HOOVER, Ala. (WIAT) – In the midst of the chaos of the past few weeks for Vanderbilt's football program, Thursday was never going to be a peaceful escape. Thousands of media members waited anxiously for the chance to ask questions, many of them about recent legal troubles involving four (now former) Vanderbilt players.
Brandon Banks, Cory Batey, Jaborian McKenzie and Brandon Vandenburg were recently kicked off the team amid an investigation into an alleged sexual assault in an on-campus dorm.
When that chance finally came for the majority of those inside the main media room at the Hyatt Regency Birmingham – The Wynfrey Hotel, third-year head coach James Franklin wouldn't comment.
"I can't get into any discussion about this. It's an ongoing legal investigation. What we've been doing is we've been focusing on our team and our players and making sure we're doing what we're supposed to do academically this summer," Franklin explained. "We have taken classes in June and July. We had some guys study abroad in May, which is an unbelievable experience for them. Then get ready for the season to get started. That's really what our focus is right now as a team."
Franklin has had the tough task of trying to keep his team focused on the upcoming season as opposed to dwelling on the legal issues surrounding their former teammates.
"I think what you can do is what I know we do on a daily basis, which is make sure that we're talking to our players constantly about making great choices, and educating them, and giving them the tools to be successful and make great choices both on and off the field over and over and over again," he added.
The Commodores return 13 starters from a team that went 9-4. Last season was the first time the program had won 19 games since 1915.
Now, with the loss of quarterback Jordan Rodgers and the all-time leading rusher in Vanderbilt history, Zac Stacy, the Commodores are going to have dig even deeper to stay make it back to a bowl game.
Senior Austyn Carta-Samuels is the only quarterback on the roster who logged snaps in 2012, but Franklin insists the starting job is wide open.
"We have not named a starter at any position. . . We won't do that until at least a couple weeks into camp," Franklin explained. "Based on where we're at right now, Austyn Carta-Samuels after spring ball has kind of distanced himself from the pack. We'll see what they've done over the summer to change all that."
Whichever quarterback earns the starting nod will have the privilege of throwing to the team's top two receivers from 2012. Junior Chris Boyd and senior Jordan Matthews Sr. return after amassing over 2,000 receiving combined in 2012.
Matthews made the trip to Birmingham for SEC Media Days, and like most players who the school has brought over Franklin's three seasons in Nashville, he had nothing but positive things to say about the coaching staff and the direction the program is headed.
"Coach Franklin is really good at showing us his vision and really keeping us on track," Matthews said on Thursday. "Sometimes there will be a few bumps in the road, but if you trust the process, stay consistent, and focus on the little things, good things will happen."
The Commodores have endured the bumps in the road this offseason. Now, that process and dedication to consistency and focus are the next tests. Only time will tell how well Franklin's new-look squad will be able to handle everything.
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