Five things we learned about Vanderbilt football, Clark Lea at SEC Media Days
The first-year Vanderbilt football coach didn't come for any nostalgia, speaking about his desire to rebuild the program as well as other topics such as NIL and moving forward from 2020.
He was accompanied by sophomore tackle Bradley Ashmore and junior defensive lineman Daevion Davis.
Here are five things we learned from their appearance:
There's no nostalgia here
Much was made of Lea being a Vanderbilt alum — he played fullback from 2002-04. Lea's focus, however, was the present
"I think it's important in this point to recognize the fact that in this first iteration of Vanderbilt football, what we affectionately call in our building is Team One," Lea said. "The overwhelming majority of players were recruited to a program that no longer exists."
Lea spoke about building the program from the ground up and redefining what it meant to play for Vanderbilt.
Suffice it to say, this year's team will look very different than last year's.
Five players earned their jersey numbers
Ahead of SEC Media Days, Vanderbilt removed all jersey numbers from its roster. This was due to Lea telling his players that everything — including numbers — would need to be earned.
On Tuesday night, the program announced on Twitter that five players had earned their numbers: Ashmore, Davis, quarterbacks Ken Seals and Mike Wright and linebacker Elijah McAllister.
Davis joked that the quarterbacks and offensive linemen hated the arrangement during spring practice due to not being able to identify anyone. But Davis and Ashmore were complimentary of the practice in general, saying that they appreciated Lea's focus on accountability.
In-state recruiting is a priority
The population of Tennessee has exploded since Lea was first with the Commodores. The state is now a fertile recruiting ground, but Vanderbilt typically isn't first there, instead being passed up by Tennessee, Alabama and others.
Lea knows that recruiting the state is a priority. But he also knows that in a program like the Commodores', finding good fits is just as vital.
"It's a fertile ground, and we have to do a great job of being first in our backyard," Lea said. "Look, not everybody is going to be a fit for us, and that is what it is, but we need to make sure the guys that are looking for a place like Vanderbilt, again, a place where there are no compromises to be made, that I want to achieve at a high level on the field. I want this to be a football decision for recruits, and it will be because we'll have the best developmental program in the country."
Lea noted that he also wanted Vanderbilt to be a place that prepared players well for life after football.
Unique NIL opportunities
Lea said he supported NIL and that, along with athletic director Candice Lee and chancellor Daniel Diermeier, he was committed to helping find those opportunities for athletes.
"For me anything that puts a Vanderbilt football player front facing to our community, I am for. Anything that improves the quality of life of our student-athletes, I am for," Lea said. "The fact that we are in the biggest city in our league's footprint is a huge possibility or potential, so we're very aware of that.
" ... As far as the recruiting impact that goes, certainly the idea that you throw a rock off our campus and you're hitting a lot of really impactful businesses, the music industry is right there on our back porch. So there's a lot of exciting opportunities there."
Success may not show up in the win-loss record
Lea was asked how he would define a successful season. He refused to put a number on it, saying he didn't believe in guessing win-loss records. Instead, he wanted to see growth and improvement, both tangibly and intangibly, and wanted his program to be more competitive with SEC teams after going 0-9 last year.
"The vision is that there's a fourth quarter game where we're on our sideline looking across the field at an opponent that is wilting under the pressure that we're applying because we are the best mentally and physically conditioned team in the country, that we know on our sideline that we're ready to pounce, and we understand that their margin for error is so small because of the pressure that we're applying," Lea said. "Those are the kinds of things I'm looking for as we measure performance as we get into the heat of this season, is that ability to find ways to win those games late."