Disputes aren’t allowed to escalate during football practice at Vanderbilt. Disagreements are settled afterwards in the Star of Truth.
With the entire team huddled around, the two offenders duke it out and try to drive the other offender out of the signature Star V at midfield.
“It is supposed to be football specific and drive them out of the star,” coach James Franklin said. “Kind of like a one-on-one, mano-a-mano. It got a little more heated [recently]. That will happen from time to time.”
Lately, the Commodores’ feisty freshmen have been right in the middle.
More than a week ago, a battle between offensive linemen ensued as freshman Will Holden challenged junior Ryan Brockway. On Wednesday, the night ended with freshman linebacker Harding Harper giving up more than 70 pounds to try to knock 285-pound freshman offensive lineman Barrett Gouger off balance.
That bravado and enthusiasm exudes throughout a highly-touted freshman class that has contributed in the weight room, in practice and, for a select few, on the field as the Commodores (4-4, 2-3 Southeastern Conference) enter Saturday’s game at Kentucky (11 a.m., ESPNU).
“They’re competing. They’re also working,” senior running back Zac Stacy said. “There have been days where I feed off of their competitiveness. This is probably one of the most talented groups of freshmen we’ve ever had. They’re going to have a bright future here. They’re going to be good.”
When Franklin inked the 22-member class in February, Rivals.com ranked it 29th in the nation, the highest rated class at Vanderbilt since 1993.
Months later, Franklin maintains this group of rookies is the best crop he’s had in his 15 months of coaching — from practice habits, work ethic in the weight room, their seriousness in the classroom, attentiveness in meetings.
“It is as good as I’ve been around from top to bottom,” Franklin said. “The consistency of it — the attitudes, the athleticism, the size — it is as good as I’ve been around.”
Freshmen have not been made available to the media and won’t be available until the last week of the season, Franklin said.
So far, four rookies have shed their redshirts — running back Brian Kimbrow, defensive end Caleb Azubike and linebackers Darreon Herring and Jake Sealand.
Most of the spotlight has been on the big catch of the 2012 class, Kimbrow. The 5-foot-8, 180-pound speedster from Memphis is second on the team in rushing with 286 yards on 33 carries for an average of 8.7 yards. He also has two touchdowns. His most recent came last week against Massachusetts when he darted through the right side and blazed 74 yards to the end zone.
But attached at the end of that run was a learning lesson. A Massachusetts defender closed the gap and nearly caught Kimbrow at the goal line.
“He said he slowed down,” senior cornerback Trey Wilson said. “You don’t slow down in college, baby.”
Defensively, Azubike shows the most promise. At 6-foot-4 and 245 pounds, the former McGavock star has used his athleticism to swipe away offensive linemen and collect three sacks, which is second-most on the team.
Sealand and Herring were the top two tacklers last weekend, combining for 16 stops against Massachusetts.
Herring, along with third-string quarterback Patton Robinette, arrived on campus in January as a mid-semester enrollee. The promising 6-foot-1, 220-pounder had his biggest game so far against UMass. In addition to nine tackles, he forced a fumble and returned his first career interception 40 yards.
“Darreon Herring plays great football,” senior linebacker Archibald Barnes said. “He picks up the scheme really well. He understands. He is going to be a very versatile player in his time here. He is always working. He’s always getting film in so he is very motivated.”
Along with continual high praise for Robinette, a 6-foot-4, 204-pounder who could challenge for the starting quarterback job next year, several offensive linemen are waiting on deck.
Earlier this week, Franklin said he talked to Gouger, Adam Butler and Andrew Jelks about being ready to play this season if injuries thin the offensive line.
When that time comes, Franklin and Vanderbilt’s elder statesmen believe this young bunch will be ready to fight — together.
“It is a group. I think that is one thing that is a big deal,” Barnes said. “They’re a group and they work together like brothers. They pull each other along. So their maturity is something to watch. They’re growing together and they’re growing in a good way.”