DeAndre Jones hopes to stay perfect. Chris Marve wants a perfect ending to his collegiate career.
Both Vanderbilt linebackers and Memphis natives relish the chance to head home for the Liberty Bowl, where the Commodores play Cincinnati on New Year’s Eve.
Jones, a redshirt-junior, never has lost at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium. He played there annually during his prep career at Memphis University School and won all four games. Marve, a senior captain, has never played there, passing up an opportunity to play in a high school all-star game.
“It is amazing, man,” Marve said. “That is my hometown. That is where I really fell in love with football. I really haven’t been back there much in my college career. To get back there and go play in front of all my friends and family and a lot of people I went to high school with, it is going to be a blast.
“I couldn’t imagine a better ending.”
Jones, Marve and true freshman offensive lineman Spencer Pulley, who is from Germantown, a suburb of Memphis, joined the rest of their teammates at one final practice Wednesday before taking a few days off for Christmas. The squad will reconvene on Monday in Memphis to kick off the bowl week.
Jones and Marve will join them there as both will be coming from out of town as well. Jones will spend the holiday with his mother’s family in Smyrna, Ga., and Marve will be visiting family in Huntsville, Ala.
“It is always nice to go back home,” Jones said.
The week will be a stroll down memory lane for Jones. On Monday, the team will practice at his alma mater.
“There were a lot of good times and good practicing there,” Jones said. “A lot of hard work went into building the history at MUS. We were able to get two state championships while I was there so it was nice.”
After playing in just seven games due to injury last year, Jones has played a big role for the Commodores, spelling Marve at the middle linebacker position in all 12 games.
The two have seemingly been inseparable since arriving at Vanderbilt. Having crossed paths in high school — Marve played at White Station — Jones has learned from Marve this season, amassing 16 tackles.
“Me and Chris are real close,” said Jones, who was named the team’s scholar athlete of the year. “It has been an experience being able to rotate with Chris, to be able to give him a break and also give me some playing time. I really appreciate the opportunity the coaching staff has given me and the faith they have in me.”
Marve has enjoyed arguably one of the most successful individual careers in school history.
The 6-foot, 242-pounder is the Southeastern Conference’s active career leader in tackles. He totaled 84 this season, upping his count to 391 — tied for eighth-best in school history.
“I think it is a great story for college football. I think it is a great story for Vanderbilt and the SEC,” Vanderbilt coach James Franklin said of Marve returning to Memphis. “Chris Marve has had one of the more impressive careers of anybody in the league — if you look at not only his performance on the field but all the things he has done off the field and how he has represented the SEC.”
Marve still has a handful of practices in his collegiate career but Wednesday’s was his last on the Vanderbilt campus.
While he maintains he has developed tunnel vision and hasn’t dwelt too much on his career, he reflected briefly on his five years as a Commodore.
“It has been a great ride,” he said. “I’m thankful to have this opportunity, man. I’ve been out here running a lot of sprints, running a lot of plays, day-in and day-out for five years now. It has been great and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”