NASHVILLE – Parker Thome had never met Louis Vecchio in person. But for two new Vanderbilt football teammates, the bond was a quick one.
In early June, Thome, a grad transfer punter from Columbia University, drove with his father from his native Wisconsin to Nashville to officially join the Commodores’ host of newcomers. Thome had been texting Vecchio, a grad transfer defensive lineman from the University of Pennsylvania, for weeks ahead of the trip. The pair of Ivy League graduates thought it was wise to strike up a friendship.
But as Thome approached Nashville, he realized Vecchio’s flight to Music City would arrive around the same time he would. So he offered to pick up Vecchio from the airport.
“Parker reached out and said, ‘Hey, you can come with us.’ So I hung out with them over the weekend,” Vecchio said. “That was the first time I met him in person. Now, we’re roommates.”
Thome and Vecchio have become fast friends while acclimating to new surroundings on West End. Despite differences in on-field duties, the two new Commodores share plenty in common. Both are graduate transfers, hail from Ivy League programs, excelled as all-conference honorees in 2017 and are now working towards Masters of Marketing from Vanderbilt’s Owen School of Management.
Now, the parallels continue as Thome and Vecchio expect to make an immediate impact for Vanderbilt in 2018, said head coach Derek Mason.
“Adding two veteran players to your roster gives you an immediate impact in terms of experience,” Mason said. “That’s the biggest thing you want. When you have a team that has an opportunity to go after something, you like experience. Parker and Louis have both played and succeeded at a high level.”
Vecchio comes to Vanderbilt following a havoc-wreaking undergraduate career along Penn’s defensive line. The 6-5, 258-pound California native recorded 8.5 sacks – all last season – and 21.5 career tackles for loss at defensive end for the Quakers, earning first-team All-Ivy honors in both 2016 and ’17. Vecchio expects to bolster Vandy’s depth at defensive line.
When Vecchio chose to continue his football career as a graduate transfer, he reconnected with Mason. Vanderbilt’s coach had recruited Vecchio at his previous stop as Stanford’s defensive coordinator. A rekindled relationship helped lure Vecchio to West End.
“I just think it was all part of God's plan,” Vecchio said. “Coach Mason already had an understanding of who I was, and everything just kind of opened up from there."
Thome was equally productive as a field-flipping punter at Columbia. He earned first-team All-Ivy recognition after ranking 11th nationally in punt average (42.9 yards) last season. The grad transfer process was nothing new to Thome; his Columbia teammates Cameron Nizialek and Matthew Panton had punted as grad transfers at Georgia and Kentucky, respectively, in 2017. Now Thome is in line to become Vanderbilt’s starting punter following the departure of Sam Loy.
“Coach Mennenga and the guys, they’ve been great,” Thome said. “You feel the football mentality here, with more pressure and excitement behind what you’re doing. The focus really comes down to working towards that first game. It’s just fun to get out on the field and kick and work out with the guys.”
With Thome and Vecchio in tow, Vanderbilt will boast a decidedly Ivy League flavor when it hits the field for its season-opener against Middle Tennessee on Sept. 1. Until then, the duo has plenty of studying ahead as the pair soaks in the playbook during summer workouts.
But September is rapidly approaching in the minds of the Dores’ brainy transfers.
“Everything’s fast-paced, intense -- exactly what I was looking for,” Vecchio said. “I haven’t strapped on the pads since last season, so I’m ready to go.”
Added Thome: “I’ve heard Coach Mason’s game-day speeches are sights to behold. I’m looking forward to being a part of one of those.”
Zac Ellis is the Writer and Digital Media Editor for Vanderbilt Athletics.