Walker May packed light.
A couple sheets, a pillow and a copy of the “Lone Survivor,” a non-fiction piece that follows a group of U.S. Navy Seals, will suffice.
May made the short trek Wednesday from his off-campus house over to Branscomb Quadrangle, where he’ll spend the next two weeks for Vanderbilt’s football preseason camp. The Commodores begin practice on Thursday – exactly four weeks before their season opener against Ole Miss on Aug. 29.
For May, a senior defensive end, and most of his teammates, it was as if he never left.
Shortly after the spring semester ended a summer conditioning program headed by strength and conditioning coach Dwight Galt commenced.
“It is not mandatory. We have to choose to be there,” May said. “It has grown a lot from the players’ perspective. A lot more players are here and giving up their time to be here. It really makes a difference. It helps tremendously to come into camp in shape, been working out all summer. It helps a lot.”
Wide receiver Chris Boyd says the turnout for the summer program has grown significantly since his first year in 2010.
The fourth-year junior went home to Roswell, Ga., for a weekend in May. Since then he has hung around Vanderbilt, especially the practice fields and weight room. He says much of the Commodores’ 102-player roster has joined him, including many of the 26 freshmen.
Instead of a one-month summer program, Galt and third-year coach James Franklin have encouraged players to stick around for both June and July, if not May.
“If you’re not there, you just know there are people there working to take your spot,” Boyd said. “Nothing is given to you. Nothing is guaranteed. If you're here are all summer working then you’re going to have a better chance to succeed when camp rolls around.”
Summer conditioning also allows for increased communication and better chemistry between teammates, especially in position groups.
But junior offensive lineman Andrew Bridges is excited about one thing preseason camp can provide that the summer doesn’t.
“It is nice to get out there and start hitting people,” he said.
Practices, which are closed to the public, begin at 4:05 p.m. Thursday. The team won’t wear pads the first two days. They’ll add shoulder pads to helmets the next two practices before going in full gear for the fifth practice on Tuesday.
Vanderbilt is coming off a 9-4 season, which included a win over North Carolina State in the Music City Bowl. The Commodores last won nine games – a school record – in 1915. They were picked by the Southeastern Conference media to finish fourth in the East division.
“Everybody has the same kind of mentality as me that you just don’t stop,” Bridges said. “There is no settling. You can always get better. That is the way it is.”
Added May: “We don’t really go off past seasons. But the bar is always higher – always.”