Returning Vanderbilt football players share a giddiness for the start of fall practice and a singular attitude regarding last year’s 2-10 season: Use it as motivation and move on.
The pursuit to better last year’s win total began in the weight room this winter and reached a critical new stage Thursday when upperclassmen reported to campus.
“We’re looking at a clean state,” senior defensive tackle and co-captain Adam Smotherman said. “You obviously can’t really forget about that [last season] but we’ve been working our butts off since Janurary. We’ve had a great summer in the weight room and on the field.”
Smotherman and defensive end Theron Kadri were part of a defensive line that struggled stopping the run last year. The Commodore rush defense gave up 197 yards per game. Kadri plans on implementing lessons learned from last season to greatly improve that statistic.
“I think this year we are keeping last year in mind and using it to learn from,” Kadri said. “Not to forget that year but let it be inspiration to move forward and have a stronger year.”
Junior receiver Udom Umoh is more blunt about the previous season. The team is driven to avoid a repeat of last year.
Vanderbilt's schedule will be challenging. The only teams they face that did not finish last season in a bowl game are Wake Forest and Eastern Michagin.
“In the forefront we a definitely saying ‘forget about last year’,” Umoh said. “This is a new year to renew ourselves, to work harder. But we know deep down it’s in the back of our minds that we have to be better than last year. It was a dismal year and that should serve as motivation.”
One ingredient adding to the Commodores’ preseason excitement is the anticipation of open competition during fall practice under a revamped coaching staff and with one of the most highly regarded recruiting classes in recent history set to join the roster.
“We want the best player on the field, the guy who’s going to get it done the most and help us win ball games,” Smotherman said. “If that’s a freshmen, great. Whoever the best guy for the spot is.”
A group of freshmen wideouts are expected to compete for time immediately. It is a group that features size and speed. Chris Boyd (6-foot-5), Jordan Matthews (6-4) and Jonathon Krause (10.9 seconds in 100-yard dash in high school) will have their chance to shine, says Umoh.
“If you want to play you just have to give your best,” Umoh said “It doesn’t matter if you are a freshman or a senior. Everybody gets an equal opportunity.”
Junior college transfer Justin Rodgers is one example of the positional competition that will highlight Vanderbilt’s fall practice period. The little brother of Packers’ quaterback Aaron Rodgers, he hopes to push junior Larry Smith for the starting spot under center. At the very least, Rodgers expects to see mutual improvement from the two.
“I’ll be ready in the fall to compete and push Larry for the job,” he said. “It’s his job right now and his job to lose but competition’s not going to do anything but make the team better.”
Smotherman notes that the older players have tried to instill their work ethic into the freshmen class through example. This summer that has meant setting the tone in the weight room and summer drills.
Umoh sees the atmosphere at the start of official practice is unlike any other year he’s been at Vanderbilt.
“People have been bouncing around since summer workouts,” he said. ”Since I’ve been here, for almost four years, I’ve never seen so many people at summer workouts. We all want to get better.”
Vanderbilt’s first official practice starts at 6 p.m. Friday. Sunday’s (4:15 p.m.) and Monday’s (6 p.m.) practices at John Rich Practice Facility will be open to the public.