VU has a slew of true freshmen

Wednesday, November 4, 2009 at 1:05am

Warren Norman rambles for yardage against Georgia. / Mike Strasinger for The City Paper

Eddie Foster cannot wait to experience the atmosphere at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium (a.k.a. The Swamp) on Saturday.


It will be just another opportunity to play at a venerable venue for the Vanderbilt freshman cornerback, who did not have to wait to get a taste of big-time college football.


“I love traveling,” he said. “I love traveling to the different stadiums that you’ve only seen on TV — seeing the stadium, hearing the crowd. It gets you really pumped up more than I thought it would.


“It’s a lot different from high school.”


Foster is one of seven true freshmen among this year’s Commodores who made the leap right from high school football into SEC competition. That’s one more than in the previous two seasons combined when three each played in their first seasons of eligibility.


“Every situation is really different,” coach Bobby Johnson said. “It’s a person-by-person deal. … The goal is to get your best players out on the field. If they’re not going to play (as freshmen), then it just makes sense to redshirt them and get them stronger and faster.”


Opportunity has been the most consistent factor in which of this year’s first-year players have been used.


All seven are confined to three different positions – running back, wide receiver and defensive back.


Running back


Warren Norman has gotten the most attention of any of Vanderbilt’s true freshmen, particularly of late as he has returned three kickoffs for touchdowns. Zac Stacy also has played a lot, though, and was the starting tailback in each of the first three games.


Both got the opportunity because returning starter Jared Hawkins, a senior, has battled a foot injury all season. Last season’s backup, Jeff Jennings, graduated.


With a combined 982 rushing yards, they already have outgained Hawkins and Jennings’ total of a year ago.


Wide receiver


Colin Ashley and Brady Brown, both from Texas, both have been used sparingly. Ashley has caught nine passes for 84 yards while Brown has yet to make his first college reception.


Those two might not have seen the field at all if not for the season-ending knee injury sustained in the spring by Justin Wheeler and the fact that Terrence Jeffers-Harris was ruled academically ineligible by the NCAA.


Defensive back


The decision by D.J. Moore to enter the NFL draft created an opening on the depth chart one year ahead of schedule. Then injuries, particularly at safety, forced coaches to shuffle the lineup in the secondary.


In addition to Foster, Eric Samuels and Trey Wilson all have gotten playing time as a result. Foster even got his first career start two weeks ago at South Carolina.


All three also have been regular contributors on special teams.


“We had to use them,” Johnson said. “Those guys at receiver had to play because we lost so many, and injuries have forced us to use those other guys in the secondary. … It’s just different circumstances.”


It’s different all right, different from the previous two years.




• Quarterback Mackenzi Adams knows there’s nothing he can do to help the Commodores have a winning season now that he’s the starter. Still, the fifth-year senior has winning on his mind as he looks toward the end of his college career.


“Basically, I just want to have fun and go out there and play with the guys I’ve been playing with the last four or five years,” Adams said. “I just want to try to go out on a positive note and build some momentum for the program.


“I’ve been a part of some really big wins here for the school, and I’d really like to go out with one more big, memorable win.”


• Left tackle Thomas Welch (ankle) and running back Jared Hawkins (foot) did not practice Tuesday.


For Hawkins, a senior who has played only three games this year, there is the distinct possibility that his college career has ended.


• Norman currently has a team-high 593 rushing yards. With two more, he will have the most in three years by a VU running back.


• The Commodores’ top three in terms of receiving yards are separated by just two yards. John Cole leads the way with 245, and Udom Umoh and Brandon Barden each have 243.