Vanderbilt got into one bowl game and suddenly more students than ever wanted to get into Vanderbilt.
That’s the way university chancellor Nick Zeppos sees it.
“We had a record year in applications,” Zeppos said Friday afternoon as he watched the day’s football practice. “… In a tough economy, everybody said, ‘Well, are you up or are you down?’ We’re up 16 percent.”
“People love the university and they want it to succeed at everything it does. For many people, (football success) is a long time coming, and many people were waiting for this to happen. I think it’s fantastic. I’ve been here 22 years and we’ve never been this competitive in all sports, but particularly football. I’ve been really proud of (coach) Bobby (Johnson) and the program he’s built.”
In his estimation, half of that 16 percent was directly related to the football team’s first winning season since 1982 and its first bowl victory since 1955 and the publicity – locally and nationally – generated by those things.
Zeppos served the university in numerous roles before he was elevated to chancellor in Feb. 2008. In his current role, he has been an avid supporter of athletics, including the football team, which went 7-6 and won the Music City Bowl last season.
Friday, Johnson asked him to address the team at the conclusion of its ninth formal practice in preparation for the 2009 season.
“He said he was proud to support the Commodores and proud to be the chancellor here at Vanderbilt for the Commodores,” Johnson said. “And he said just for the players to enjoy the season. That’s a good way to put it – enjoy the season.”
Zeppos made it clear that he intends to do exactly that.
“I just love sports,” he said. “I really do. There’s so much to enjoy about being a college president and it’s such a diverse job. Where else can you work with college freshmen, brilliant professors curing diseases and then come out on a Saturday at get to watch our team in the most competitive sports league in the country? That is a great part of a job.”
He also pledged continuing support for Johnson, who has won 27 games (21 in the last four seasons) as the Commodores’ coach.
“I think Bobby was the right guy, but I think there was a collective, institutional sense that we have to really support him,” Zeppos said. “I think we have … on the academic side, on the facilities side, on getting the coaches and keeping them here. It’s been a team effort.
“… We trust him. He’s going to bring in great kids and they’re going to be successful in the classroom. I think, every way we’ve tried to say, ‘Bobby, you’re our guy, but you can’t do it alone.’ We’ve seen people come in and not be successful.”
Now, thanks to Johnson’s success they’re seeing more people than ever who want to get in any way they can.
Freshman safety Jay Fullam will need surgery to repair a torn tendon in his left hand and is expected to miss approximately five weeks.
“You have to have it operated on right away or gets worse and worse and worse and worse,” Johnson said. “… Most hand injuries on a defensive guy, you can just splint them up. This is to make sure he can have the use of his fingers for the rest of his life.”
The injury increases the chance that Fullam, from The McCallie School in Chattanooga, will be redshirted.
“Jay was doing really well,” Johnson said. “He was learning things fast and making his presence known. He was probably going to be one of the guys we were going to … play as a freshman.”
The team will conclude its first full week of workouts with a comprehensive scrimmage on Saturday. The session will include special teams work in addition to the offensive and defensive efforts.
“We’re going to get right to it,” Johnson said. “We’ll warm up, but we won’t do any individual work.”