On the morning of Day 4 of the marathon that is SEC Media Days, the monotony begins to overwhelm. There are few questions that haven’t been asked, hardly any voices that haven’t been heard, scarce narratives left unpursued.
Then Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason walks in — voice booming, arms gesturing — and attention perks up.
“Nobody’s talking about (cornerback) Joejuan Williams, that’s OK,” Mason said, quickly developing a cadence. “Nobody’s talking about (safety) LaDarius Wiley, that’s OK.”
Mason compares Williams with All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman. He props up Wiley as an under-the-radar star — “this dude’s a monster.”
If you didn’t know any better, you might think the Vanderbilt coach was preaching to his team before its Week 1 game against Middle Tennessee.
Off a five-win season with one conference win, there’s a reason Vanderbilt frequently is the afterthought of the SEC. But with every audacious word, Mason is pledging to change that.
“For you media out there, and there has been media out there that has spoke to the idea that our game was going to be overlooked, watch out,” Mason proclaimed.
Mason believes the evolution of his program — while difficult to notice — lies in a gradual layering of talent. He points to this year’s recruiting class, ranked 40th nationally according to 247Sports Composite ranking, as a reason for optimism.
“As everybody’s been watching what happens on the surface of our program, I believe what’s coming behind — these seniors, and what’s happened with these recruiting classes — has really propelled this group,” Mason said.
“The recruiting is something that has gone under the radar, but I truly believe this last class solidifies everything we want to do,” Mason added. “They’re talented, they’re athletic, they’re long, they’re explosive. Best recruiting class we’ve had since I’ve been here.”
As the week comes to a close, Vanderbilt seems the likely choice to finish last in the SEC East. Mason, unbothered, seems to know acknowledge as much.
Passionate and defiant, Mason seems set to prove those voters wrong.
“I’m telling you right now, this team is going to show up. We’re going to play well. We’re going to come out of the blocks and play the way we need to,” Mason said, “and we’re going to finish this thing the way we should. The Vanderbilt way.”
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