Chattanooga Times Free Press

Wykle, Per­son re­unite at UTC

- BY GENE HEN­LEY STAFF WRITER

As the head coach of a Foot­ball Cham­pi­onship Sub­di­vi­sion team, Rusty Wright has a much more strin­gent task when it comes to re­cruit­ing com­pared to those at the high­est lev­els in Di­vi­sion I.

Wright doesn’t find sell­ing prospects on the city of Chat­tanooga all that dif­fi­cult, though, and he had lit­tle work to do to lure in the lat­est re­cip­i­ent of a Univer­sity of Ten­nessee at Chat­tanooga foot­ball schol­ar­ship — be­cause one of his play­ers had done the work for him.

Lafayette Col­lege trans­fer and Cleve­land High School grad­u­ate Romeo Wykle, a de­fen­sive back who left the Penn­syl­va­nia FCS school af­ter the 2019 sea­son to walk on at UTC, was awarded a schol­ar­ship re­cently by the Mocs. Wykle’s step­brother is sopho­more out­side line­backer Jay Per­son, who prepped at Bradley Cen­tral and, like Wykle, grad­u­ated in 2018.

“I didn’t even have to re­cruit him,” Per­son said. “I re­mem­ber him saying that if he got the op­por­tu­nity, he’d like to come here, so I told the coaches about him and they were glad to have him here.

“I told him that it was go­ing to be a grind. There’s noth­ing easy handed to you, even though they know you can play. I just told him to keep work­ing and do­ing what you’re do­ing.”

In two sea­sons at Lafayette, the 6- foot, 200- pound Wykle logged 10 starts with 48 tack­les and four passes bro­ken up.

He is cur­rently ex­pected to sit out the 2020-21 sea­son per NCAA trans­fer rules, but UTC has ap­plied for a waiver that would make him im­me­di­ately el­i­gi­ble, with Wright not­ing he “feels pretty good it’s go­ing to hap­pen” due to Wykle’s de­ci­sion to trans­fer closer to home. Having him on the field this sea­son is im­por­tant for the Mocs be­cause Wykle could pro­vide needed depth at the slot cor­ner­back po­si­tion be­hind for­mer Oolte­wah stand­out Rashun Freeman.

“It’s nice to be able to get a player of that cal­iber who has col­lege ex­pe­ri­ence,” Wright said af­ter last week’s scrim­mage at Scrappy Moore Field as the Mocs pre­pare for their Oct. 24 game at Western Ken­tucky and the an­tic­i­pated spring se­mes­ter sched­ule that is to in­clude South­ern Con­fer­ence com­pe­ti­tion. “It gives us a lit­tle more depth, and that was our big­gest con­cern.

“He’s worked hard. He got here and he wasn’t in very good shape — just like all of them — and it’s taken him a lit­tle while

to get his body un­der­neath him and do some stuff. But he seems to mix well, has jelled well, and it’s been good.”

Wykle and Per­son last shared the field to­gether as team­mates in 2014 at Cleve­land Mid­dle School. Per­son then went on to Bradley, where he was the Re­gion 2-6A de­fen­sive player of the year as a se­nior, while Wykle played for the crosstown Blue Raiders, scor­ing 20 touch­downs in his Cleve­land High ca­reer.

Look­ing back, their path to play­ing to­gether seemed like a long shot. Per­son spent his first year of col­lege at Ap­palachian State, play­ing in two games be­fore trans­fer­ring to UTC af­ter the 2018 sea­son. Mean­while, Wykle was start­ing at Lafayette be­fore mak­ing the de­ci­sion to trans­fer closer to home af­ter the Leop­ards won just seven games in his two sea­sons in the pro­gram.

“It’s a good op­por­tu­nity,” Wykle said. “Com­pet­ing with your brother is al­ways fun. It’s al­ways some­thing that you nat­u­rally do, but now it’s good be­cause now you get to root for them even more be­cause you’re on the same team. We both want to see each other do well, and we’ve got goals we want to reach for.”

The Mocs have had two scrim­mages in prepa­ra­tion for next week’s visit to the Hill­top­pers, with a third sched­uled for this week­end. Af­ter the game in Bowl­ing Green comes an ex­tended lay­off as UTC awaits the de­tails of the FCS spring sea­son and a SoCon sched­ule.

How­ever, with the COVID-19 pan­demic that de­layed con­fer­ence play on­go­ing and af­fect­ing teams that are play­ing full sched­ules this fall, there are no guar­an­tees the games hap­pen. If the trip to Western Ken­tucky is the only time the Mocs take the field this school year, they want to make sure they’re pre­pared — so for Per­son and his team­mates, that’s their fo­cus.

“I’m jacked up about it,” Per­son said. “I’ve been wait­ing to play for al­most a month now, so I’m just ready, hon­estly, to play against some­body other than my team­mates. Some­one you can ac­tu­ally play against and get af­ter.”

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 ?? STAFF PHOTO BY C. B. SCHMELTER ?? UTC line­backer Jay Per­son, shown dur­ing prac­tice Wed­nes­day, right, is get­ting the chance to play foot­ball again with Romeo Wykle, left, his step­brother and for­mer Cleve­land Mid­dle School team­mate. It seemed an un­likely sce­nario at one point. Per­son played in high school at Bradley Cen­tral and then Ap­palachian State as Wykle went on to Cleve­land and then Lafayette Col­lege in Penn­syl­va­nia.
STAFF PHOTO BY C. B. SCHMELTER UTC line­backer Jay Per­son, shown dur­ing prac­tice Wed­nes­day, right, is get­ting the chance to play foot­ball again with Romeo Wykle, left, his step­brother and for­mer Cleve­land Mid­dle School team­mate. It seemed an un­likely sce­nario at one point. Per­son played in high school at Bradley Cen­tral and then Ap­palachian State as Wykle went on to Cleve­land and then Lafayette Col­lege in Penn­syl­va­nia.

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