Sept. 2, 2008
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Chris Nickson has seen the Commodores silence Rocky Top in 2005, win between the hedges in 2006 and pull off the upset in Columbia in 2007.
But after four years, Nickson is still waiting to watch West End go wild after a home victory, which is why the senior quarterback could not hold back his excitement when discussing Thursday night's home opener against South Carolina.
"Every player on our team came to Vanderbilt to have experiences like this," Nickson said. "We have an opportunity to fill out our stadium, something we've been looking forward to for a long time. This is what you play for. This is the life of SEC football."
While Nickson said he will treat the game like any other, he knows that in many ways, it is not.
"It will be tremendous for the community to start the season off right," he said. "We already have one win under our belt and it wouldn't hurt anything for us to get another one, especially in the SEC. For me, personally, I haven't beat South Carolina as a starting quarterback, and I hope to take advantage of my last opportunity."
Nickson isn't the only one who's counting down the minutes until the Commodores run onto Dudley Field for the first time this year.
"I probably won't sleep much (Wednesday night)," said senior wide receiver Sean Walker, "but I know I need my sleep for the game. I'm just ready."
They all are, and how could they not be? The lights will be on, the ESPN cameras will be rolling, the entire nation will be watching – it's a football player's dream.
At the same time, Walker knows that the Gamecocks will be ready, too.
"It's definitely on their minds," Walker said of Vanderbilt's 17-6 victory over then-No. 6 South Carolina. "They're coming in here with a vengeance just trying to take over our stadium like we did their stadium last year, but we're not going to let that happen."
"I feel like they probably want to beat us pretty bad because of last year," he said. "The way we look at, we just want to bring our best game and let whatever happens from there take care of itself."
Vanderbilt coach Bobby Johnson sees it the same way. It's the second game of the season against a quality SEC opponent, and he refuses to treat it as anything more than that.
"I've said it probably a thousand times: there is no hump," Johnson said. "We won't get over a hump if we beat South Carolina. We're still going to have to play good the next week to win.
"Yeah, it'd be a nice win, a real nice win, but I don't think it's going to put us on an extra-special place where everybody says, 'Vanderbilt has arrived.' You have to always go at it every week."
Johnson's players feel the same way. Still, it's impossible not to think about what the campus would look like after a victory on Thursday.
"I think it'd be good because we've had some huge wins on the road, but our fans really haven't had a chance to see many of those firsthand," said safety Ryan Hamilton, a redshirt junior. "I think it'll be really exciting, being our first home game, to start the season off right at home with a big win like that."
And as much as it would mean to the fans, it'd matter most to the players, who have been running sprints, lifting weights, watching film and studying the playbook for months – all for moments like this one.
"If we win this game everybody on this campus would just be so happy," Walker said. "But more importantly, it would be the team. It's been us since the beginning."
-Jarred Amato is a senior at Vanderbilt University and also serves as editor of The Sports VU. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org