Nashville, Tenn. – Growing up in Newman, Georgia, junior offensive lineman Gage Pitchford established a connection to football in middle school, after his dad, Blaine, encouraged Pitchford to quit basketball and baseball to focus on football.
“I was always the bigger kid when I was younger and used to get thrown out of games because I was too physical. From my dad’s experience in college playing football, he thought it would be a better fit and it was. I haven’t looked back since because it started to become a passion,” said Pitchford.
An offensive lineman himself, Blaine was Gage’s biggest fan and most impactful coach growing up.
“My dad is special, he was actually at every practice,” Pitchford recalled. “He owns a restaurant so he could make his schedule around his kids’ activities. I can only count on one hand the number of practices he missed when I didn’t see him up in the stands cheering me on. He would give me pointers after practice, I wouldn’t take it personally when he gave me pointers on things I needed to fix because I knew it was love. I am blessed to have a dad who would push me to be better and would tell me how it was.”
While Blaine was influential on the football field, Pitchford’s uncle has been influential in the classroom and helped teach Pitchford techniques for balancing a difficult engineering science major while.
“Something that I have never forgotten is my uncle telling me that you need to have a portfolio in your brain. You need to be able to separate different things and have different portfolios for different things. When I am at football practice I am only thinking about football, I can’t think about the homework I have later or anything like that otherwise it will ruin the homework later because I will regret not giving 100 percent in practice. It took me a year and a half to learn that once I got here.
“It gets hard at Vanderbilt, it humbles you. School is tough here and for some people it’s all they can manage, so having to also balance football I needed to learn how to give equal effort to both things.”
In addition to the offensive line, Pitchford spent most of his high school career as the team’s long snapper.
“It was fun to differentiate from the o-line practice and get a breath of fresh air to focus on another area of the game. The position is a very detailed based, so it gave me another perspective on football, I enjoyed it and made me realize that the small details truly matter,” said Pitchford.
Not only did long snapper provide Pitchford with football opportunities, but it also won him two tickets to Super Bowl LIII.
“I would have fun with my friends growing up, we would do trick shots. I was in my back yard snapping one day and my friends were across the street playing basketball and I told them to video this. I launched the ball through my legs into their hoop and posted it on Twitter,” Pitchford remembered.
“My uncle lived in England at the time and he sent it into a video competition. I didn’t even know; I was in high school thinking I was cool because my video had 400 views and then my uncle called and told me that I won an international competition and got Super Bowl tickets for me and my dad. It was really special.”
Pitchford used the lessons of long snapper in high school and has translated it into growth and confidence during his time at Vanderbilt.
“The biggest thing that he has done is stick to the process,” said offensive line coach AJ Blazek. “You hear about that all the time – trust the coaches, trust the process and he truly did that. He never wavered, he just worked and worked and worked and it is starting to pay off for him.”
After seeing action for the first time in the final game as a true freshman, to starting one game as a sophomore, Pitchford is starting to make a large impact during his junior campaign. Pitchford understands the importance of having a work mentality.
“I learned that at the end of the day, it is about being your best. There is no one to blame, it is no one’s fault – it is all about seeing where you can grow. If you are your best, you get to where you want to be and are proud of where you want to be. God has blessed me with a high ceiling which can be hard at times, not being able to not see the top, but I know that when you chip away at the small details, you will get where you want to be, and I am on my way there.”