The Official Website of the Southeastern Conference
The Official Website of the Southeastern Conference

About That Vanderbilt Helmet

801 days ago
Kevin Scarbinsky
Photo: Fred Daniels

Every coach and player at SEC Media Days stands at a podium flanked by tables with two football helmets. One of the helmets contains the SEC logo. The other belongs to that coach's or player's school. The Vanderbilt helmet on display Wednesday came with a backstory.

It belongs to new head coach Clark Lea. It's the actual helmet he wore while playing fullback for the Commodores from 2002-04.

"A football player's helmet is like, next to kids, one of the most important things that we keep with us," Lea said. "There's, for me, a physical representation of what I invested here, and it's in my office now. It made the trip down here with me."

Offensive lineman Bradley Ashmore said he didn't know the helmet belonged to his head coach but didn't seem surprised.

"There are some scratches up here," Ashmore said. "I know he was lowering his head once in a while."

The take from defensive lineman Daevion Davis: "His head is huge. This helmet is ginormous."

Vandy went 6-29 during Lea's playing days. He described those three years as "the toughest three years of my career. It was hard, but it was formative."

The current players suffered through an 0-9 season a year ago, and then came the coaching change. Lea made it clear as soon as he arrived in Nashville that this is going to be a different Vanderbilt. He stripped the players' workout and practice gear of numbers and logos.

"We had a black T-shirt," defensive lineman Daevion Davis said. "It was restarting. That's what had to happen."

The players had to earn their numbers back.

"I did," Davis said. "I got my number back. It's mine."

Thanks to the months of work he had to put in to earn his number back, Davis said, it just means more.

"It's who we are now," Davis said. "I couldn't thank him more for that because it's made me a lot better player, a lot better man."

Now it's up to the Commodores to carry that momentum to the field in the fall.

"What we've experienced in the last seven months is rare," Lea said, "and that's this opportunity to completely redesign an environment, and really in our redesign there's been two objectives. The first objective is to redefine what it means to be a Vanderbilt football player, and specifically, we want to assign the value of membership in this tribe internally. We want to no longer allow for external influence to shape opinions about what we do and how we do it.

"The second thing, the second objective, is to build the best team in the country. The best team. I think it's important in this point to recognize the fact that in this first iteration of Vanderbilt football, what we affectionately call in our building Team One, the overwhelming majority of players were recruited to a program that no longer exists."

So there's a link to the past in a former player as head coach and a new beginning for the entire program.

"There's a new standard," Davis said. "There's a new culture here. It's a humbling experience, but it's definitely one that was needed. It's a great thing that we started over."