By Zac Ellis
NASHVILLE -- During his career as a wide receiver in the NFL, Aaron Moorehead quickly learned the value of hard work.
Moorehead spent five seasons (2003-07) as a pass-catcher for the Indianapolis Colts, serving as a key target for legendary quarterback Peyton Manning and helping lead Indianapolis to a win over the Chicago Bears in Super Bowl XLI, 29-17.
Today Moorehead can still recall the elite standards expected by Manning in the Colts’ locker room – particularly among his wide receivers.
“At the end of the day, it was your job to approach every meeting like it’s Super Bowl week,” Moorehead said. “You approach every practice like it’s Super Bowl week. That’s what made Peyton Manning great, and that’s what made us great.”
These days, Moorehead is soaking in his first spring practice as Vanderbilt’s new wide receivers coach. The former walk-on at Illinois and undrafted free agent is now tasked with molding the Commodores’ revamped receiving corps in 2018. That’s why he hasn’t forgotten the lessons of his NFL days.
“I’ve tried to bridge the gap between these guys here and what I know about what it takes to play at the next level,” he said. “It’s about understanding that in everything you do, there should be a rhyme or reason for it.”
Moorehead, one of four new assistant coaches on head coach Derek Mason’s staff, inherits a group of receivers that loses three seniors: C.J. Duncan, Caleb Scott and Trent Sherfield. That trio combined for 120 catches, 1,424 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2017. Just as important, those three were leaders in the locker room.
The Dores hope new blood injects life into its roster of pass-catchers. Junior Kalija Lipscomb is the most proven of the bunch, catching a team-leading eight touchdown passes in 2017 along with 610 yards on 37 receptions. Tight end Jared Pinkney (22 catches for 279 yards and three scores) also returns.
Beyond those two, no Vanderbilt returnee caught more than eight passes last fall. Junior Donaven Tennyson, sophomore Chris Pierce and redshirt freshman James Bostic expect to push for playing time. Meanwhile, Ohio State transfer Alex Stump is eligible after redshirting in 2017.
“There are young playmakers in there that haven’t done it and haven’t played,” said Vanderbilt offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig. “They’ve got to figure it out quick, but there’s great size and range and good speed out there.”
Moorehead said the return of senior quarterback Kyle Shurmur, who set a school record with 26 touchdown passes last season, has been an asset for Vanderbilt’s receivers this spring. Shurmer has started 30 career games and brings a veteran presence to the Dores’ offense.
“This isn’t my first rodeo,” Moorehead said. “I’ve gone through this process. It’s not an immediate process, and you’ve got to continue to grow and develop these young guys and push them. But we’ve got to lean on Kyle. He’s a senior quarterback that’s been here and done a lot. With a young receiving corps, he’s got to be the guy to have that leadership presence. And he’s done a great job of it so far.”
The Commodores’ receivers plan to bring a spark on offense this fall. Until then, Moorehead continues to offer a reminder during spring ball.
“We don’t have to play a game until September,” Moorehead said. “That’s the goal, to keep getting better every week throughout the spring, summer and into fall camp.”
Zac Ellis is the Writer and Digital Media Editor for Vanderbilt Athletics.