When the topic of individual goals comes up, Zac Stacy tends to shy away from the conversation.
So it was no surprise on Thursday when Vanderbilt opened fall preseason camp that the senior running back insisted setting more firsts wasn’t enticing to him.
After breaking the school’s single-season rushing record in 2011, Stacy has a chance to become the first multiple 1,000-yard rusher at Vanderbilt.
“Trust me, my offensive line is more excited about that than I am,” he said. “It is definitely a capability [to reach 1,000 rushing yards again]. But at the same time we’re a team that doesn’t emphasize stats. We’re a team-first type team and the only stats we worry about are the Ws.”
By rushing for 1,193 yards last year, Stacy joined elite company as only the fourth 1,000-yard rusher in school history. Frank Mordica was the only other running back with a chance to repeat the feat. But he fell short, rushing for 830 yards as a senior in 1979 — one year after he became the school’s first 1,000-yard rusher.
Stacy is the Southeastern Conference’s top returning rusher after withstanding grueling hits last year.
But thanks to a mobile quarterback, an early presence from true freshman Jerron Seymour and regular end-arounds involving wide receiver Jonathan Krause and cornerback Casey Hayward, Stacy’s workload decreased. His 201 carries in 13 games were the second fewest among the league’s four 1,000-yard rushers.
Stacy carried the ball more than 20 times in only three games last year.
“You do have to factor in reps,” coach James Franklin said. “I think that is one of the things that we probably did as a good of a job last year compared to maybe previous years is we played guys all year long. We rotated them in. I think that helped us in the fourth quarter and I think that helped us at the end of the season because guys were fresh.
“We have all these different people we can use and take advantage of their talents. That’s what we have to do.”
Former running mate Warren Norman is back after missing last season with a knee injury. Plus, Franklin’s “lightning in a bottle,” Brian Kimbrow, is expected to get some carries as a true freshman. In addition, Seymour is healthy after battling a knee injury last year. Hendersonville product Wesley Tate might also be added to the mix. He practiced at slot receiver on Thursday but was moved back and forth last fall and spring.
Not to mention, if the passing game continues to develop, that leaves less carries for Stacy. So repeating the 1,000-yard feat expects to be an uphill battle.
“That is going to be interesting to see how that goes,” offensive coordinator John Donovan said. “Zac is a heck of a player and he practices hard. If he can do it, he will. Hopefully we’ll have some other guys behind him who can provide some depth. We don’t just want to rely on him.”
That’s fine, because Stacy doesn’t mind sharing the wealth either. Especially when doling out credit.
“My individual success is dictated by my teammates — from the offensive line to the defense keeping the other offense off the field,” Stacy said. “Pretty much I want to be consistent, put my team in the best situation to be successful.”
• Reserve defensive end Thad McHaney’s playing career is over, Franklin announced after the first practice on Thursday.
The former Brentwood Academy standout experienced “some sensations and feeling and numbing and tingling in his hands” in the offseason, Franklin said. After consulting with doctors and team physicians, it was decided to end his career one week before preseason camp opened.
The redshirt junior finished with eight career tackles, including seven in 2011.
“We love Thad and wish him the best of luck,” Franklin said. He is going to be a part of our program. We’re finding a role for him, whether it is an assistant D-line coach, in the weight room or whatever. ... We’re always going to put the student-athlete first and their welfare and this is a decision to keep Thad healthy for the long run so he can play with his kids one day.”
• Fullback Fitz Lassing was not at practice on Thursday for an undisclosed reason. Franklin expects the Montgomery Bell Academy product to rejoin the team in two weeks.
Lassing, a junior, had five catches for 54 yards and one touchdown last season.