June 22, 2017
Throughout the summer, VUCommodores.com is featuring Vanderbilt football returnees who are relentless, tough and intelligent.
By Zac Ellis
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Tre Herndon had a decision to make.
In the winter of 2013, the Chattanooga-area recruit had a football scholarship waiting for him at Vanderbilt University. But as the calendar turned to 2014, the Commodores’ staff that recruited Herndon left for another program. Suddenly, the two-way player from East Hamilton High faced a crossroads in his football future.
Then, Vanderbilt hired Derek Mason.
“When I heard about Mason’s story with Stanford and in the NFL, and being a defensive backs coach, it was perfect fit,” Herndon said. “I mean, why go elsewhere?”
Three seasons later, Herndon knows he blazed the appropriate path. The 6-1, 190-pound cornerback has developed into a linchpin of Vanderbilt’s secondary, and he enters 2017 riding a streak of 25 consecutive starts for the Dores. In fact, dating back to his freshman season in 2014, Herndon has appeared in every game of his Commodore career.
Now Herndon is thankful he stuck with his Vanderbilt pledge, which has coincided with an increase in wins in each of his three seasons. In 2017, Herndon is hungry for more.
“I believe God puts you in places where you need to be,” Herndon said. “We were going to be the first class for Coach Mason, so we needed to be leaders. Now we take pride in sticking here and making something happen.”
Herndon returns this fall as a two-year starter in the secondary, which stands to be one of the more experienced units on Vanderbilt’s roster. Safeties LaDarius Wiley and Ryan White, nickel back Taurean Ferguson and Herndon combine for 70 career starts. That senior foursome also makes up four of the Dores’ top five returning tacklers in 2017, led by Wiley’s 76 stops.
But Herndon is perhaps the most disruptive of the group. He paced Vaderbilt’s defense with two interceptions in 2016 and finished second in pass breakups (eight) and passes defended (10). Plus, Herndon has developed a reputation for longevity over the course of 25 straight starts.
“Tre Herndon is the personification of tough,” Mason said. “He trusted our vision and became a part of our staff’s first signing class in 2014. Since then, Tre has become one of the most durable and dependable cornerbacks in the SEC.”
The secret to that tenacity is an appreciation for the process, Herndon says.
“It comes with growth,” Herdon said. “As a freshman, you’re really not used to having a schedule. As you go, you know after a game you’ve got to hit the ice tub, get your massage, roll out and stretch every night. It’s just knowing that schedule and sticking to it.”
Herndon hopes that formula pays dividends in 2017, when Vanderbilt suits up as a veteran squad in the SEC. The senior is one of 16 returning starters on offense and defense for the Commodores. Vanderbilt’s defense — a point of pride under Mason — loses All-American linebacker Zach Cunningham, but it plans to shore up that hole with the likes of linebacker Oren Burks and defensive lineman Nifae Lealao, among others. Vanderbilt’s offense, meanwhile, loses just two starters in center Barrett Gouger and tackle Will Holden.
The 2017 season represents the culmination of a long journey for Herndon. The sociology major and two-time All-SEC Academic honoree once didn’t know what his future held at Vanderbilt. Now he gets a chance to close his prolific Commodore career on a high note.
“We keep the SEC East in our minds, because that’s our goal,” Herndon said. “I believe we can make it happen. It all depends on what we’re doing right now, in the summer and into fall camp and the season. We just have to keep pushing and build that leadership.”