Drayton Arnold working to claim offensive leadership role for Mocs

Gene Henley, Chattanooga Times Free Press, Tenn.
·4 min read

Feb. 23—Drayton Arnold is in his fifth year of college. He already has a bachelor's degree in finance and a minor in accounting.

But those were just his Old Dominion degrees. Since arriving at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga in January of 2019, he's added a master's degree in public administration and is working on another one in criminal justice.

What does he plan on doing with all of this learning?

"That's a good question," he said with a laugh Tuesday. "I wish I could have an answer for you." But he did have an answer in mind, as he followed up that statement by saying he may go to law school when he's done playing football.

Football has given him five years to make the most of his time in school. One thing he's been taught is the value of patience, perseverance and work ethic, things instilled in him by his parents Rodney and Heidi Arnold — two people he leaned on during his three seasons at Old Dominion and his time at UTC, where he was relegated to backup duty as a quarterback.

In this day and age, quarterbacks aren't really willing to be a backup for one year, let alone four. It's an experience that Arnold himself called "humbling." But he has waited his turn and has always prepared like he was starting, and now he's going to get his opportunity as the leader of the Mocs when they host Wofford on Saturday at noon in the first of a seven-game season that could become eight if UTC and Virginia Military Institute are able to make up a postponed matchup later this year.

After UTC's morning practices, Arnold will go to head coach Rusty Wright's office to get the keys to Scrappy Moore Field, where he will return by himself that afternoon to work on things and go over the script for the following day's practice.

"You're not going to stop a kid like that," Wright said. "He's been going down there since last summer on his own when he wants to. You just see a self-motivated kid that is trying to be as good as he can be in life. Anybody that's done what he's done academically shows what kind of person he's going to be in life, no matter what happens in football. You want people like that rubbing off on other folks in your program, and that's what's good about him."

So how is that time spent?

"I just walk through stuff. I visualize making throws, visualize making the right call, visualize seeing different coverages, seeing guys roll and stuff like that," Arnold said. "I work on getting the ball out of my hand and seeing it before it actually happens.

"You kind of get to see things before they happen and know where you want to go with the football before guys move or kind of see different coverages and know where you want to go with the football based on those coverages. So that's huge. For me that time is really big. A lot of my game and my preparation is centered around just visualizing going out there by myself and kind of sitting down, seeing a play, realizing all the coverages I can get for that one play, and walking through it. And then doing it again, and then doing it again, and then moving onto the next play."

The returns on Arnold after the Western Kentucky game, his first career college start, were...OK. He was better than his 9-for-23 attempts for 90 yards passing as he also rushed for 27 yards and the Mocs' lone touchdown in a 13-10 loss on Oct. 24. But not having started a football game since high school, it's expected that there would be some rust — and there was. There were some missed throws, but some of that could be attributed to a full game of live action, something he hadn't seen since Dec. 4, 2015 as a senior at South Carolina's Myrtle Beach High School.

It wasn't perfect, but it was live, and with the hopes on the quarterback position's ability to make the right play at the right time, just getting some game reps will be beneficial for Arnold going into the spring season and beyond.

"It's football. Football is not an easy game," Arnold said. "Playing the quarterback position, having been a backup for three years, it's a difficult position to play. I think backup is harder than starting, because I'm having more fun now being the starter than I was being the backup. I've just had to learn how to fight. Learn how to handle adversity, learn how to be a good teammate, be a leader, all of those things because they matter, especially when people are watching and you're the backup.

"It finds a way to eventually pay off, you know? I got those degrees because I continue to work and work and get better and get better, and I'll continue to do that."

Contact Gene Henley at ghenley@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @genehenley3.