– Vanderbilt's appearance in the Academy Sports + Outdoors Texas Bowl will mark the final collegiate game for Commodore quarterback Kyle Shurmur
. But as the senior prepares to head to Houston to face Baylor, he is choosing not to harp on the forthcoming end to his career in black and gold.
"I don't try to treat any game differently than the other," Shurmur said. "If you do that, I think you're cheating yourself as a competitor, making one game more important than the other."
In truth, Shurmur would prefer to end his Vanderbilt career with a win, which would secure a 7-6 season and the first winning campaign for the quarterback on West End. But regardless of how the Texas Bowl unfolds, Shurmur's legacy as a record-breaking signal-caller was cemented long ago.
The senior from Philadelphia enters Thursday's matchup with as Vanderbilt's all-time leader in career touchdown passes with 63. He will take the field in Houston within striking distance of several career marks, trailing Commodore legend Jay Cutler for first place all-time in passing yards, completions and attempts. Shurmur needs 119 passing yards, seven completions and 16 attempts to secure first place in those career categories.
Shurmur's last outing was perhaps his best of the season. He completed 31-of-35 passes for 367 yards and three touchdowns in a 38-13 win over Tennessee on Nov. 24, becoming the first Vanderbilt quarterback to notch three career wins over the rival Volunteers since Oliver Kuhn in 1926. The victory also clinched bowl eligibility for the Dores.
But Shurmur said he refuses to look at the Texas Bowl as his final college game. Instead, it's just a chance to bring home another win.
"Whether you're a senior or a freshman, we have the same focus coming out here: getting better and trying to go 1-0 next week," Shurmur said.
Grad students stepping up for Commodores
Vanderbilt felt the impact of three graduate transfers during the 2018 regular season.
Defensive back Alim Muhammad
(Holy Cross), punter Parker Thome
(Columbia) and defensive lineman Louis Vecchio
(Penn) all played significant roles for the Commodores this fall. Though that trio has worn black and gold for just one season, they have all enjoyed getting Vanderbilt back to a bowl game.
"It definitely means a lot to help this team get back to a bowl, and I think that speaks to this team," Vecchio said. "I came in and that was the exact mindset from the start. To come here and help make it happen, it means everything."
Vecchio chipped in 23 tackles, three sacks and an interception in his lone regular season for the Commodores. Thome averaged 45.1 yards per punt on the year, including a season-high 55.3 yards in the win over Tennessee. Muhammad, meanwhile, recorded 15 tackles in eight games. All three fifth-year players are working towards postgraduate degrees at Vanderbilt's Owen School of Management.
Despite having played just a single season at Vanderbilt, Vecchio said he is a Commodore for life.
"I already feel like I'm a part of this family," Vecchio said. "And the longer it lasts, the better. I love these guys. All the work we've put in, it's so great to see it pay off. And we're still not done."
Dores playing with degrees in hand
Eleven members of the Vanderbilt football team will wear "SEC Graduate" patches during the Texas Bowl, indicating they will play in the game as undergraduates.
Five Vanderbilt student-athletes that completed their class work for degrees in December: Shurmur, offensive linemen Egidio DellaRipa
, Bruno Reagan
and Justin Skule
, and fullback Jaire George
. DellaRipa, George, Shurmur and Skule earned degrees in economics. Reagan completed work toward a degree in communication studies.
Six players currently in postgraduate studies also wear the patch: Thome, Muhammad, Vecchio, running back Khari Blasingame
, wide receiver Trey Ellis
and safety LaDarius Wiley
Shurmur said he the opportunity to earn a degree from Vanderbilt marks another completed step in his Commodore career.
"It's obviously school first for us," Shurmur said. "It's a great accomplishment and I'm very proud of it."