College Football

Becoming Champions: giving Vanderbilt Football a national title-worthy roster

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Vanderbilt has a history of baseball players playing football.

Vanderbilt’s football season has come to a close, and baseball season is still a few months away, but fear not, there’s still a good reason to write about the two. Jackson Martin of The Dirty South Sports Report and friend of the program and fellow baseball nut Andrew King (Vanderbilt, Class of 2013) have come together with me to draft the Vanderbilt baseball team to play football, giving Vanderbilt football the national title-worthy roster it deserves, but maybe not the one it needs.

The rules are simple: draft a team of nine players: 1 quarterback, 5 skill position players, 1 linebacker, 1 defensive back, and 1 kicker (baseball players aren’t really built like linemen). Draft order was determined by a random number generator.

(Hat tip to Andrew King for coming up with this idea by saying Ro Coleman should be Vanderbilt’s third running back after Jerron Seymour was kicked off the team.)

Round 1:

Jackson: Dansby Swanson – ATH

  • Jackson Notes: Started off my draft the right way, by taking a player from Georgia. Dansby is the best all-around athlete available, and I’m going to use him in a multitude of roles. My offensive scheme is built around getting the ball into the best player’s hands, so Dansby will be catching passes, taking handoffs and throwing passes to make sure he gets as many opportunities to put points on the board as possible. Think of him as my Kentucky-era Randall Cobb.
  • Andrew Notes: With Adam Ravenelle and Jared Miller in the pros, Dansby has the best lettuce on the team by far. That could get him picked in the top 3 rounds by itself, but the all-around tools push him over the top. Good pick.
  • Ben Notes: He’s pretty clearly the best player on the baseball team, and he’s athletic enough to be a very good receiver.

Andrew: Jeren Kendall – RB

  • Andrew Notes: The NFL isn’t a running back league anymore, but we aren’t in the NFL so screw it, I’m going with Jeren at RB. He’s fast enough to be a home run threat on every snap, can catch passes out of the backfield, and his hockey background suggests he can handle being hit with regularity. I’ll build my team around that.
  • Jackson Notes: Fastest player on the team. Excellent pick, though I might have used him at wideout instead of running back.
  • Ben Notes: I was going to take him with one of my two picks. Fastest guy on the team, and he played hockey in high school, so I’d guess he’s pretty tough. He’d be great at either receiver or running back.

Ben: Jordan Sheffield – WR

  • Ben Notes: Sheffield should have been the first pick in the draft easy. Have you seen his high school highlight reel? Plus with his arm, I’m sure we could run a ton of Antwaan Randle El-esque gadget plays to get him involved in the passing game. I’m pretty sure most plays are going to start with Sheffield swinging around on a reverse. Also he won the Omaha Challenge this year, so that’s something.
  • Jackson Notes: The player who I initially assessed as the first overall pick. He’s actually played football, and has a strong highlight tape already. Was very hard to pass on him.
  • Andrew Notes: Ah, good Vanderbilt memories…a wide receiver named Jordan as the cornerstone of a team. Hint: not referring to Mr. Cunningham.

Round 2:

Ben: Xavier Turner – RB

  • Ben Notes: I’m getting a 6’2” 220 running back who runs a 6.75 60 time (sixth on the baseball team among times I could find), and apparently he was recruited by Ohio State to play running back before he blew out his knee in high school. Most of my offense will be pounding the ball with X.
  • Jackson Notes: I do not envy anyone who has to tackle X. He will, in fact, give it to ya.
  • Andrew Notes: ^ Well said.

Andrew: Rhett Wiseman – WR

  • Andrew Notes: Watch his running catch against Texas to lead off the 10th inning of the CWS semifinals. Or his diving catch to lead off the 9th inning against Virginia in Game 3 of the CWS Finals. He’s fast, has good hands, and has pretty good size at 6’1” 205; can’t pass up players like that.
  • Ben Notes: Rhett’s shockingly fast (6.51 60) and has good size, but he’ll probably need to bulk up if he’s taking many shots over the middle. I don’t know how many players are better qualified to make crazy catches, though.
  • Jackson Notes: You know how we use the phrase “deceptively fast” to describe white guys who can burn people dowfield? Rhett’s not deceptively fast, he’s just fast.

Jackson: Ro Coleman – RB

  • Jackson Notes: Shifty back, he’s quicker than he is fast. Getting him the ball in space will be absolutely key for my offense, so expect to see him utilized much like Darren Sproles was for Kansas State. Also planning on using this play at least once.
  • Andrew Notes: I wonder if you only picked him because Tony Kemp wasn’t on the board. He’s quick, but I worry about his durability, so I wouldn’t have taken him as the primary back on a team.
  • Ben Notes: You might just be able to hide Ro behind the line on every play. Then again, he’s not going to be able to hits like X will at running back.

Round 3:

Jackson: Zander Wiel – LB

  • Jackson Notes: I need a quarterback for my defense. Zander is built like a linebacker, and fits into this role as well as anyone else in this draft does. Would have gone higher if linebacker was a more valued position.
  • Andrew Notes: Probably would have picked him as a TE, but he’d be a scary good linebacker too.
  • Ben Notes: Going defense this early? Bold.

Andrew: Will Toffey – DB

  • Andrew Notes: I sure as hell wouldn’t want a fast, 6’2” hockey player bearing down on me in the open field. It’s a no brainer plugging him in at DB to solidify the back end of my defense. Disclaimer: I’m by far the biggest hockey fan of the three of us, so it’s no surprise I’ve picked 2 former hockey standouts in the first 3 rounds.
  • Jackson Notes: Is there any reason so many of these guys played hockey in addition to baseball? Is that just a thing people do in the north? I always thought Tom Glavine was unique for being drafted in both MLB and the NHL.
  • Jackson note #2: You’re only the biggest hockey fan because my beloved Thrashers were taken from me. #RIPThrashers
  • Ben Notes: Toffey won two New England Prep National Championships in hockey, I’ll assume he’s a tough guy too. I could see him as a hard-hitting safety too probably because he’s got some of the best power on the baseball team.

Ben: Joey Mundy – LB

  • Ben Notes: Since we’re on a run of defensive players, I’ll take someone who actually played defense in high school. Mundy was an outside linebacker for a Huntington High School team that went 13-1 and only gave up 10.2 points per game his senior year. At 6’3” 215, he’s also one of the bigger guys on roster.
  • Andrew Notes: I don’t know anything about Joey Mundy, but choosing a linebacker to play linebacker seems reasonable.
  • Jackson Notes: Ben’s on a run of taking guys who actually played football in high school. It’s times like this where I feel like a little more research could have done wonders for my team.

Round 4:

Ben: Tyler Ferguson – TE

  • Ben Notes: Tight ends are going to be a big part of my offense, and Ferguson is a big dude at 6’3” 225. I assume I won’t need to do this, but I could use him as an emergency quarterback or even use him on trick plays.
  • Andrew Notes: You have 3 players on offense alone who could reasonably lay claim to being your starting quarterback (Buehler, Sheffield, Ferguson). If there’s anything we’ve learned from former Vanderbilt Offensive Coordinator Karl Dorrell, it’s that you can never play too many quarterbacks, right? Now if only you had a redshirt to burn…
  • Jackson Notes: I mean, these are baseball players we’re talking about. They throw balls as their job (you know, a job where a shadowy organization won’t allow you to be paid for doing your job). I kind of assume all of them would make for at least passable quarterbacks.

Andrew: Drake Parker – ATH

  • Andrew Notes: I’m building my offense around speed in the open field, and I just found my Dexter McCluster. Woohoo!
  • Jackson Notes: Got the second smallest guy on the team. I’m thinking you were jealous of my Ro Coleman pick after all?
  • Ben Notes: Parker could be really useful if you can get him free in open field. I’m personally a bigger fan of players with size, but Parker’s speed is definitely exciting.

Jackson: Tyler Green – TE

  • Jackson Notes: Absolutely cannot believe Green lasted this long. He’s the tallest guy on the team, and was drafted to play hockey — so he seems like a perfect fit at tight end.
  • Andrew Notes: I’m just excited that he and Ro are on the same team. Wouldn’t you love to see the biggest guy block for the smallest guy? Me too. And he’d be a beast in the red zone.
  • Ben Notes: I’m actually really upset you took Green here. I really wanted him and was going to use him with Ferguson in my twin tight end sets. Dude is a mountain of a man, although my only concern is his 7.25 60 time.

Round 5:

Jackson: Bryan Reynolds – WR

  • Jackson Notes: Bryan has some wheels, and he’s prototypical receiver size at 6’2, 195 pounds. He’s a guy who I trust to catch the ball and make plays in space, so this is an exciting player to get in the fifth round.
  • Andrew Notes: Probably would’ve been drafted sooner, but his moustache tool graded out as a 30 on the 20 to 80 scale and scouts were concerned it would keep him from reaching his full potential.
  • Ben Notes: How did Bryan last this long in the draft? He’s got size and speed and actually catches balls in baseball.

Andrew: Kyle Smith – LB

  • Andrew Notes: Serious size at 6’3” 220lbs, solid speed, and he’s strong like bull. Sure, I’ll slot him in at LB.
  • Ben Notes: Kyle would’ve been great for tight end or linebacker. I hope is defense in football is better than his defense in baseball, though.
  • Jackson Notes: Big dude, seems like a fit at linebacker.

Ben: Walker Buehler – QB

  • Ben Notes: Walker gets the edge over Carson Fulmer at quarterback for me because he has a couple inches on Carson, and I feel like as he fills out his 160-pound frame, he may gain a little more arm strength. He’s definitely going to be a pocket passer with a 7.65 60 time (!!!!), but I’m not too worried with his arm and my first couple picks on offense.
  • Jackson Notes: I’m surprised Walker lasted this long. Has a huge arm and his favorite TV shows are The League and Blue Mountain State, so you know he can ball.
  • Andrew Notes: His big arm and thin frame reminds me a lot of Wade Freebeck, who you may recognize as a recurring contestant on Karl Dorrell’s Musical Quarterbacks. The show got terrible ratings and has since been canceled. Can you tell I’m still bitter?

Round 6:

Ben: Penn Murfee – WR

  • Ben Notes: Penn hasn’t gotten to see much of the field yet in baseball, but he’s got a great size-speed combination at 6’2” and a 6.74 60 time (fourth fastest on the team among those listed). That’s about all I know about Penn to be honest.
  • Jackson Notes: Apparently everyone in his family is a competitive swimmer. I don’t know how well that’s going to translate to football, considering it’s played on land.
  • Andrew Notes: What is a Penn Murfee?

Andrew: Ben Bowden – TE

  • Andrew Notes: He has good size for a TE, and he played PF for his high school basketball team so I presume he’s got a halfway-decent vertical and can go up and make plays in traffic.
  • Ben Notes: Great size at 6’4” 220, which should play well at tight end. He was also the Gatorade Player of the Year in Massachusetts for Baseball, so that’s cool.
  • Jackson Notes: Ben Bowden is a rock-solid name for a tight end. Not quite Heath Miller good, but definitely up there.

Jackson: Aubrey McCarty – QB

  • Jackson Notes: My insane offensive plan has finally played out to perfection. McCarty is notable for being ambidextrous, a skill I will use to full effect as my quarterback. He’s going to be rolling out to both sides, adding a great wrinkle to our hurry-up spread scheme. He also went to Colquitt County High School in south Georgia, which is coached by Rush Probst (of Two-A-Days fame) and is currently the No. 3 high school team in the country. Go Packers.
  • Andrew Notes: Damn, I wanted McCarty. I don’t think I’ve ever seen an ambidextrous QB, and I would be so interested to see how it would work in the right scheme.
  • Ben Notes: No surprise Jackson, a fellow ambidextrous athlete*, takes McCarty.
  • Jackson Note #2: Not sure I like your tone there, Ben.

Round 7:

Jackson: Tyler Campbell – DB

  • Jackson Notes: Great size, great speed, dad is a professional wrestler. Tyler is basically the ideal free safety.
  • Andrew Notes: I honestly thought someone was going to pick him as their kicker. Not a knock on his athleticism, but he claims that riding a unicycle is his most unique talent, and that just strikes me as something a kicker would do.
  • Ben Notes: I have nothing bad to say about the College World Series hero.

Andrew: Nolan Rogers – WR

  • Andrew Notes: Wes Welker, welcome aboard.
  • Jackson Notes: There’s only ever been one NFL wide receiver ever with Nolan as a first name, and he caught just one pass in his career. What a terrible pick, Andrew.
  • Ben Notes: I debated for a long time between Rogers (to play either DB or wide receiver) and Murfee. I think I got the better athlete, but I could also see Rogers as a great slot receiver. Also, let it be known that Andrew took Kyle Wright first before switching his pick before I could swipe up Rogers.

Ben: Carson Fulmer – DB

  • Ben Notes: I don’t know if Carson fits well at any one position, since he’s a little short for quarterback at 5’11”, but he’s a high-energy guy, which makes me see him as a great safety.
  • Andrew Notes: Thank you for saving him from being a kicker, where he could’ve probably made field goals from 70 yards but would’ve lasted one made extra point or field goal before vigorously celebrating and pulling a Bill Gramatica.
  • Jackson Notes: I was definitely going to draft him as a kicker.

Round 8:

Ben: Kyle Wright – TE

  • Ben Notes: I couldn’t land Tyler Green, so I’ll settle for Kyle Wright as my second tight end. X will enjoy the extra blocking with the two-tight end sets, and Kyle may actually be a very good receiver with his size (6’4” 200) and speed (he ran track in high school). Plus even though he didn’t play football in high school, the fact that he’s from Alabama must help in some way.
  • Andrew Notes: In case you didn’t hear it enough during the CWS run last year: *Aaron Boone says something about Tim Corbin’s affinity for recruiting ultra-athletic guys*
  • Jackson Notes: Two tight ends? Looks like Ben is setting up a nasty-big power run game.

Andrew: Hayden Stone – K

  • Andrew Notes: Special teams are hugely important, and I probably gave more thought to this pick than any other, so bear with me. Relievers are like kickers: they’re an afterthought until late in the game, at which point they need to have nerves of steel because they know that “holy crap the outcome of this game and our season comes down to this.” Relievers also have a lot of time on their hands to develop eccentricities and amuse themselves by becoming good at random things…perhaps like kicking field goals. Don’t believe me? Last year, Adam Ravenelle excelled as Vanderbilt’s closer late in the season. He was also nearly perfect in mid-inning shenanigans field goal attempts, including this clutch kick at the CWS. Hayden is a prime candidate to take over in the 9th inning from the Ravenelle/Brian Miller duo, so he’s the clear choice at kicker.
  • Jackson Notes: Again, I was going to draft him at kicker. Relief pitchers are the specials teams players of baseball.
  • Ben Notes: Maybe Andrew figured out the new market inefficiency: drafting kickers before the last round.

Jackson: Liam Sabino – K

  • Jackson Notes: Y’all took both my kickers, so I resorted to Sabino — whose mom is from Brazil. I understand that I’m stereotyping here, but that seems like a safe bet for an average at worst kicker.
  • Andrew Notes: As long as you have a reason, who am I to judge?
  • Ben Notes: I’m very glad we’re breaking stereotypes here and drafting a non-white kicker.

Round 9:

Jackson: Karl Ellison – ATH

  • Jackson Notes: From the same city in Florida as Tim Tebow. Can you say intangibles? Much like Tebow, he’s probably best-suited to play tight end. HEYYYYYOOOOOOOOOOOO.
  • Andrew Notes: Are those similar to Lunchables?
  • Ben Notes: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Andrew: Jason Delay – QB

  • Andrew Notes: Catchers have good arms, are tough as nails, and they’re basically an extension of the coaching staff on the field, which is precisely why I want a catcher to be my quarterback. Plus, Jason claims to be good at solving Rubix Cubes. If there’s anybody on this team I’d trust to decipher a defense, make good adjustments at the line of scrimmage, and quickly get the ball to my speedy playmakers in space, it’s him.
  • Ben Notes: I was kind of hoping to get Delay with my final pick since all the pitchers love him, and somehow my team is made up of mostly pitchers.
  • Jackson Notes: I’d laugh at you for drafting a catcher, but I just took one as an Athlete. So, uh, shit…

Ben: John Kilichowski – K

  • Ben Notes: Look, he’s lefty, and his name sounds close enough to Sebastian Janikowski that I think I might have just gotten the steal of the draft.
  • Andrew Notes: I wonder what John would look like sporting the signature Janikowski goatee-and-shaved-head look to complete the resemblance…probably equally terrifying.
  • Jackson Notes: Sure.

Team Rosters

Ben Andrew Jackson
QB: Walker Buehler QB: Jason Delay QB: Aubrey McCarty
RB: Xavier Turner RB: Jeren Kendall RB: Ro Coleman
WR: Jordan Sheffield RB/WR: Drake Parker WR: Dansby Swanson
WR: Penn Murfee WR: Rhett Wiseman WR: Bryan Reynolds
TE: Tyler Ferguson WR: Nolan Rogers TE: Tyler Green
TE: Kyle Wright TE: Ben Bowden TE: Karl Ellison
LB: Joey Mundy LB: Kyle Smith LB: Zander Wiel
DB: Carson Fulmer DB: Will Toffey DB: Tyler Campbell
K: John Kilichowski K: Hayden Stone K: Liam Sabino

Team Writeups:

Ben:

At first, I was torn between a John Donovan-style offense and a Karl Dorrell-style offense, but after heavy consideration, I think I’ll choose a different path. I know this is college, but I’m going to base my offense off an improved 2003/04 Panthers squad. Much of my offense will revolve around giving the rock to Xavier Turner, who is built like an absolute workhorse (think Stephen Davis). Although pistol was little used back in the day, I could also see Jordan Sheffield (Steve Smith) set up in the backfield for a little pistol formation, which could get really creative since he’s a more-than-capable passer.

My main strategy in drafting was to take the best athletes who played football (Sheffield and Turner) and then grabbed a lot of size. Penn Murfee (Muhsin Muhammad) isn’t a burner, but he’s fast enough to cause matchup problems against defensive backs. Where this team gets fun is with the tight ends, who come in at 6’3” and 6’4”. The Panthers didn’t really have any good tight ends on their Super Bowl run, but Walker Buehler (good Jake Delhomme) may have his own Wesley Walls and Greg Olsen to work with in Tyler Ferguson and Kyle Wright.

Defensively, I’ve always been a proponent of a modified 3-4, which will play into my hands, since I’ll have as many Joey Mundy’s on defense as possible.

Much like the mid-2000s Steelers, there will be plenty of room in the playbook for gadget plays. The more times we get the ball in Sheffield’s hands the better. But we’ve also got a workhorse back, size, and very good athletes. I’m more than happy to just run it down your throat with Jerome Bettis.

Andrew:

I normally have a strong distaste for Pac 12 football, but there’s something captivating about watching Oregon boat-race people every week. My team is built with similar ideologies and boy will they put points on the board as games turn into a track meet. Speed is a killer, and that’s our biggest weapon. The 2011 Oregon team with LaMichael James at Halfback (Jeren Kendall), Kenjon Barner as the Slotback (Drake Parker), and De’Anthony Thomas at WR1 (Rhett Wiseman) is probably a good comparison for my squad, but I ended up with a QB in Delay who is not as fleet of foot as Darron Thomas was (update: as of 2013 Delay was clocked at 6.99s in the 60, which isn’t bad). That being said, I bet Delay would add a tough, physical element as a ball-carrier, perhaps closer to the Dak Prescott mold in that regard.

Sorry to disappoint, but you won’t find many wildcat formations, multiple QB sets, or exotic gadget plays here. We’re going to push the pace, force opponents to cover the entire width of the field, and test the stretched-out defense’s ability to make solo tackles in space. The offense will be slightly pass-heavy, so you can expect a lot of mid-range throws to generate yards after the catch, a healthy amount of pre-snap motion, a moving launch point to keep defenses guessing, and a variety of creative screens. Our personnel will make it tough to pound the ball up the middle consistently, so in the run game you’ll see a lot of zone-blocking, misdirection, and backs who are very active catching balls on both swing passes and wheel routes.

On a random note, I like Oregon’s option plays with a flared-out slotback, so we’ll do that a bunch. Why? Because this is my baseball-turned-football team dammit. Just like this.

On defense, we’ll play a base 4-2-5 like Gary Patterson’s TCU team to take advantage of our athletic, physical secondary which consists of 5 Will Toffey clones. We only drafted two players on defense, so that’s plenty of defensive scheming.

Jackson:

I come from the (gag) Urban Meyer school of thought when it comes to offenses — get the ball in your playmakers hands and give them a chance to make plays. That means I took a bunch of athletes who can line up in multiple positions and get the ball in different ways. We’ll utilize spread formations to get one-on-one matchups in space and terrorize the defense by mixing the run and the pass effectively. The closest current college offense to my ideal philosophy is probably Baylor — a team that uses the run to open up deep passes and especially leans on read-options and playaction passes to force the defense into leaving open space. We’ll definitely play an up-tempo style because I don’t think anyone else has the athletes to match up with my team.

Expect multiple guys to throw the ball on this team. We’re going to creatively use our ambidextrous quarterback to create extra separation and maximize the effectiveness of pop passes (a read-option that has the quarterback throw a pass instead of running if the receiver is uncovered). Dansby will also be taking snaps at quarterback — calling this the Wildcat is disingenuous because he has just as good an arm as our quarterback.

Deception is key in keeping a defense off-balance. Between the option plays, pop passes, playaction, six trick plays per game and our (listed height) 5’5” running back, I want the defense to not know where the ball is half the time. You can’t stop what you can’t see.

As for the defense, well, much like Bill Murray: I don’t play defense.

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Categories: College Baseball, College Football | Leave a comment

Johnny McCrary Podcast

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Johnny McCrary goes by Big Daddy. That’s cool.

This Wednesday, I published probably my favorite article of the year: a feature on Johnny McCrary, the likely starting quarterback for Vanderbilt next season. Because of James Franklin’s rules, no members of the media were allowed to talk to him until Spring Practice, so this article has been a long time coming.

Johnny has a very is interesting story and has a great personality, which made him one of my favorite interviews ever. There was a lot of good stuff I couldn’t even fit into the 1,200 word article, so I wanted to share my full interview of him and his high school coach Ray Bonner with you.

You can find the interview at the link below, and if you want the audio file, you can email me or tweet me.

Also please please do yourself a favor and check out Big Daddy’s Instagram feed. I’ve talked about it before in my NFL Pick this year.

The Knuckle Cast Episode #6

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Highlights from the Hustler

I haven’t posted in almost a month for two reasons:

1) I’m buried in work for my baseball preview, which is due to come out late next month. I’ll give out a sneak peek of my top 50 prospects, now an annual tradition, in the next four weeks.

2) I’ve been writing a lot for the Vanderbilt Hustler.

Although I’ve been updating my Hustler page, I’ll highlight my favorite articles from the past few months. I highly suggest reading the first two. (I mean I still highly suggest you read them all, but still).

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Vanderbilt freshman Jordan Sheffield is left with a 5-inch scar on his right elbow after Tommy John surgery.

February 12, 2014

Jordan Sheffield: Scarred star on the road to recovery

This is my favorite feature of 2014. Sheffield was the 6th-best recruit in the nation until he had Tommy John Surgery at the start of his senior year of high school, and that’s the main reason he came to Vanderbilt.

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December 4, 2013

Opportunity beyond football at Vanderbilt

This is my favorite feature of first semester. Here I tell the story of how Jahmel McIntosh, Jimmy Stewart, and Steven Clark made it from humble beginnings and how much a football scholarship means to them. We get into some tough stories about growing up here.

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January 21, 2013

Commodores strike gold with Derek Mason

I got to intensely cover a coaching change with Derek Mason replacing James Franklin, so this is almost necessary to share. My introduction to Mason made the front page of the Hustler.

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January 21, 2013

Young Jones brings old feel to Commodores

Damian Jones is going to be a special player for Vanderbilt men’s basketball very soon, and this is my feature on him. Despite is dominance in the paint, he’s actually a pretty goofy guy.

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The Franklin Era Retrospective

There’s no easy way to say goodbye.

Just over three years ago, James Franklin stepped onto Vanderbilt’s campus as a second option to Gus Malzahn. But still, the dynamic, young coach—little known outside of Maryland football circles—managed to do what no one had ever done at Vanderbilt.

Which is to say, win, essentially.

We’ve all heard it a million times, but it doesn’t make the transformation any less incredible: Franklin inherited an SEC doormat that went 2-10 two years in a row and won 24 games in three years.

He did it at a school that made four bowl games in the previous 107 years. At a school that hadn’t won nine games in a season since 1915—eighteen years before the formation of the SEC. At a school that doesn’t have winning football.

James Franklin put Vanderbilt on the college football map through tireless coaching and incredible salesmanship. Selling to recruits that this school was the place to be, selling to players that they were capable of great things, and selling to fans that this program was worth caring about. He did amazing things to Vanderbilt’s campus that many thought would never happen.

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On a personal note, covering James Franklin for two years has made me a much better journalist. You need to ask the right questions to avoid his coaching rhetoric.

So why does it all feel so empty now that he’s gone?

It’s hard not to feel spurned now that Franklin left for Penn State after just three years. A large part of that is the things he said while at Vanderbilt.

His big pitch to recruits was always to build a new legacy instead of borrowing from someone else’s. That’s not possible at Penn State.

He said the only three conferences that matter in football are the AFC, NFC, and SEC. Those conferences do not include Penn State.

According to (former) Vanderbilt commit Mikale Wilbon, “he was telling me he wanted to make it into a dynasty there, like Nick Saban at Alabama, like Joe Paterno at Penn State.” For obvious reasons, it’s going to be hard to duplicate a dynasty at his new school.

He said that players who decommitted from Vanderbilt were not “men of honor” and “men of integrity.” Well he left in the middle of his own contract, and now he’s trying to take these men without honor and integrity with him to Penn State.

But that’s college football: full of rhetoric. Coaches want to sell their current program as best they can. Just look at how eerily/nauseatingly similar Franklin’s introductory press conferences were at Vanderbilt and Penn State.

I think what hurts most about Franklin leaving is that we now know Vanderbilt was always a stepping-stone. Once his star was big enough, he was going to leave, and he didn’t really mean it when he said he wanted to build a dynasty in Nashville. Vanderbilt reportedly offered him $50 million over 10 years compared to his $27 million, six-year deal at Penn State—even a larger paycheck wouldn’t help him stay.

It’s not upsetting that Franklin left, per se; it would be hard not to support him leaving to a top-five college job like Texas or USC, both of which were available this winter. But Penn State—a mid-tier Big 10 school mired in controversy and riddled by sanctions—seems like such a lateral move, even if he grew up in Pennsylvania.

Sure, once Penn State’s bowl ban and scholarship restrictions are lifted, it may become a good job again, but that’s years away, and there will be much better openings in the near future. Florida, or maybe even a Michigan or Georgia.

Vanderbilt fans will be bitter towards Franklin for all sorts of reasons, and the way he exited certainly didn’t help.

After not addressing whether he’d stay or not (to be fair, if he was never leaving, why would he interview at all?), he reportedly flirted with the Penn State job for a whole week before finally telling the team he was leaving on Saturday morning. Fans and players alike felt dragged along by his decision.

But really, the fact that Franklin’s exit elicited so much animosity shows how far Vanderbilt’s football program has come. If Bobby Johnson or Robbie Caldwell left for another job three and four years ago, no one would have batted an eye. On the other side of the coin, three or four years ago, it would’ve been crazy to think a Vanderbilt coach would have the clout to get hired at Penn State.

Vanderbilt, just like private schools such as Stanford and Northwestern, has always been a viable football school. It took James Franklin to show that.

Vanderbilt football will be just fine, even without the man who turned this program around at the helm. A football program is bigger than one man. This is the most talented group of student athletes West End has ever seen, and Vice Chancellor David Williams will hire a great head coach in the coming days.

The two names that come up the most in Williams’ search for a new head coach are Clemson’s offensive coordinator Chad Morris and Stanford’s defensive coordinator Derek Mason. Each would be a fantastic hire. Three years ago, though? They would have never considered Vanderbilt.

Four hours after Franklin announced to his players that he was leaving for Penn State, Williams held a press conference to talk about the search for a new head coach. In that short span of time, already 20-25 people reached out to him about the opening, including five who turned down Vanderbilt just three years ago.

And that is James Franklin’s legacy: Vanderbilt is finally on the college football map—no longer an SEC doormat—as a place where you can win and a place that demands respect nationally.

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All The Articles I Forgot To Post

I write about sports a lot, and I occasionally forget to post my articles. Here’s your place to find all the articles I didn’t post from the past two months.

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Friday, October 11

Previewing the MLB Playoffs with Jackson Martin: League Championship Series

Jackson and I go head-to-head in round two of our baseball playoffs preview. I don’t brag too much about beating him 4-0 last week.

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Tuesday, October 8

COLUMN: Why Franklin should leave Vanderbilt

I write a column that Vanderbilt fans won’t like about why James Franklin should go to USC if he gets a job offer. I got a nice endorsement from commenter bill cherry: “What a great article from a Vandy STUDENT news source….a bunch of big freaking nerds.”

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Tuesday, October 1

Explaining the Vanderbilt running back rotation

Without Zac Stacy, the Commodores don’t have one feature back and are instead going with a three-headed running attack. Here’s your guide to what is going on in Nashville.

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Tuesday, October 1

Commodores heat up against Blazers

I covered my first Vanderbilt football game from the press box, and the Commodores won 52-24 against UAB. That bodes well for the Georgia game I’m covering next week, right?

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Tuesday, September 17

Vanderbilt men’s basketball lands four-star guard

Vanderbilt landed its second four-star recruit in shooting guard Matthew Fisher-Davis, who went to my rival high school, Charlotte Christian. They’re on pace to have their strongest recruiting class since 2011.

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Tuesday, September 3

FOOTBALL NOTEBOOK: News and notes from Monday’s football press conference: Week 2

Ah, the first in a series of weekly news and notes from the Monday football press conferences. A series that lasted one week.

Categories: College Basketball, College Football, MLB | Leave a comment

Vanderbilt football players pack on pounds

As many Vanderbilt students can attest, the freshman 15 is very real. But for the most part, that’s from too many Easy Macs and 2 a.m. Qdoba runs and not the case for Vanderbilt football players. For redshirt freshman like offensive tackle Andrew Jelks, it’s a freshman 40.

In the Southeastern Conference, playing offensive tackle at 255 pounds won’t cut it, not with the likes of Jadeveon Clowney coming off the edge at 275 pounds. This is a problem Vanderbilt head coach James Franklin is very familiar with, as he inherited an undersized roster two years ago.

“We weren’t just smaller, we were mushy,” said Franklin. “We weren’t ripped and defined and athletic-looking in my opinion. Now you had two different choices: you could put size on them just for size’s sake or you could take the bad weight off them and then build them back up over time.”

Two years ago, there was only one player who weighed more than 300 pounds: guard Kyle Fischer. Now the current roster boasts 11 players who eclipse that mark. To get to that point, they focused on improving conditioning and nutrition.

One of the first people Franklin brought to Vanderbilt from the University of Maryland was director of strength and conditioning, Dwight Galt, who took on the same position under a new name: director of performance enhancement. The two had worked together since 1999 in Franklin’s two stints with Maryland.

Franklin tries to get ahead of the pack by sending recruits a workout plan designed by Galt once they sign a letter of intent. At the same time he doesn’t specifically ask them to put on weight because not everyone can afford extra food and supplements. Plus high school students tend to put on “bad weight”—fat instead of muscle.

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Football players put on their freshman fouty here instead of Rand dining hall and Greek row.

Once they do reach campus, however, Franklin indoctrinates them into their year-round training program. Incoming freshmen arrive on campus in the first week of June and individually meet with Galt to set monthly goals for added muscle mass and BMI levels.

Almost all of the weight-room workouts involve free weights. Every player lifts twice a week in addition to squats, hang cleans and more. To incentivize the players, the training staff created champion awards for the hardest worker in the weight room every summer and winter.

When they’re not in the weight room, the staff puts an emphasis on speed training, agility and plyometrics outside. That’s what has become essential to Franklin: football-specific training.

“You have to be careful,” said Franklin. “If everything is about the weight room, you’re going to produce a bunch of power lifters, not football players. You have to make sure the things you’re doing are translating onto the football field.

“We do a lot of movement-specific type stuff outside. Everybody thinks running straight or distance is awesome, but it has very little carryover to football. You very rarely ever run 40 yards straight in football. Being able to do short spurts and a lot of change-of-direction … are much more football-specific.”

But with all the hard work, players have to eat a lot of food—a lot more than it takes an unassuming freshman to put on that freshman 15. We’re talking five big meals—an early breakfast, a brunch, a lunch, a meal before practice, a dinner after practice, and maybe even a late night snack—for around 7,500-8,000 calories per day. That’s a huge changeup for guys that mostly only had three meals a day in high school.

“At first I was really excited,” said redshirt freshman defensive end Stephen Weatherly. “Basically it was like an all-you can eat buffet all the time. After a while it gets kind of tiring, but you know that you need it because we’re playing in the SEC and going against 300, 350-pound lineman. I can’t be 220 playing D-end. I need to be 250.”

Because of NCAA regulations, the staff can help the players put on weight only in certain ways. Outside of the meal plan, they can’t give players extra meals, but they can give them small things like bagels, crackers, and pretzels. They can give players protein shakes, but not if they’re more than 30 percent protein. Contracts with companies like Purity Dairy, Shamrock Farms, Gatorade, Muscle Milk and Balance Bar help, and the coaches have players track what they eat.

All that added weight will pay off starting Thursday, when the Commodores match up against Ole Miss. The Rebels’ offensive line comes in at an average of 324 pounds, including 360-pound Aaron Morris and 345-pound Justin Bell.

“It’s going to be a lot of fun and you know they’re big up front and strong,” said senior defensive end Walker May, who’s put on 50 pounds since arriving on campus. “What we’ve got to do is combat that with strength and speed.”

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This first appeared in the Vanderbilt Hustler Football Preview. Here are three other links for articles written for the preview.

Changes in weight for Vanderbilt football players

Understanding the Vanderbilt football schedule

Q&A with Coach Chaos

Categories: College Football | 1 Comment

The NCAA Is Morally Wrong, But You Already Knew That

Yesterday was a big step for the NCAA. It didn’t make a great step, but things are better of than they were two days ago.

If you hadn’t heard before, the NCAA will not renew its partnership with EA Sports, meaning there won’t be an NCAA Football 15 video game.

The NCAA gave out a statement, saying “given the current business climate and costs of litigation, we determined participating in this game is not in the best interests of the NCAA.” Essentially, the NCAA is in danger of losing a couple lawsuits because they haven’t been paying student-athletes for their likeness, and the NCAA does not want to break its own rule of not paying student-athletes.

There are many issues with the NCAA; so many that I don’t have time to go over right now. But the one issue that really upsets me is paying athletes.

Or student-athletes, whatever the NCAA wants us to call them.

I’ve always believed that student-athletes should be paid. University of Texas football created $163 million in revenue in the 2011-12 season, yet they only paid their 85 scholarship athletes, the people who create that revenue, a total of $2.38 million. That’s just $28,000 per player in a currency they can’t spend.

The NCAA can do this because there is no viable path to the NFL other than college football, so they effectively run a cartel. Student-athletes have no union, so they can’t collectively bargain to be paid. The NCAA just gets to make up their own rules to say that athletes can’t be paid.

It’s utterly outrageous and morally wrong.

Do you think this hit was so swift it didn't hurt? Like Vincent Smith just went numb?

The Editor-in-Chief of the Vanderbilt Hustler can be paid $375 a month, but Jadeveon Clowney can’t get paid anything for devouring souls.

In what other workplace can someone put in full-time work–yes, college athletes have a full time job, and it’s sports–create billions of dollars in revenue, and not get paid a dime? We only accept this idea because it’s the way things have always been, which is never a great way to make decisions.

Imagine if the only way to get into Hollywood was to go to a three-year Movie University, where actors’ skills are honed. Student-actors work hard to make movies while at the University–blockbuster ones that gross hundreds of millions of dollars–but they aren’t paid because University officials say they’re amateurs, and the University keeps all the money.

No one would be okay with this.

Why are we okay not paying college-athletes?

The main argument I keep hearing is that students are paid–in the form of scholarships. But scholarships are not real payment. They’re useful for someone who can dedicate the time to learn, but many student-athletes don’t have the time to take close to full-advantage of it, and scholarships damn sure aren’t doing much for student-athletes who can’t read. Scholarships can’t feed a hungry family back home, and they can’t be cashed in for anything.

Furthermore, a scholarship would be fine payment if it were just part of the player’s payment. Twice minimum wage isn’t remotely close to equitable payment for a player who creates millions in revenue. Imagine that Movie University actor getting paid $30,000 for starring in a Golden Globes-nominated film. That’s just not right.

NCAA officials often say that it’s the players’ choice and privilege to play football, but they have no other alternative. It’s like John Rockefeller talking to his workers before they unionized. Being paid for what you do is a basic tenant of this country, but college football colludes to not pay its cash cows purely for profits and tradition.

But as immoral and illogical as it is to not compensate student-athletes, it’s even more mind-numbing to me that they’re not allowed to take payment of any kind. They can’t get a cut of their jersey sales. They can’t be sponsors in commercials. They can’t get money for their likeness in a video game. They can’t even be treated to a $5 footlong sub at Subway.

The biggest jokes of all are the jersey sales and video game likenesses. Kansas, of course, doesn’t carry any Andrew Wiggins jerseys, but they suddenly got a large stock of #22 jerseys when he committed. The biggest sham, of course, is the video game, where Texas A&M suddenly got an amazing quarterback and South Carolina got a superhuman defensive end in NCAA Football 14. I thought that was pretty ironic because Johnny Manziel won the Heisman Trophy last year and has the same frame, number, and general skills as Texas A&M QB #2. Same for South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney and USC DE #7.

But there’s no way they’re related. The NCAA claims they’re not related.

I can live with athletes not being paid directly by their school if they are allowed to receive outside payments. At the very least, they need to be able to make money off their jersey sales and a hypothetical future video game likeness.

Fans may say that paying athletes will lead to an unfair system where rich schools get better athletes, but is that any different than Stanford, Duke, Vanderbilt, and Northwestern being handicapped because they have to hold athletes to a higher academic standard? A potentially polarized college football landscape is not a reason to bar student-athletes from being paid for their work.

But and schools get records removed and players still get suspended for taking free tattoos and getting a free lunch. Only recently have small loopholes opened up.

But until we make changes, these players are slaves to an arcane system based on reprehensible and indefensible rules.

Altogether eliminating NCAA video games was over the top, but God forbid we pay people for using their likeness in a multi-million dollar product. It sure wasn’t the best move, but it’s better than the old system.

Categories: College Football | Leave a comment

What Do I Stand For?

There’s a saying that you should never meet your heroes because they might let you down. I’m not sure if I totally subscribe to that theory because I’ve gotten the chance to meet some of my favorite writers (Keith Law and Jonah Keri) and favorite athletes (Tyler Beede and DeAngelo Williams), and they’ve only raised my perception of them. Moreover, the saying should go: you should be cautious when you meet your heroes because they might let you down.

In the last thirty days, though, we’ve seen three major idols crumble and fall because of poor choices, lying, and lying about poor choices. In mid-January, Lance Armstrong finally admitted that he doped—but he claimed he didn’t cheat after 2005. He was emotional and remorseful, but he was also a lying cheater. We wanted to believe that Lance was clean—despite the fact that quite literally every other cyclist was dirty—because we wanted an American hero.

A man who overcame cancer and dominated a sport by winning seven straight Tour de Frances. Overwhelming evidence be damned, this man had to be telling the truth because, after all, he threatened to sue people who “slandered” his name. His reactions to accusations of doping were so visceral that he had to be telling the truth. But no, he turned out to be just like the rest of the cyclists. A cyclist who overcame cancer.

A few days later, another idol went crashing to the ground, this one in possibly the most bizarre way possible. Manti Te’o found his way into the hearts of Americans across the nation because of the heartbreaking story of his girlfriend—Lennay Kekua—who was in a terrible car accident, got leukemia, then died six hours after Te’o’s grandma died. Fueled by the terrible losses, Te’o went on to lead Notre Dame with 12 tackles en route to a 20-3 victory over Michigan State, nine more wins and an undefeated regular season, and nearly a Heisman trophy. Except there was one problem: Lennay Kekua never existed. She was a hoax.

The most inspirational story of the college football season was soiled because the Notre Dame linebacker fell in love with a girl over twitter and pretended to have met her and introduced her to his family. That is, unless he was in on the hoax the entire time, which would make him the most histrionic, attention-seeking, twisted player in recent memory. In one moment, Te’o went from sympathetic, inspiration figure to the laughingstock of the sports world, an unenviable mess.

I am the bullet in the chamber

Pistorius appeared in a Nike ad featuring the catch phrase “I am the bullet in the chamber.” The multi-billion dollar industry took all of twelve seconds to take one down.

Then comes the most recent letdown, the sad story of South African Olympian Oscar Pistorius. The man is the first double leg amputee to compete in the Olympics, earning him the nickname “Blade Runner.” His inspirational story touched millions of people—from South Africans to disabled people to sports fans in general—until he (accidentally) shot and killed his model girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp. The jury remains out on whether or not he killed her on purpose—he claims he thought she was a burglar—but he is forever unclean in the eyes of many people. How can you look up to someone who killed someone they loved, even if they overcame seemingly insurmountable odds to reach the pinnacle of modern athletics?

In the end, it just seems that we cannot trust athletes and look up to them now. Maybe the saddest story of them all is the recent antics of LeBron James. The All-Star forward is trying to get into the good graces of sports fans’ hearts after leaving frigid Cleveland for beautiful Miami in order to better his chances to win a championship by playing the best basketball of his entire life. The shameless James is even working harder than ever to get teammates involved, rebounding at the highest rate of his career, and scored 30 points on 60% shooting or better in six straight games in a sad attempt to raise his image.

In the end, it’s really athletes like LeBron who will do anything for attention that make fans sick and leave us wondering if we should and can look up to any athlete.

Categories: College Football, NBA, Other | 1 Comment

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