The players around Adam Smotherman typically need to step it up to match his intensity.
They benefit when he attracts a double team. The defensive tackle, who started 23 consecutive games for Vanderbilt between 2008 and ’09, has become an integral part of the team’s character — in his absence from the field this season.
Smotherman’s ACL snapped during a spring scrimmage, and he’s spent the past six months on the sidelines. Still, the 6-foot-4, 296-pound senior from Smyrna is top dog on the line.
“He certainly leads by example, and he’s one of those guys that others like to follow, that’s why he was voted team captain,” defensive tackles coach Rick Logo said. “His presence alone brings other guys’ playing to another level.”
When Vanderbilt ran through the tunnel for the first time this season, Smotherman got a little choked up.
“It’s tough to admit this, but I almost felt like crying,” he said. “I’ve been on the field every game for two and a half years now, since I’ve been playing halfway through my redshirt-freshman year.”
Smotherman also spent a lot of productive time in the weight room. At 2009’s postseason banquet, he was given the team’s Strength and Conditioning Award for the work he put in at the gym.
Though it was a lot less glamorous than sacking SEC quarterbacks, Smotherman took the same drive to his rehabilitation. While his teammates sweated out summer practices and two-a-days, he was on the sideline with strength coach John Sisk. The two went through aggressive cardiovascular training, upper-body lifting and light mobility drills as the injured knee improved.
“Smo is a worker, you’ve got to know that,” defensive tackle T.J. Greenstone said of Smotherman. “He wants to be out there so bad, it’s hard seeing him day to day. Not having him out there definitely has changed the philosophy a bit up front.”
Smotherman expects to adapt quickly to SEC play when he returns.
“I feel great cardiovascularly,” he said. “I’m 296 pounds right now, and feel like I’m in great shape. I’ve gained 10 pounds of muscle in my upper body, and I’m working on getting it back in the lower body, too.”
The time off the field has also given Smotherman a chance to practice for something a little further down the line: coaching.
“I want to be a coach one day, so that was a great opportunity to go ahead and get some experience,” he said. “I know the system, so coach Logo trusts me with that. As far as being a cheerleader on the sideline, that’s my job right now. If I can’t be on the field with them, I’m not going to sit and mope. I’m going to do whatever I can to help my team win.”
Head coach Robbie Caldwell and Vanderbilt’s team physicians are optimistic that Smotherman will return after the team’s bye week. That would make the first game of his last Vanderbilt season a road matchup against Connecticut on Oct. 2.
“I’ve been itching to play some football,” he said. “So beware, whoever I’m playing against, because I’m ready to hit somebody.”
• Vanderbilt tackle Wesley Johnson was named SEC Offensive Lineman of the Week for his performance during the Commodores’ 28-14 win over Ole Miss.
The redshirt-freshman out of Montgomery Bell Academy was on the field for all 62 offensive snaps in the Commodores' 28-14 victory Saturday. He was credited with critical blocks on two big plays plays -- Warren Norman’s 80-yard touchdown, on which he was untouched, and Zac Stacy’s 35-yard touchdown run. He also knocked down Rebels' defenders six times.
Vanderbilt rushed for 227 yards in the contest.
“Wesley is very deserving of this honor,” coach Robbie Caldwell said. “He just played a great football game last Saturday against Ole Miss. I’m very happy for him, our offensive unit and our entire football team after that performance.”
Johnson is the first Commodore to earn an SEC weekly award since Norman was named Offensive Player of the Week last November for his performance against Kentucky and, since Chris Williams in 2007 to be named Offensive Lineman of the Week. Williams also earned the award in a victory over Ole Miss.
• Vanderbilt's next contest, Oct. 2 at Connecticut, will kick off at 11 a.m. (CDT), the SEC announced Monday.
The game is one of three involving teams from the conference that will begin early in the day. Tennessee will face LSU at 2:30 p.m. and Florida will play at Alabama at 7 p.m. in the two marquee matchups of the weekend, both of which will be televised by ESPN.