One of the things that excites coaches and teammates most about Larry Smith is the fact that Vanderbilt’s sophomore quarterback is so …well, unexcitable.
“Larry is one of the most confident and calm guys I’ve ever been in the huddle with,” senior center Bradley Vierling said. “ … It’s always good when you can look and listen to a guy who’s focused and ready to go.”
That, and other things, led coach Bobby Johnson on Monday to name Smith the Commodores’ starting quarterback when the 2009 season opens Saturday, just as he was when they completed their memorable 2008 campaign with a victory over Boston College in the Music City Bowl.
Smith, from Prattville, Ala., was the choice over senior Mackenzi Adams, who has started nine games and has thrown for 2,149 yards and 14 touchdowns in his career.
“We feel great about the quarterback position now and for the future,” Johnson said. “ … (Smith) just did a good job for us at the end of last year … and gave us a look at – really – his potential, and we want to develop that potential. The best way to develop it is to get him in the game.”
Smith was 39-2 as a three-year starter for Prattville High School and was Alabama’s Class 6A Mr. Football as a senior.
He was redshirted as a freshman at Vanderbilt in 2007 and did not play last season until the final regular-season game at Wake Forest when both Adams and senior Chris Nickson were injured. He then started the Music City Bowl and rotated with Nickson throughout the game based on the situation and play call.
In those two appearances he completed 19 of 34 passes for 167 yards with one touchdown and one interception. He also rushed 17 times for 40 yards.
“I think (that) was big for Larry’s career,” Johnson said. “It gave him confidence. It gave his teammates confidence. It gave his coaches confidence and really showed what he could do. … Stepping up in the last two games, I thought that was really remarkable.
“Not that we were surprised, but we were happy.”
For Adams, a fifth-year senior from Tulsa, Okla., the role of backup is a familiar one.
He opened each of the previous three seasons behind Nickson on the depth chart. In 2007, he started the final six games, and last fall started three of the final six because of injuries and/or inconsistency from Nickson.
“I know what it’s like playing SEC opponents, especially when you get into the second half of the season and you play six teams in a row like Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, Kentucky — people like that — all in a row, it’s brutal,” Adams said last week. “Rarely does one person make it through all 12 (games). … I would imagine both of us – if not three people – will end up getting (playing) time this year.”
Still, when the season commences Saturday with a visit from Western Carolina (6:30 p.m., Vanderbilt Stadium), it will be Smith who is under center.
“Larry has a very strong arm and we’re going to try to throw the ball down the field a little more than we have the last couple of years” Johnson said. “Larry also has a presence in the pocket. I think he sees the field very well and knows what we’re trying to do with the offense.
“We think Larry has a lot of tools to run our offense.”
• Senior defensive end Broderick Stewart has been selected as the player who will wear the ‘KD1’ jersey patch this season.
The team’s leadership council selected him for his passion and dedication after a broken leg caused him to miss the final two games of 2008.
Stewart needs six sacks to become the Commodores’ all-time leader.
The patch was created to honor the memory of former running back Kwane Doster, who wore No. 1 during his three seasons with the team and was the only VU player ever to earn the SEC Freshman of the Year award. Doster was shot and killed following the 2004 season.
Linebacker Jonathan Goff in 2006 and 2007, and running back Jeff Jennings in 2008 are the only others who have worn the patch.