Silverberry Mouhon and Brad Harrah represent fresh faces starting at defensive end as two of the primary beneficiaries of the new coaching staff.
WEST HARRISON, Ind. -- For three long years, Brad Harrah fought a frustrating reality.
No matter how hard he worked in practice, no matter how many hours he spent working out in the offseason, no matter his cognitive understanding of the schemes, the truth was apparent for him.
He would not receive any meaningful reps on gameday.
Harrah endured a redshirt season followed by a freshman year where he sparingly touched the field in situational spots. Last season, his role decreased even further to only playing on the field goal unit.
"I had a feeling (coaches) were trying to weed out the people that didn't want to be there," Harrah said. "I wanted to be there but you get the feeling you know when they don't want you there."
The most difficult moments didn't come watching games from the sidelines or squeezing out a last repetition on the bench with no payoff in sight.
True tests came in casual conversation with friends, family, acquaintances.
"What some people don't realize when you are that old and you are not playing you go out and people ask, 'Are you playing? Are you starting?' You got to tell them no," the 22-year-old redshirt junior said. "That probably gets on you more than anything. You have to play it off like it's not a big deal when it really is. It really cuts deep when you should be playing when you are not. If it's fair or not, it's still a pretty hard feeling."
Those feelings almost a year later look as different as the coaching staff. The fresh slate provided by Tommy Tuberville and defensive ends coach Robert Prunty allowed Harrah to play free and believe production would equal playing time.
The 6-foot-5, 258-pound defensive end converted from high school tight end to the defensive line upon arriving at UC. All needed to do was prove he belonged. Has he ever.
"The guy that's playing the best is Brad Harrah," Prunty said, interrupting conversation about other players. "He has three sacks last scrimmage. He had a safety on Saturday. I am high on him. He's playing well."
Harrah runs with the first team right now. Silverberry Mouhon starts on the opposite side the line but his story sounds nearly the same.
Mouhon played a limited role last season for the Bearcats in a rotation behind starters Dan Giordano and Brandon Mills. In spots, he provided glimpses of potential even recording a sack.
When Prunty arrived to inherit his new personnel, his head turned.
"I was shocked he hadn't played that much," he said. "Hard worker, got great leverage, great get-off. It all starts with him up front for us."
The redshirt sophomore didn't spend as much time fighting a losing battle last season as Harrah, but equally benefited from the fresh start.
When asked for a player Mouhon reminds him off, Prunty quickly snapped off an answer.
"Michael Strahan," he said of the former New York Giants DE who owns the NFL single-season sack record. "The way his body is, those long arms. He's got some of those tendencies. I want him to stay humble. He could be a special player here at Cincinnati."
A dominant spring session and continuation this month surfaced Mouhon as the leader of a front line currently featuring three new starters sandwiching Jordan Stepp.
Finding production up front comparable to previous years brings a steep challenge. Remember, this is the same group that churned out Derek Wolfe of the Denver Broncos, John Hughes of the Cleveland Browns and Dan Giordano of the Arizona Cardinals.
Cranking out 21.5 tackles for loss like Wolfe may be a goal, but not the focus for these two as the Purdue game gains clearer focus. For now, they're thrilled for an opportunity. They're thrilled to be given a chance.
"It was tough, but you got to be grateful," Mouhon said. "It gets you ready for this year and the years coming up. That was just more of a test to see where I am at. Now it's the d-line's year, my year, everyone is going to do great things."
When they do, those conversations with friends, family and acquaintances will sound much different.
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