Vanderbilt's football team wants to establish its identity.
The past two seasons have yielded polar opposite results for the Commodores. In 2008 they had the most successful campaign in recent history, a 7-6 record capped by a victory over Boston College in the Music City Bowl. Last fall's 2-10 could not have ended -- or been forgotten -- soon enough.
The current group of players insist that they identify much more closely with the squad of two years ago, and it starts with their mentality.
“We just really wanted to change the whole attitude,” co-captain Joey Bailey said. “Coming out of last season everybody thought we were a joke again, like the bowl season was a fluke. We know that the team that went to the Music City Bowl is who we really are and that last season was a fluke. We just want to make sure we show everybody that.”
Defensive co-captain T.J. Greenstone played on both teams. Naturally, he is excited and optimistic about starting the season off with a win against Northwestern on Saturday. But Greenstone knows that persevering through difficulties with the same attitude is a winning characteristic.
Vanderbilt can’t be shaken when something goes awry.
“The biggest thing this offseason is just the change in how we think about things, how we go about our daily lives, how we work,” he said. “A lot of guys in the past kind of put their heads down when things aren’t going well but obstacles we’ve got to find a way to get through them.”
There have only been subtle changes between head coach Robbie Caldwell’s practices and former coach Bobby Johnson’s. But as far as a change in training this offseason goes the team points to their work in the weight room with strength coach John Sisk. Across the locker room players echoed approval of a higher attended, more intense workout schedule.
“We changed up the offseason weight lifting program,” quarterback Larry Smith said. “Coach Sisk did an excellent job of changing things up, I think, for the better. So hopefully it will pay off for us this Saturday.”
“I noticed a lot more people were here,” wide receiver John Cole said. “In May we had people and throughout the summer. It was more intense, we were taking it more seriously. People want to get better.”
Wide receiver Udom Umoh also noted that this summer’s workouts had the highest attendance in his three years in the Commodore program. The team unanimously intensified their offseason commitment beyond what the coaches demanded and they hope it pays dividends starting with Northwestern.
“When it comes down to college football you can do what coach asks you to do and be average, but if you go above and beyond that’s what separates the good players from the great,” Greenstone said. “We’ve definitely just been putting work in to see how much these guys can take mentally and physically. Coach Sisk has done a great job of that this offseason.”
• Running back Warren Norman was in shoulder pads and helmet at practice Tuesday. He underwent arthroscopic knee surgery Aug. 25 and has been considered questionable for the game with Northwestern.
“He’s amazing isn’t he?” Caldwell said. “Just a step closer, he has no regard for that knee and he has a high threshold for pain. He’s out there running around, he didn’t want to be in that yellow jersey. He’s ready to go.
"Now whether we let him go or not (Saturday) is another story.”
• Starting strong safety Sean Richardson practiced through pain with turf toe. Caldwell expects him to play against Northwestern.
• Caldwell said redshirt sophomore Archibald Barnes will likely start at linebacker with John Stokes and Chris Marve. Vanderbilt generally plays defense with a three-linebacker set.
• Caldwell got stuck in his old offensive line coach ways on Tuesday. He was caught lining chalk on the field for the current offensive line coach, Herb Hand.
“Yeah I can’t help it I love that stuff,” he said. “Coach Hand needed some lines down there on the lower end and it was a great opportunity for me to get outdoors and away from the phone.”
• Single-game tickets are now on sale for Vanderbilt’s home games against South Carolina (Oct. 23), Florida (Nov. 6), and Tennessee (Nov. 20). All tickets against SEC opponents are $50.