There was never a shortage of Vanderbilt football tickets for the Townsend family.
With an aunt as a season-ticket holder, Joe Townsend spent many Saturday afternoons at Vanderbilt Stadium. He grew up rooting for the Commodores. His high school, Hendersonville High, donned the same black and gold colors while he played on the offensive and defensive lines. Attending and playing football at Vanderbilt was always his dream.
But when a different coaching regime took over at Vanderbilt in the middle of his senior year at Hendersonville, Townsend dropped off the Commodores’ radar. Temporarily.
“I guess they really didn’t hear of my name,” Townsend said. “Somehow they got a hold of my film. I was committed to Middle Tennessee State at the time. Coach [James] Franklin called me in two days before signing day to meet with me. He wanted to see me in person and meet me, get a feel for me. About midnight before signing day I had an offer from him.
“It was a no-brainer. I switched that morning. I chose Vanderbilt. It is always where I wanted to be.”
Last weekend, Townsend was right where the Commodores needed him – in the middle of the offensive line, the starting center in a 17-13 victory over Auburn. Making his second career start, the sophomore made 10 knockdown blocks and helped pave the way for running back Zac Stacy to become the school’s all-time leading rusher.
That effort didn’t go unnoticed. On Monday the SEC named him the Offensive Lineman of the Week.
“It is really an award for our whole offensive line and Zac,” Franklin said. “Joe is one of the guys we signed late a year and half ago. I hadn’t had a chance to go to his high school or to his home like I normally do. That Friday I had been in his high school to pay respect to the school, pay respect to the high school coach and let him know how happy we were with Joe. So the timing of it was great.”
Townsend starred on defense for the Commandos, with more than 100 tackles and seven sacks as a senior. But Vanderbilt wanted to tap into his potential as a blocker.
So far, the 6-foot-4, 305-pounder has impressed his coaches. Against Auburn, he gelled in with an experienced line, replacing the injured Spencer Pulley.
“There is a lot on your plate,” Townsend said. “You are the quarterback of the offensive line. You have to make sure everyone is on the same page. You have to be loud. You got to make sure everything is good. It has been tough but it is fun. When you get to learn how to do it, do it right and do things consistently, it is fun. It is just second nature.”
Not unlike playing for his hometown team.
“It is definitely a dream come true,” Townsend said. “Being from here, it is just [nice] being comfortable with my surroundings and not really having to go out of my box I guess, which is good in terms of not being homesick and being able to see your family and always seeing my mom. I’m a momma’s boy. So being able to see my mom is always a good thing. I definitely love her.”
• Back-to-back: With a win over winless Massachusetts (0-7) on Saturday at Vanderbilt Stadium (6 p.m., Fox Sports Net), the Commodores can string together consecutive wins for the first time since last year.
Vanderbilt (3-4) won its first three games of 2011 but hasn’t won two games in a row since. A win also would propel the Commodores to a .500 record for the first time since pulling to 6-6 with a win over Wake Forest in last year’s regular-season finale.
“It is definitely a good position to be in,” defensive end Kyle Woestmann said. “... Every win is a confidence boost. Regardless of the opponent, a win is a win. We’re thankful every time we get a chance to go 1-0 each week and just continue to build our program each week. It’s always about just one week at a time.”
• Game time: Vanderbilt’s road game against Kentucky on Nov. 3 will start at 11 a.m. and be aired on ESPNU.