Chart
|Sam||11||Gunner Miller||6-1||230||Sr.-3L||Chattanooga, Tenn.||Three-year starter|
|42||A.J. Hampton||6-1||240||So.-1L||Nashville, Tenn.||Played in every game in 2012, mostly on special teams|
|57||Whit Shelton||6-1||215||So.-TR||Lawrenceburg, Tenn.||Transfer from Campbellsville|
|60||Ausitn Hall||6-0||195||Fr.-HS||Chattanooga,Tenn.||All-district prep player|
|Mike||25||Wes Dothard||6-1||235||Sr.-3L||Carrollton, Ga.||Two-time All-American ... Buck Buchanan Award Watch List|
|38||Muhasibi Wakeel||5-11||220||Jr.-2L||Decatur, Ga.||Played in every game over last two seasons|
|33||Alex Kirby||6-0||210||Fr.-RS||Calhoun, Ga.||2x All-State prep player|
|51||Sam Mullaney||6-1||200||Fr.-HS||Brentwood, Tenn.||All-district as a prep player|
|Will||28||Nakevion Leslie||5-11||210||Fr.-RS||Powder Springs, Ga.||Moved up from DB|
|46||T.J. Jenkins||6-2||210||Fr.-HS||Tampa, Fla.||Two-star prep prospect|
|34||David Morgan||6-2||215||Fr.-HS||Chattanooga, Tenn.||All-district prep prospect|