How excited are you to have an opportunity you to have an opportunity to play in Jacksonville?
I’m so excited. I leave for Jacksonville on Thursday. I had the opportunity to play against the best competition here in the SEC and prove myself. It’s been my dream for a long time. I’m living on a cloud right now.
What are you most proud of from your time at Vandy?
For my time at Vanderbilt, the wins at Wake Forest, Georgia, South Carolina, and Tennessee obviously. But I’m more proud of the progress I saw with the team. We were a total different ball team from when the time I got there. We are competitors every week. I’m proud to have been apart of that. I was hoping to take us to a bowl game but a few points here and there didn’t work out but I’m extremely proud of what we accomplished while I was there.
Who was the hardest guy to tackle?
I don’t know. Knowshawn Moreno was one of the hardest runners we faced. Percy Harvin from Florida has a different level of speed than anybody we ever saw. He was the hardest to get to.
What about Darren McFadden? We did well against him two years ago.
He and Felix Jones is a great backfield. I feel like we did a great job that day. I think we kept both of them under 100 yards. I don’t think McFadden even had 50. It was a good day and we showed up to play.
Where was the hardest place to play?
Definitely the Swamp. Florida is a different atmosphere. All SEC schools have a great atmosphere. Florida is just a different place. The students sit close to the bench it get a little personal.
Your freshman year what do you remember about your first game?
I didn’t play until the Ole Miss game. It was a lot of fun. I had two or three tackles. I hit the quarterback on the third play. It was a great experience to see how I could do in the SEC as a true freshman.
What do you remember about the win at Wake Forest your sophmore year?
It was a great win. We had Jay and he pulled out an amazing comeback in the end. It was my first game to play Defensive Tackle and I ended up getting Defensive Player of the Game that week.
Your sophomore year what do you remember about the game in The Swamp?
That one was probably the most emotionally draining game I’ve ever played in. You don’t ever want to go to overtime but you want to go to overtime to have a chance to win. Emotionally overtime just kills you. Especially down there it was quiet. There was no noise. No one was cheering. When Earl caught the touchdown and they called the celebration on him it was a huge bummer. The game was going so well and we knew we were going for two and we were going to in the game. But we got pushed back and had to kicked the extra point. It was a fun experience. It didn’t end up how it should have but it was fun.
Marlon White told me the penalty was ridiculous because “Earl didn’t even get to finish his dance.”
He didn’t even get to start his dance. It was clearly a bad call. But you hate to blame things on the refs. I know I do. They are trying to do their jobs. I am sure he meant well. I don’t think he called it to make us lose but you never like for that to happen.
Later that year was the big win in Knoxville how cool was that?
For me that was the highest moment of my college career. Being from here and being aroung UT fans all my life and to have the opportunity to go into Knoxville it was just awesome.
It was nice for us local fans because it shut up all the UT fans. It’s all we hear all year long, UT this or UT that.
Yeah there used to be UT billboards on West End. That used to make us all upset.
What do you remember about playing at Michigan your junior year?
It was fun that place is historical and has a lot of tradition but to me it’s nothing compared to SEC crowds. That place is huge but they really cram them in there. Seems to me like standing on the field at The Swamp, The Swamp is twice as big with the noise, the amount of people and the way it’s built. It is a good thing to say that I got to play there.
Did you agree with the decision to drop MTSU to play Michigan that year?
I agree with anything Coach does. We have faith in him. He wanted to give us an opportunity to play a big team like Michigan. We went in that game to win that game. We couldn’t get a lot of offense going but I feel like after the first drive the defense played well up there considering it was the first game in the Big House.
That game was closer than the score indicated. They had some garbage touchdowns late in the game to pull away but we were right there until the middle of the 4th qtr.
That’s what I’ve told people. The score doesn’t really show you how the game went. Defensively we played a great game other than the first drive where they ran it down our throat down the middle 70 yards. After that everyone settled down. We just got Coach Logo and the Defensive Line was wondering should we do what we used to do or what he was telling us to do. It was a trust thing. He got us calmed down and we were fine.
What do you remember about watching Hanfeldt’s field goal try against Araknsas later that year? Before they called time out there was no wind. After the time out the wind magically appeared.
You know it’s just one of those things. It’s part of the game. You’ve got to play against the elements.Whether he judged it wrong or whether it was a bad kick, who knows. He’s made some great kicks for us. I could never get mad at him for missing one.
I just couldn’t believe how the wind just happened to pick up right then.
It just seems like something didn’t want us to win that day.
How special was the win in Athens?
That was another great day for all of us. Hanfeldt had the big kick to win that one. When we play confident we can do that. There were times when we hadn’t in the past but we went to Georgia and we knew we were going to win the game. From start to finish everybody played with everything they had. Everybody did what they were supposed to do. There was 11 guys on the field playing with one heartbeat. Everyone was on the same page. It was a great day. If you play that every week you’ll beat everybody you play.
You had a big sack that day didn’t you?
Yeah, it was a big 3rd down sack.
Last year what are your thoughts on the penalties that were called on us in the Alabama game. The first was Earl’s push off and the second was Alex Washington’s punt return.
That’s one problem you face in the SEC. Refs are going to be biased and it’ll come back to bite you. I don’t know if Earl pushed off. Some say he didn’t. The big one that bothered me was when Alex Washington took the punt back and they called it back. It would have been a huge momentum shift and it was lost. It’s SEC football anything can happen.
I heard the guys calling it on TV went back and looked for it and they didn’t see it.
That’s the thing with the big penalties that hurt us in the past. Either the commentator will say it’s a bad call or they don’t think it should have been called. Sometimes they can’t even find even find where the penalty was. But I guess they can’t see everything. It’s pretty frustrating.
What did you think going into the big game against Georgia on ESPN2?
I was excited. I always enjoy a chance to play on the big networks. We had them beat but we didn’t finish. We had a couple of unfortunate things happen at the end of the game. Cassen fumbled the ball and they got it back. We still had it won but they drove down the field and kicked a field goal and won the game. We beat them the year before by a field goal so I guess it’s just someone paying us back for that one.
I remember seeing the fumble. My mouth dropped and my hands went over my head and I thought “Oh no. Not now.”
That’s happened to Vandy in the past. It’s something we have to find a way to overcome. We have got to find a way to finish the games we got in the bag.
The next week we bounced back and shocked #6 South Carolina on the road. The defense really brought it that day.
Yeah, we went into that game knowing we beat Georgia. The score didn’t show it but we knew we did. We went in there with a chip on our shoulder. From start to finish we didn’t let up. I think we had 8 sacks that day. Offense was good in the 1st half. In the 2nd half they didn’t score. Defensively we didn’t let them have anything. DJ had the interception in the end zone. The whole D-Line had a sack that day I think.
The halftime score was the final score wasn’t it?
How disappointing was the Kentucky game. It seems special teams killed us and Kentucky did just enough to win.
That’s what has happened everytime we play them since I’ve been there. They just barely get by or special teams kills us. I don’t know what it is about that game. It’s always a special teams game and we can’t do a thing with it.
Raphael Little just absolutely kills us every year. He was hurt the week before and came back and went wild on us.
He does. They run a lot of screens. He’s a great back. He’s a small guy. He can get to the cracks. He’s hard to defend especially when you have a quarterback like Woodson who passes as much as he does. We really turn it up up front and go after him and that’s when they throw those little screens to him and he makes things happen.
What are your thoughts on the playcalling in the 4th qtr of the UT game? It seems we just went into a shell.
It’s unfortunate. We were dominating them and I feel like some people seemed comfortable where we were at and didn’t want to continue to pound. They didn’t want to continue to put points on the board. It just got conservative and they came back. They are a great team. You can’t play conservative in the SEC and expect to win those big games like that on the road. You’ve really got to go after them. We were up by 16 at one point and it all went downhill. Like I said Vanderbilt has been cursed with not finishing the games we should win. Obviously we all work hard to avoid that but things happen. You just got to be ready to play and play with what they give you.
As a fan it’s aggrivating to watch the offense because they are so conservative. I remember one game last year where Nickson ran 5 straight quarterback draws. After a while the other coaches are going to know what we are calling.
A lot of times we know what they are going to do too. I guess coaches know coaches and know what they do. They may think it’s a situation for something that may not have necessarily been or the other team might have set up a defense to stop it.
There’s nothing we can do as players. We run what they call and we have full confidence in our coaches. If you do that it’s up to you to win the game. It’s on our shoulders. We play the game.
Going back to the UT game. Didn’t you actually block the extra point to get the momentum on our side?
I did block the extra point. I got my hands on 5 or 6 in college but they went in but that’s the first one I actually blocked. I just got through the cracks got up and knocked it down.
What happened during the Wake Forest game?
That one got away from us early.
Did the UT game wear on us?
Well, when you get in a game like that, the last game of the season peopele are banged up. People are out there playing if it was the second week of the season they wouldn’t be playing. Injuries here and there you know? You have your seniors out there who are obivously very emotional. They are out there giving it 100%, everything they have. Some other people may not have that same emotion. It’s kind of a unbalanced situation out there. Obviously everyone is playing hard but some people that are more fired up than others. We weren’t drained. It was a tough game they are a good team. A few things happened early and we got out of the game quick and it’s hard to get back from that.
Was Chris Nickson playing hurt last year?
Yes, Chris Nickson had a separated shoulder after the Alabama game. He dove into the end zone and separated his shoulder there. It bothered him the rest of the season. It’s hard for a quarterback. You can’t make the same throws if your shoulder isn’t right.
There were rumors but nothing ever was acknowledged by the coaches.
He can’t run the same with the shoulder. He can’t take the same hits. He can’t make the same throws. He’s back full force and I have full confidence in Chris. He’s a great leader out there. He’s just have a few things go his way and not get inured do early in the season.
Have you thought about going up against Chris Williams in the NFL?
Of course I’ve thought about it. We play the Bears this year.I’ve went against Chris before. Chris is one of the best linemen in the country and I’ve done fine against him and I’m excited. If everyone in the NFL is not as good as Chris then I feel like I have a chance to do well and have a career.
I’d like to see Brian Stamper do well. He did so well before his surgery and worked hard to get back and I hope he makes it in the NFL.
He went to Cleveland. But they brought in 80 players to fill 7 spots and he got cut. I heard he’s going to the Saints camp sometime soon. Someone will pick him up. Brian is a great lineman. It’s hard to come back from back surgery. He was a dominating force that year and after the back surgery the next year it was hard to come back. It’s hard to get flexible again. You lose all you flexibility and all you lower body strength. You can’t do squats and the same lower body workout. He has a lot of heart I know how bad he wants to play. His hard work will pay off and he’ll find a spot.
What’s your prediction for next year? We lost our offensive line and Earl Bennett went pro unfortunately.
Well I’m biased, I think they are going to be fine. It’s going to be a challenge. There’s going to have to be a lot of people step up and prove they can play at this level. I think the talent is there. They just got to get it out of them.
There’s a lot of god players on the offensive line. Thomas Welch I think is going to be great. Ryan Custer and Bradley Vierling have proved themselves the past two years. Mackenzi and Chris are two great quarterbacks. Jeff Jennings is an awesome running back. Jared Hawkins is great. Defensively, up front the line is young but Broderick Stewart and Steven Stone, they hadn’t had anyone stop them yet. All season last year they were all over making big plays. Inside tackle is going to be the spot that is going to need the most people to step up and prove they can play. Billinger is the only one who has that much experience.
Is Jared Hawkins back to full strength after that dirty hit against Kentucky.
Yes, he’s back fine. He’s a kid who has one of the best work ethics I’ve ever seen. It’s hard to keep him off the football field. He’s going to be out there playing.
Did you think it was a dirty hit?
A lot of people thought so. Me personally, I know how emotional you get out there and how bad you want to win the game. I don’t know if he was out of bounds. He may have been in the air but the guy was just trying to make a tackle I think. I can’t necessarily say it was a dirty hit. I don’t like to say that people were getting away with cheap shots against us. That’s just football. He just happened to be on the wrong end that day.
Well, I’m not a player I’m just a fan I think it was a dirty hit.
I know where you stand but me I have to look at it like they are doing the same thing we are you know?
Thanks Theo, is there anything else you’d like to say to the fans?
Root for all of us that are taking this road. Earl, Chris, Goff, me, Buggs, Gatewood, Gabe Hall, Stamper. Root for us and cheer us on. We appreciate all the support.