Caleb Azubike already owns one school record.
Now, after a summer of bulking up and improving his technique, he enters his sophomore year at Vanderbilt eying another single-season title.
“Of course I have the sack record in mind,” Azubike said Friday after just the second preseason practice. “But, then again, that is not what I am fighting for. I’m fighting for this team being great and reaching an SEC championship.”
With four sacks last year, the former McGavock standout set the team record for true freshmen. Tasting success, playing all 13 games and taking more snaps than any first-year player in a Vanderbilt uniform only fueled his fire.
He wants to own the single-season mark by any Vanderbilt player. Azubike doesn’t have to be told who is the current record holder and with how many. The Nigerian-born defensive end is well aware Alan Young totaled 12 sacks in 1993, his final season, and finish his career with a school-best 21.5.
“I want to be up there in the upper echelon of defensive ends in the country,” Azubike said. “Paying attention to detail, doing the little things no one else in the country does. … A combination of those things I believe is what is going to take me to the next level is where I want to be this year. That is what I am most excited about.”
His coach already thinks he looks the part.
Crediting the team’s summer conditioning program led by strength and conditioning coach Dwight Galt, Azubike added 15 pounds in the offseason and now weighs 268. He wants to be at 275 by season’s end.
“Caleb Azubike has muscles I didn’t even know existed before,” coach James Franklin said. “He is walking away from me the other day, he had his shirt off and he had two muscles in his lower back. I am like, ‘What are they? I’ve never seen them before.’ These guys work extremely hard. Coach Galt has an unbelievable talent of pushing people extremely hard and they enjoy it.”
Azubike benefited last year from a thinner frame. Standing 6-foot-4, he weighed around 240 pounds for most of the season and wiggled around bigger offensive tackles and guards to record 21 tackles and tied defensive end Kyle Woestmann for the second-most sacks on the team. Linebacker Chase Garnham, now a senior, led all Commodores with six.
However, all but one of Azubike’s sacks came against non-conference competition. A coveted four-star recruit with 4.5-second speed in the 40-meter dash, the 19-year-old already believes he matches up well with SEC talent. Still, most of his focus this summer was to put on more muscle and get comfortable enough playing faster with a meatier frame.
“I wasn’t at a disadvantage but I feel like this year I can be more effective if I’m bigger,” he said. “It can help to improve my versatility. My defensive line coach has talked to me about playing inside [at defensive tackle] a little bit. So I feel like gaining a little weight can help me move inside and help me move outside and do whatever and still actually keep my speed, which is one thing I have worked on a lot this summer. It has helped me in every facet of the game, just being better overall.”
Azubike could battle Woestmann opposite senior Walker May for the second starting defensive end job. But Azubike also spent time at defensive tackle in the spring and using him more inside is another option for the Commodores.
Just three days into practice, coaches on both sides of the ball have already targeted Azubike as a potential playmaker.
“He is definitely going to make us better,” tight ends coach Charles Bankins said. “We like to compete in everything we do. Having a guy like that you are working against day in and day out makes Saturdays a whole lot easier for you.”
By the end of the season, Azubike hopes the numbers add up in his favor.
Even if they don’t, he wants his second season to continue to lead him to what he hopes will be a satisfying career.
“I had the idea wherever I was going to go [to college] I was going to try to be the best I can be,” he said. “If I leave here, whatever stats I may have — which I can’t predict — I want to make sure I leave here fulfilled with what I did here. I want to make sure I leave with great pride.”