Eleven Commodore seniors pursuing NFL dream

April 29, 2018

Eleven Vanderbilt seniors, including the program's all-time leading rusher, now have a chance to pursue dreams of playing professional football in the National Football League.

Running Ralph Webb, wide receivers Trent Sherfield, Caleb Scott and C.J. Duncan, tight end Nathan Marcus, defensive linemen Nifae Lealao and Jonathan Wynn, linebacker Emmanuel Smith, cornerback Tre Herndon, placekicker Tommy Openshaw and snapper Scott Sypniewski are headed to NFL camps.

They will join a 12th Commodore, linebacker Oren Burks, as professional prospects. Burks was selected 88th overall by Green Bay in the NFL Draft on Friday.

Six of the 11 Commodores will ink NFL rookie free agent deals: Webb (New England), Sherfield (Arizona), Scott (Seattle), Herndon (Jacksonville), Smith (Atlanta) and Wynn (Minnesota). Duncan (Arizona), Lealao (New York Jets), Marcus (Kansas City), Openshaw (Jacksonville) and Sypniewski (Jacksonville) will look to earn roster spots in rookie minicamps.

All 12 players pursuing professional careers as free agents and minicamp invitees have completed undergraduate studies, including two currently working on master's degrees.
Four Commodore standouts have used the rookie free agency and minicamp route to make an NFL roster in the last two years. In 2017, defensive lineman Adam Butler and offensive lineman Andrew Jelks both made the New England Patriots' roster, with Butler playing through the season and seeing action in Super Bowl LII. In 2016, offensive lineman Spencer Pulley was signed by the Chargers and developed into their starter at center in the 2017 season. Tight end Steven Scheu became a practice squad member of the 2016 Denver Broncos.

Vanderbilt Head Coach Derek Mason thinks the Commodore seniors have the tools needed to make NFL rosters.

"It happens every year, guys getting a chance and making the most of it," Mason said. "These guys can look to former Commodores taking full advantage of the opportunity to make a roster such as Adam (Butler) and Spencer (Pulley). There's no reason these seniors can enjoy the same success."

Webb, from Gainesville, Fla., goes to New England as the most accomplished running back in Vanderbilt history and No. 6 on the Southeastern Conference all-time rushing charts with 4,173 yards. A 49-game starter for the Commodores, Webb also established numerous additional team records, including 931 career rush attempts, 32 rushing touchdowns, 16 games with at least 100 rushing yards and 35 total touchdowns. Webb also established freshman, sophomore and junior rushing standards in his Commodore career. As a senior, he rushed for 831 yards and 10 touchdowns. Webb earned a degree in Sociology.

Sherfield, from Danville, Ill, was a three-year starter at wide receiver. A workout warrior, Sherfield caught 50 passes for 729 yards and five touchdowns as a senior. He finished his career as the Commodores' No. 8 all-time receiver with 136 catches and 1,869 receiving yards. He earned a degree Medicine, Health and Society.

Scott, a 19-game starter at wide receiver from Suwanee, Ga., averaged 19.4 yards per catch as a junior. He finished his Vanderbilt career with 72 catches, good for 1,061 yards and four touchdowns. Scott earned a degree Medicine, Health and Society. 

Herndon, from Chattanooga, Tenn., started the last 36 games as a shutdown cornerback. He finished his career with 93 solo tackles, 126 total tackles, two interceptions, 24 defensed passes and a forced fumble. Herndon earned a degree in Sociology.

Wynn, from Stone Mountain, Ga., earned 24 starts in 46 appearances at defensive end for the Commodores. As a senior, he posted 23 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 quarterback sacks. Wynn finished his career 85 total tackles, 4.5 quarterback sacks and 10 tackles for loss. Wynn earned a degree in Educational Studies and History

Smith, from Murfreesboro, Tenn., enjoyed his finest Commodore as a senior. In 10 appearances during the 2017 season, Smith finished with 29 solo tackles, 57 total tackles and four tackles for loss. Smith finished a degree in Environmental Sociology.

Duncan, from Montgomery, Ala., registered 124 catches, 1,452 receiving yards and nine touchdown catches in a four-year career that included 20 starting assignments. As a senior, he topped the Commodores with 52 catches, good for 517 yards and five touchdowns. Duncan earned a degree in Political Science.

Lealao, from Sacramento, Calif., served as the Commodores' main interior tackle as a senior, contributing 23 tackles and four tackles for loss. A 25-game starter on the defensive line, Lealao finished his career with 34 solo tackles, 70 total tackles, 2.5 quarterback sacks, nine tackles for loss and two fumble recoveries. Lealao earned a degree in Sociology.

Marcus, from Glen Ellyn, Ill., was a 27-game starter for the Commodores at tight end. He finished his career with 28 receptions, good for 231 yards and four touchdowns. He earned a degree in Communication Studies.

Openshaw, a four-year starter from Jacksonville, Fla., ranks among the best kickers in team history. He converted 38-of-56 field goals (67.9 percent) and scored 224 points in his career, ranking among the team's career top-five in both categories. Openshaw completed degrees in Engineering Science and Economics in 2017 and is currently working toward a master's in Leadership & Organizational Performance.  

Sypniewski, a graduate transfer from the University of Michigan, started the first eight games last year as the Commodores' snap specialist until suffering a season-ending injury. He is working toward a postgraduate degree from the Owen School of Management.



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