Nashville - When thunderstorms forced Vanderbilt coaches to call off practice after just 45 minutes, Commodore players got to spend extra time with true American heroes - four soldiers from the U.S. Army's esteemed 101st Airborne Division.
The enlisted men - Lt. Colonel Sean Davis, Captain Patrick Glass, Captain Joe Thompson and Staff Sergeant Abraham Rosales - spent the afternoon with the Commodores at the invitation of Vanderbilt Head Coach James Franklin.
The soldiers got an inside look at Franklin's program, watching practice standing with players on the sidelines, touring the team's facilities in McGugin Center and attending coaching staff and position meetings before practice.
At Franklin's request, Lt. Col. Davis addressed the Commodores (Watch Video) during a team meeting before the practice. His message focused on the importance of discipline and building mental and physical toughness, traits needed both in conflict and on the gridiron.
"It gives you tremendous prospective," Franklin said. "(Davis) talked about the confidence of knowing the guy on your right and your left have your back is a very important message to our team."
Lt. Col. Davis and Franklin met recently on a flight to the East Coast. Their initial conversation has led to the discussions of having the Commodores travel to Fort Campbell for a day of military training.
"We'll make him honorary Screaming Eagles," Lt. Col. Davis said, referring to the nickname of America's elite Air Assault Infantry.
"This truly puts things in perspective," the Vanderbilt coach said. "Maybe we're feeling sorry for ourselves here during two-a-days. But we're talking about guys in Iraq and Afghanistan and you can't even imagine the hardships they faced and overcame."
Franklin said the soldiers' visit also reinforced one of his beliefs. "I'm one of those that thinks morale is very important, and these guys know how to build morale and (create) teamwork."
After the Commodores were called off the field due to the weather, the soldiers ended their visit by sharing dinner with the squad before returning to nearby Fort Campbell.
Changing Practice Routine
Knowing that thunderstorms were in the area, Franklin switched the team's practice routine, devoting the entire session to high-energy, 11-on-11 drills. The team typically opens practice with nearly 30 minutes of individual and position fundamental drills.
The Commodores are expected to stage their final two-a-day workout on Friday, holding sessions at 9:30 a.m., and 5:30 p.m. The team also plans to hold a closed scrimmage Saturday in Vanderbilt Stadium, and then start serious preparations for the Sept. 3 season opener vs. Elon next week.