Last year, Wesley Tate had just a month before the season to adjust to playing wide receiver.
This winter the former running back wanted to be more prepared for his new position. So he dropped a few pounds, continued to analyze the playbook and focused on improving his route running.
Then he showed up at the first day of Vanderbilt football spring practices and learned he was back in the backfield, at running back.
“I got comfortable with playing receiver,” he said, “but, you know, I’ve always played running back all my life so it is kind of a natural thing to me. It has been a smooth adjustment so far. The biggest thing is just kind of getting my mindset back to playing running back.”
Having lost nearly 10 pounds and weighing in at 217 pounds, the 6-foot-1 Tate gives the Commodores more depth in a depleted backfield. Senior Zac Stacy is getting most of the handoffs after finishing with a school-record 1,193 rushing yards with 14 touchdowns last fall. After him, though, the cupboard — at the moment — was nearly bare.
Redshirt-junior Warren Norman, who missed all of last season, and sophomore Jerron Seymour aren’t expected to participate this spring due to injuries. Plus, redshirt-freshman Lafonte Thourogood, who is moving over from quarterback, has been limited in a couple practices with a red injury jersey.
“I just look at as an opportunity to get the ball more,” said Tate, who is joined in the backfield by walk-on sophomore and Dayton transfer Hasan Clayton (5-10, 180 pounds).
“I feel like I get the ball more,” Tate continued. “Running back has its positives and negatives and so does receiver. I really wasn’t that bummed about it. ... I had to decide what I wanted to do. I told the coaches that I’m all right with moving back to running back. I’m trying to take it on with a positive attitude.”
Tate, a redshirt-junior out of Pope John Paul II in Hendersonville, caught 22 passes for 187 yards last year as a slot receiver. He scored just one touchdown — a 23-yard rushing score on an end-around in the season opener against Elon.
Jordan Matthews and Chris Boyd combined for 72 catches, 1,251 receiving yards and 13 touchdowns. Plus, Jonathan Krause proved to be a consistent short yardage threat.
So coach James Franklin made the decision to move Tate, whom he sees as the team’s fastest player, just before practice began two weeks ago. Ironically, he moved him to wide receiver last August to also address depth concerns.
“He’s got elite speed, especially for his size,” Franklin said. “He’s got to prove he can be physical in between the tackles. He is much more competitive right now.”
The changes in the offseason weren’t all for naught either.
Tate believes he is moving faster than he was last year and is contemplating on losing a couple more pounds. While Stacy is again the leading candidate start at tailback, Tate plans to make the most of the remaining three weeks of spring practice.
“Yeah, it is a competition. So I’m trying to compete with Zac and whoever,” he said. “If we can split the backfield, I’m fine with that. He is a great running back and so I would love to share carries with Zac.”