It's been nearly 30 years since Vanderbilt could boast two All-SEC skill players at the same position on their offense. In 2012, they'll put a pair of honored playmakers at a position that has traditionally been a weakness for the Commodores - tailback.
Zac Stacy (second team All-SEC in 2011) and Warren Norman (SEC Freshman of the Year, 2009 SEC All-Freshman team) will unite in 2012 to give the 'Dores one of the strongest backfields in team history. The duo will lead a stacked depth chart to give head coach James Franklin a major asset on offense, something that the Commodores have lacked in the past two decades. Stacy and Norman, two players who were recruited by Bobby Johnson and working on their third head coach, will both look to make history as the team attempts to go to back-to-back bowl games for the first time in school history.
Each player has already staked his claim in the Vanderbilt football record books. Stacy, a senior, is the team's single-season rushing leader after gaining 1,193 yards in a breakout junior season and eclipsing Corey Harris's 1991 mark. With 2,002 career rushing yards, he's just 630 away from becoming the team's all-time leader when it comes to the running game.
However, it was Norman who got fans revved up after a promising freshman season in 2009. The Stone Mountain speedster set a team and SEC record with 1,941 all-purpose yards in his first year at Vanderbilt. Unfortunately, health concerns have kept him from returning to those heights in the two years that followed. Norman, now a redshirt junior, missed the final four games of the 2010 campaign and all of 2011 thanks to wrist and leg injuries. Despite playing with a putrid offense in '10, he was still able to manage 6.0 yards per carry in eight games.
Both players have fought through injury throughout their careers, but they'll enter fall practices fresh and healthy. More importantly, they'll be working behind an offensive line that has shown significant improvement in each year that they've worked under line coach Herb Hand. Questions about the unit remain after starters like Mylon Brown and Logan Stewart were dismissed during the offseason, but Hand's guidance turned a patchwork squad into a capable phalanx in 2011. The addition of talented young players and retention of guys like Wesley Johnson and Ryan Seymour should give these veteran backs the best blocking that they've ever had in college.
The Commodores go much deeper than their SEC-honored platoon. Three young players and one intriguing transfer will pad out the team's depth chart with more talent than ever before. Freshman Brian Kimbrow was the jewel of James Franklin's first full recruiting class, and the four-star tailback may be the team's fastest player from the moment he steps on campus. He's joined by last season's holdover Jerron Seymour, a heady runner who performed well as the team's #2 back last season. Seymour is a compact back who showed off a similar game to Stacy's in 83 carries in 2011.
Those two will be flanked by a pair of players who took their first snaps as running backs for the Commodores this spring. LaFonte Thorogood is a 220-pound former quarterback who will add bulk in the backfield as a hybrid fullback. Hasan Clayton is a transfer from FCS program Dayton who has experience on both sides of the ball. He could have a similar impact as Micah Powell did in 2011, filling in as an emergency back and getting carries in a mop-up role.
Over the next few weeks, we'll continue the slow burn leading up to football season with in-depth looks at each member of the Commodore backfield, starting with Zac Stacy. We're entering a new era of Vanderbilt football, and one of the biggest indicators of that is a stacked running game. After toiling with grinders like Cassen Jackson-Garrison, Norval McKenzie, and Jared Hawkins the 'Dores finally have explosive playmakers who can carry this team's offensive in the backfield. The presence of players like Stacy, Norman, and Kimbrow will add a new dimension to the Vandy offense and open things up for a burgeoning passing game alongside it.
For the first time ever, Vanderbilt will line up a platoon of All-SEC players at tailback. That's just reason #21 to be excited about the 2012 season.