NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The start of spring practice this week has been a welcome sight for Jamuari Wakefield.
Vanderbilt’s senior running back returned to the field after missing virtually all of the 2019 season with a leg injury.
“It was definitely tough,” Wakefield said about missing the 2019 campaign. “Was definitely expecting a big season before that. I’m looking to put it all on this season right here.”
Wakefield (6-1, 220) left the 2019 opener against Georgia in what was a significant blow to Vandy’s running back depth. The Jacksonville, Florida, product was expected to be Ke’Shawn Vaughn’s primary backup and his ability in both the run and passing game would have given the Commodores an extra dimension.
Instead, after a seven-yard carry and 10-yard reception against Georgia, Wakefield was done for the season.
“Just perseverance,” Wakefield said on his road to recovery. “I had a good support group with my family back home. It was just a matter of getting back and I’m back now so we’re ready to put the work in.”
Wakefield is the veteran running back among a group that includes redshirt-sophomore Ja’Veon Marlow, redshirt-freshman JR Tran-Reno and sophomore Keyon Brooks. Brooks was the team’s second leading rusher in ’19 with 252 yards on 56 carries while Marlow got 10 rushes for 42 yards.
That quartet will battle this spring, summer and fall to become the team’s go-to back.
“I think there’s some talent in that group, there’s some guys that have some speed,” first-year Vanderbilt offensive coordinator Todd Fitch said. “(Thursday) we got the ball in their hands a little bit more on the perimeter with some different plays so it looks like they have a little bit more open-field ability. I’ve been pleased so far.
“Now we get into some pads and picking up blitzes and running behind their pads so that will be the next step in their evaluation.”
Replacing the production of Vaughn will undoubtedly be difficult for the Commodores – the two-year Vandy star totaled 2,272 yards in 25 games with the program. Wakefield showed flashes in 2018 he couldn’t produce similar numbers by averaging 4.5 yards per rush as a redshirt-sophomore.
He admitted that Tuesday’s first practice of the spring was a little tough in getting used to the full speed of the game again, but now it’s all systems go moving forward as he moves into a new era of Vanderbilt’s ground attack.
“Interesting to say the least,” Wakefield said of that competition in the backfield. “(Vaughn’s) not here so it’s a different type of competition. I’m just looking to lead that group and see what happens.”