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Small School leads to Big Opportunity

By Matthew Golden
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Chattanooga's Nick Tiano looks to join the likes of former FCS quarterbacks Carson Wentz and Jimmy Garoppolo by establishing a successful NFL career.

Around this time every year, the hype and speculation of the NFL Draft reaches its peak as mock drafts,
big boards, and player rankings are being released by what seems like the minute.

While hundreds of players at their respective positions prepare mentally and physically for what’s to
come, it seems like there is always an additional spotlight placed upon the quarterback group heading
into late April.

In a class headlined by 2019 Heisman winner Joe Burrow and 2018 Heisman runner-up Tua Tagovailoa,
there is an obvious buzz around the future signal callers and where they may end up.

With guys like Burrow, Justin Herbert, Jordan Love, and Jake Fromm being household names heading
into the draft, it’s easy to get lost in the mix and forget about some of the less known, proven talents
across college football.

While we’ve seen FCS level quarterbacks like Carson Wentz and Jimmy Garoppolo pick up heavy
attention ahead of the NFL draft, it isn’t very common that these “small school" prospects garnish enough
buzz to get selected to the NFL Draft.

Next in line to potentially represent the FCS and smaller school quarterbacks across the nation in the
NFL Draft is former Chattanooga standout Nick Tiano.

Tiano, an unlikely dual threat prospect, played his final two seasons of college football in his hometown
of Chattanooga after transferring from Mississippi State.

In 2020, Tiano was just one of three quarterbacks in the Southern Conference to throw for over 2,000
yards, also adding 14 touchdowns through the air to his resume. The Mocs signal caller would finish with
35 touchdown passes in two seasons, leaving his mark on the Chattanooga program as the sixth-leading
passer in school history.

Regarding coming out of a smaller school like Chattanooga, Tiano values the challenge and what that
extra chip on the shoulder will provide for him at the next level.

“Being a small school guy, it’s exciting to have an opportunity to be on the same stage of the Power Five
guys, some of these bigger names that people are more familiar with from bigger schools. It’s a big
opportunity to be able to show that I can hang with these guys, play with those guys, and show that I can
shine at higher levels. I think it's huge for me and huge for all of us guys from small schools,” he

As previously mentioned, before Tiano’s success at Chattanooga, he attended and played football at
Mississippi State. While Tiano’s success on the gridiron didn’t go as planned, he still values and
appreciates his time in Starkville.

“Being at Mississippi State was a great experience for me, unfortunately didn't exactly pan out how I
wanted it to...but still, it was an incredible time in my life. I got to redshirt and watch Dak Prescott for an
entire year, watched the way he worked, prepared , lead, and obviously you see the success he’s having
now," Tiano stated.

With the experience of being in the same locker room as Prescott and many other talented players in
Starkville, Tiano had the perfect presence and leadership to take over as signal caller for Chattanooga.
Tiano was quickly able to mold into his role with the Mocs, already having an established comfort level
and passion for the university.

“I was born and raised in Chattanooga, so, going back to my hometown and playing for a team that I
grew up watching, in a university that I loved, in a city that I loved with family and friends very close by,
it's an pretty cool and unique experience that a lot of guys don't get," he added.

Though Tiano transferred from a Power Five school, his competition was no slouch as he moved to the
FCS level. While many players may find it fit to go to big time, big name colleges, some athletes thrive in
a different setting, being able to mold their games and work on themselves in the process.

The Mocs' former signal caller credits the competition level across the Southern Conference regarding his ability to improve as a player.

“I think the SoCon is a great football conference with it being so competitive every year. I mean every Saturday it's like flipping a coin to see who's going to win. And I think that's something that guys from our league, and really across FCS football take pride in," Tiano detailed.

Despite not being one of the more heralded quarterback prospects ahead of the NFL Draft, Tiano
remains confident and is already setting his sights on his future goals.

“You know, I really do believe I can play in the NFL,"he nodded. "I think I've got what it takes, I'm going to
try and do it for as long as I can. I'd love to be a starter, I'd love to go win a lot of games, win a Super
Bowl, all those things, of course.”

With the draft in his sights, Tiano has continued to prepare and control what he can control. At this past
season’s end, Tiano competed in the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl, a premier postseason all-star game for
draft-eligible players. The mobile passer stood out during the competition, taking home the honors of the
NFLPA Collegiate Bowl Most Valuable Player Award.

“That was an incredible week for me, and really just an incredible opportunity in all. You know, 70 or 80
guys, however many of us there were, all on the same stage, at the same stage of life, all fighting for the
same thing, fighting for a chance to play at the next level," Tiano shared.

With the NFL Draft approaching closer and closer by the day, Tiano seems to be much more grateful for
what’s ahead than nervous.

“I've worked the majority of my life to be the best football player I can be, and there's a lot of guys who
can say that, so I think any opportunity to make a living playing the game you love and that you've
worked so hard for is awesome," he concluded.

That opportunity is about to become a reality for Nick Tiano.

While the first few rounds of the draft will be dominated with well-known names like Tua, Burrow, Hurts,
Fromm and others, be sure to keep your eye out on the “small school” prospect out of Chattanooga in
the later rounds.