Vanderbilt had two members of the recruiting class of 2012 that made it to school in time to take part in spring practices. As it turns out, those two players had the biggest impact of any second-year player on the team.
While Patton Robinette came up with wins (3-1) when called upon to replace an injured Austyn Carta-Samuels, his winter classmate Darreon Herring made an impact for the Commodores since week one. Herring was the only linebacker to start all 13 games of Vanderbilt's season, and his presence was the glue that held a unit that could have fallen apart due to injuries and inexperience in 2013.
And that's why Herring was a runaway choice for AoG's Breakout Player of the Year.
The outside linebacker stepped into a starting role as a sophomore and played like a veteran, giving the 'Dores a steady presence that helped limit opponents to just 15.6 points per game after November 1st. The 6'2" defender showed tremendous balance in the middle of the field, ranking second on the team in total tackles, pass break-ups, passes defensed, and most times exploding from out of camera range to make a stop. Herring was especially useful against opposing tight ends thanks to his versatile coverage and ability to track plays from the OLB spot.
That kind of growth was especially promising for a player who is poised to lead a young corps of Vandy linebackers into the future. Senior starters Chase Garnham and Karl Butler are set to graduate, leaving Herring behind to lead players like Jake Sealand, Ja'Karri Thomas, Nigel Bowden, and Zach Cunningham in 2014. While that group may have struggled when Herring was the last man standing among the starting linebackers this fall, they developed into a cohesive unit as the season wore on and kept the Commodores on track while Butler and Garnham healed up.
The Commodores will miss their starting linebackers, but Herring will have the opportunity to follow in the footsteps of players like Hunter Hillenmeyer, Jonathan Goff, Chris Marve, and Garnham as this team's defensive leader. He's still got room to grow, but the sophomore showed that he's ready and willing to take up that mantle this fall.
Counterpoint: Caleb Azubike, despite missing three games and a bowl to injury, may have had the best season of any defensive lineman.
Would you have guessed that Caleb Azubike led the team in tackles for loss this season? When Azubike went down some media person said we'd lost our best D-lineman and I didn't believe it. As much as I believed in his future, I thought Walker May and Kyle Woestmann were still tops.
But in four fewer games, Azubike led the defense in tackles for loss (10) and tied for second in sacks (4, Woestmann had 6 in 13 games). He also led D-linemen in tackles per game at 3.44 with 31 total tackles (21 solo).
As the 2012 recruit class stepped into leadership positions, Herring was the clear star and Robinette obviously made some huge plays at the most crucial position. But it would be hard to overstate how impressive it is for a true sophomore to outplay RS-Jr. and RS-Sr. entrenched stars from the 2nd string in only nine games.
The Process: The award was based on a council vote between the four most active authors, managers, and moderators of Anchor of Gold. This included Christian D'Andrea, KingJamesIV, The Goche, and VandyImport. Voters were asked to list their top three candidates for each award. A first-place vote was worth three points, a second-place vote worth two, and so forth. The results of that vote are below.