CHATTANOOGA (WRCB) -- Energy was high, yet harnessed as the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga hit the field for the first time this fall Wednesday afternoon at Scrappy Moore Field.
The first practice of preseason camp appeared to be business as usual in what senior linebacker Gunner Miller called a "veteran" practice.
"Obviously we'll probably find a lot of mistakes on the film, but I feel like the guys going with the ones really know how to handle themselves in a college practice," said redshirt sophomore Jacob Huesman, who is entering his second year as the starter at quarterback. "We have high expectations and I think that leads to playing with more confidence."
The former Baylor School star is one of the 18 returning starters from a team that finished 6-5 a year ago, giving the Mocs the depth and experience head coach Russ Huesman has been cultivating through his first four years.
"It's definitely nice to have all those guys back," Russ Huesman said. "They know what we're doing. We just need the great players to stay great, the good players to get better and the average players to get good.
"If we can take those strides all the way across the board we should have a chance."
The Mocs started making those strides this offseason by increasing their voluntary workouts.
Fueled by the memory of eight single-digit losses over the last two years, players had no problems finding motivation to take part.
"It was one of the best summers that I've been around at UTC as far as people showing up and putting in the time they need to put in," Jacob Huesman said. "I think that's going to help us this year, especially in the fourth quarter. I think everyone is in a lot better shape and got a lot stronger."
Opposing Southern Conference coaches certainly expect Chattanooga to be stronger this fall, picking the Mocs to finish third behind Georgia Southern and Appalachian State in last week's preseason poll.
It's UTC's highest preseason league ranking since 1992.
Defensive end Davis Tull and linebacker Wes Dothard have been regulars on preseason Al-American rosters and joined three teammates on the all-SoCon first team defense, boosting the hype for defense that ranked among the nation's best a year ago.
"We appreciate the attention we're getting, but the preseason stuff means nothing because we haven't played a game yet," said senior linebacker Gunner Miller.
Huesman agrees his team still has plenty to prove, especially since it has yet to finish better than 6-5 in his four-year tenure.
However, the Mocs are also aware the time is ripe to prove it.
With Georgia Southern and Appalachian State both ineligible to win the SoCon title while preparing to jump to the FBS, UTC's deep and talented roster is in position to make a power play for the league's top spot and its first playoff berth since 1984.
That is, if it can finally live up to its potential.
"Everybody is ready to win," said senior cornerback Chaz Moore. "It's time to put it together to have a winning season and make it to the playoffs. We'll take it step by step to become champions. SoCon champions or national champions, just champions period.
"It's time to win."