Two-time All-SoCon performer Ryan Consiglio graduated after leading the league with 120 tackles last season. He was a first team all-league selection and is tough to replace in the middle of the defense.
Despite his loss, Chattanooga has a lot coming back in the linebacking corps. Wes Dothard (Carrollton, Ga.) had a stellar year, being named to the 2011 The Sports Network/Fathead.com FCS All-American First Team.
Dothard (6-1, 235) was one of just four freshmen or sophomores to make the first team. He was also the first Chattanooga sophomore to garner All-American accolades since Pumpy Tudors (P) in 1989.
A three-time SoCon Player of the Week, Dothard was also the SoCon Defensive Player of the Month for September. He had two scores, a 30-yard pick-six against No. 10 Jacksonville State and a 43-yard fumble return at Samford. He was also fourth in the nation with five forced fumbles and second on the team with 98 tackles.
"Obviously it starts with Wes among the first three," stated head coach Russ Huesman. "He is an excellent player, and we expect big things from him as he continues to develop and get better."
Dothard will hold on to his spot as the Mike (middle) linebacker while Gunner Miller (Chattanooga, Tenn.) returns at Will (weak-side). Miller (6-1, 225) made eight starts and played in all 11 games last season. He recorded 51 tackles and had a 24-yard pick-six at Elon.
"Gunner Miller is looking good," added Huesman. "He has lost a little weight and is running better. He is as solid as it gets and we expect him to continue to progress."
Replacing Consiglio at the Sam (strong-side) linebacker is Shane Heatherly (Waynesville, N.C.). Heatherly (6-4, 220) has a ton of experience. He started 10 games and recording 45 tackles at Mike as a sophomore in 2010.
"Shane has had a really, really good spring," said Huesman. "He got behind Wes at Mike last year and never could catch him. With his experience, we will basically have three returning starters at linebacker, so we have three that we feel really good about."
UTC also has three solid backups battling for playing time. Muhasibi Wakeel (Decatur, Ga.) and C.J. Murrell (Hendersonville, Tenn.) both handled special teams duties last season. Wakeel (5-11, 220) played in all 11 games and recorded 13 stops, while Murrell (6-0, 195) saw action in nine games and recorded three tackles.
"Muhasibi is coming along and I feel good about him as a solid backup," stated Huesman. "He is doing a nice job and can play Sam or Mike. C.J. doesn't have the biggest body, but he is one of those guys who can make plays. We like him and expect him to play next year."
A.J. Hampton (Nashville, Tenn.) is working as the backup to Dothard at Mike. At 6-1 and 240 pounds, Hampton has a big body with the speed to be effective at the position.
"We think he has a lot of ability and a lot of upside," added Huesman. "He is a walk-on who we think can be a good player in this league."