One of the best stories of the Commodores 3-0 start has to be senior placekicker Bryant Hahnfeldt.
After experiencing plenty of ups and downs throughout his career (like all kickers do), Hahnfeldt looks like he's fully recovered from a 2006 leg injury and has been nothing short of spectacular during his senior campaign.
The Nashville native now stands as Vanderbilt's all-time leading scorer with 210 points after contributing eight points in the Commodores 38-21 victory over Rice Saturday night. His extra point after Chris Nickson's touchdown run in the fourth quarter pushed him past fellow Montgomery Bell Academy product John Markham (1997-2000) on the career list.
"I feel really good kicking the ball," said Hahnfeldt. "I had a fine preseason camp, felt good in those first two games, and kicked well this past week."
Showing more leg strength in 2008, Hahnfeldt's been perfect on field goals (4-for-4) and extra points (12-for-12). Two of his attempts have been successful from between 40-49 yards with several yards to spare. His booming 48-yard field goal in the third quarter against Rice was critical because it enabled the Commodores to get its first double-digit lead (31-21) in the high-scoring affair.
"Bryant's such a gamer," said Nickson. "He came in and put some points on the board and gave us something out of the drive. It was great for us and helped us continue to keep our momentum."
Scoring hasn't been the only place Hahnfeldt's provided a boost. On kickoffs, four of his five touchbacks came against Rice, forcing the Owls potent offense to start from their own 20-yard line.
"Everybody was wondering if Bryant was good enough and now he is the leading scorer in the history of our program," said head coach Bobby Johnson. "He has been a good kicker ever since he has been here."
Opening the season with three wins has been exciting, no doubt about it.
Having the opportunity to be around the postgame press conferences, it's obvious to me that this team has a confidence about them that's as high as it's ever been in my six years of following football on West End.
Sure, the players know the history of the program and the pressures that come with it. They are reminded about it on a weekly basis on and off camera. Even after a big win, the focus is on whether or not they will have a letdown the following week.
But I don't sense that any of the guys are satisfied just yet. They know there's still a long mountain to climb to get that coveted `prize' that Chris Nickson referred after the third victory.
Here are a couple of post-Rice comments that I thought displayed this never-quit attitude:
Nickson: "I'm very excited about what we've done. I'm more excited about what were going to do. Our team's confidence is way high and we couldn't ask for a better situation for Vanderbilt football right now. We're going keep our heads up and our eyes on the prize each game and just continue to focus."
Hahnfeldt: "We have confidence in everybody. Whoever has the ball wants to get the job done and we can count on anybody right now."
Myron Lewis: "Our defense is a four-quarter team, not a second half team. We struggled a little bit in the first half, but we settled down. As the game went on, we pulled it together."
Moore Continues to Shine
When D.J. Moore touches the ball, we expect big things to happen.
After the junior specialist ran a punt back 17 yards into Rice territory during the first quarter, I found myself to be a little disappointed.
Disappointed? Really? That's just ridiculous.
But it's also a compliment.
We've all come to know Moore as an explosive playmaker who can impact a sixty-minute game with one jaw-dropping play, whether it's on defense, offense or special teams.
"Every time they put me in the position to get the ball," said Moore, "I think that I can make a big play or score."
In his first year handling punts, Moore's almost hit the paydirt twice with returns of 91 (Miami) and 67 (Rice) yards in which he ended up one yard short of reaching the pylon.
Moore, whose lone collegiate score came on an interception against Eastern Michigan last year, knows it's only a matter of time until he becomes the first Commodore to return a punt for a touchdown since Jimmy Williams in 1999 (65-yard score vs. Northern Illinois).
"I was thinking to myself, 'One yard short, again?' I'll get one before too long."
On the night, Moore finished with 206 all-purpose yards. He had 84 yards on punt returns, 54 on kick returns, 37 yards rushing and 31 yards on an interception return.
For the season, he's tied for the SEC lead with two interceptions, second in punt return average (29.0) and third in passes defended average (1.33).
When describing the type of player Moore is, I think Coach Johnson's preseason remarks said it best:
"I've seen a lot of guys who can do that many things, but not many who can do them that well," Johnson said. "D.J. is just a pretty talented player, one of those guys that really knows how to play football."
I'll close out this morning's post with the video of the day.
Nobody would be prouder of our 3-0 start than Mr. Perfect himself, Curt Hennig. Hennig is joined by six-time Pro Bowl tight end Steve Jordan, who should get an oscar for this inspiring acting performance. Simply perfect!