Kennard Reeves’ patience has paid off.
The Vanderbilt running back is finally getting his chance to show what he can do.
Unfortunately for him, that opportunity comes at the tail end of his football career, which comes Saturday against Wake Forest when the Commodores complete their 2010 season.
The senior, however, hasn’t let that slow him down. He has been a bright spot for the offense the last two games. In his first career start, nearly two weeks ago at Kentucky, he rushed for a career-high 105 yards on 19 carries. He then added 60 yards against Tennessee last Saturday.
“I have always been one, throughout my career, to make the most of opportunity when I do get it and I feel that has finally paid off now,” Reeves said. “I think the coaches see my effort, hopefully the fans too. Hopefully I can do a little bit more this week to help the team and help the offense get the ‘W.’”
Reeves, a native of Duluth, Ga., has spent much of his college career as a reserve. He redshirted his freshman year in 2006 and then in 2007 he was used sparingly in 11 games on special teams and had three carries at running back. Two years ago, he continued playing on special teams and again was used at tailback in just two games.
Last season, his carries were expected to go up but Warren Norman and Zac Stacy stole the show as freshmen, totaling more than 1,200 combined rushing yards.
“Kennard had people in front of him that are more talented and he can’t control that,” coach Robbie Caldwell said. “He has been a team man, a company man. He has played on special teams and been a big contributor. His leadership has been very good.”
The 6-foot, 205-pounder started this season the same way he did last year, getting very few touches. He had just 13 carries through the first eight games.
But when season-ending injuries in consecutive weeks sidelined Norman and Stacy and an ankle injury pushed freshman Wesley Tate into a limited role, the Commodores turned to Reeves.
After Tate went down against Florida, Reeves picked up just six yards on 13 carries in the second half. A full week to prepare with the first team of the offense seemed to pay dividends against Kentucky. He also showed off some speed and moves, ripping off a career-long 31-yarder against the Wildcats.
“He has done that before. He has shown some flashes of it,” offensive coordinator Des Kitchings said. “He just hasn’t had the opportunity to get a lot of carries in the game with some of the other backs. He just took that advantage and he was strong the whole game. I’m happy to see him go and have success on Saturdays. He has put in a lot of work for it.”
Quarterback Larry Smith hasn’t been surprised by Reeves’ success in the last two games. In fact, he recalls Reeves showing promising signs nearly two years ago against – of all teams – Wake Forest.
Reeves’ stats might not have looked like much as he rushed for just 33 yards on six carries but Smith, who was playing in his first collegiate game, remembers being impressed.
“Kennard did an excellent job then,” Smith said. “So we all agreed that Kennard would be ready whenever he got his chance again.”
It just happened that it took nearly two more years before he got his time to shine.
Now he has a chance to go out a winner, which would be rare for the Commodores. Besides the Music City Bowl in 2008, Vanderbilt has lost its last game of the season three times since Reeves came to campus in 2006.
Now he’ll walk out with nine other seniors and have one last opportunity to leave his mark.
“It is bittersweet,” Reeves said. “I feel like my career has flown by. I have been through my own adversity. But I remember when (assistant) coach (Ted) Cain showed up at practice in Duluth just to scout me. I was only about 170 then, just a 15-year old junior. It is crazy that I am here, I am 22 years old and this is my last game here.”
• Both Smith and backup quarterback Jared Funk practiced Tuesday after suffering injuries last weekend against Tennessee.
Smith hurt his throwing arm and had tenderness in his left knee. Funk also hurt his left knee. He did not have an MRI but said he has a lateral collateral ligament (LCL) sprain.
“They are kind of crippled but they are doing all right,” Caldwell said. “They threw it OK. Their legs are not good but Larry looked a little better. He didn’t throw many. But mentally their mind was working so they were OK.”
Caldwell said Smith will throw more during practice on Wednesday and on Thursday.
• Also on the injury front, defensive tackle Rob Lohr did not practice and is doubtful to play Saturday after he sprained his elbow against Tennessee.