NASHVILL,E Tenn. — The initial fall camp under for Clark Lea is waning toward its end.
Lea’s Commodores practiced Thursday – their 18th training session of the preseason – and Friday will wrap up a three-week journey that has led them to game week.
“They’ve come a long way,” the first-year head coach said. “The first practice finished with me spirited in the middle (of the team huddle). We’ve gotten to the point (now) where our work output, our rhythm has been consistent.
“For me it’s still a focus on the things we need to improve – that’s impacting winning at every turn. It’s making the fundamental plays that are there for us to open the opportunity for us to win late in the game. That’s where we got to find a little bit more consistency.”
Vandy made a subtle transition into a more season-like approach to practice early in the week Tuesday. The offense traded its white jerseys over to the defense and donned the black, scout team assignments on both offense and defense have been defined and groups have been divvied into starters and reserves.
None of that has lessened the level of competition up and down the roster throughout the week.
“We’ve come a very long way. But we’re still growing,” Vanderbilt linebacker Ethan Barr said. “There’s never a wall that we’ll be able to stop growing. The sky’s the limit. It’s been a big change. If you just watch practice you just see a big change in the culture of the team and what we’re doing here. I’m really excited.”
While Lea was navigating his way through his first fall camp, his student-athletes were doing the same with a new staff and new schemes. But the Commodores said the newness was made easy with the mindset of not just trying to get to the next play or next period or next day, but enjoying the opportunity to play football.
A popular refrain has been the ideal of thriving over surviving.
“It’s the attitude. It’s going into each day. We’re not just trying to survive,” Vandy offensive lineman Bradley Ashmore said. “We’re trying to win each day. Winning a day doesn’t haven’t to be winning every rep, winning every period, it’s how you respond to each period even if it’s a loss. It’s how you respond to everything you do.”
The Commodores are scheduled to workout Friday evening and will then gather as a team Saturday for a walk-through, game day free rehearsal and team pictures. A week later they’ll take the field at Vanderbilt Stadium for the real thing against the visitors from Johnson City.
“It’d say the biggest thing from before camp to after would be the team is really showing its full grit. This camp is obviously different than what we’ve gone through before,” Ashmore said. “It’s really pushed us through adversity in a lot of difficult situations and we’ve been learning to thrive under those situations.
“I feel like the whole team is jelling together and that’s how fall camp should be. You’re in or you’re out. We’re going full-force at this.”
— Chad Bishop covers Vanderbilt for VUCommodores.com.
Follow him @MrChadBishop.