The No. 22 Commodores will take the gridiron this weekend as a nationally ranked team looking for their sixth win in an almost perfect season. The `Dores (5-1, 3-1 SEC) will challenge No. 10 Georgia on the road in the Bulldogs' Homecoming game. For Vanderbilt tight end Brandon Barden, the game signifies a personal homecoming as well.
"Hopefully, going there this weekend, a lot of people will be there that I know," Barden said, "so, it'll be a big game for me."
The redshirt freshman grew up in Georgia and attended high school an hour outside of Athens, Ga., in Lincoln County. Barden has received a lot of phone calls from his friends and people from that community as the game approaches, wishing him well and even changing allegiances for a day.
"I've got some calls saying they're going to root for us the whole way as a team, and not pull for Georgia this weekend," he noted. "So, that's kind of special when people who root for Georgia their whole life have changed over to pull for the other team."
While in high school, Barden played for Larry Campbell, one the winningest high school coaches in the state, and helped to end his alma mater's state championship drought by bringing home titles in his junior and senior seasons, delivering jubilation to the streets of his small community.
"It's a nice little town. It reminds me a lot of 'Varsity Blues' [the 1999 Paramount Pictures film]," he commented on his hometown of Lincolnton. "There's not much going on Friday nights except football and Saturday's the same way."
Barden played quarterback during his final two years of high school, and will return to his home state as a tight end. He's transitioned relatively smoothly into his new role, having played tight end as a sophomore for Campbell, but admits there's still room for improvement.
"It's not that big of a change for me, the main part is blocking," he remarked about playing tight end. "I've always been pretty athletic moving and running, so the routes and things like that haven't been too much of a problem."
Barden has certainly ran some decent routes and made some big catches for the `Dores this season. He's amassed 93 yards in 10 receptions, including two touchdowns. One of his scores tied the game against No. 13 Auburn on Oct. 4, after Vanderbilt had trailed the Tigers for most of the contest.
The Georgia native, however, still wants more.
"I have my expectations so high that I don't know if I could ever reach them," Barden noted about his personal goals. "I try to set them so high that I can't reach them, so I just keep striving. I think I've played OK. I haven't really played up to my potential yet and that's kind of exciting."
The 6-5 redshirt freshman will line up against one of the toughest defenses in the country on Saturday. The Bulldogs (5-1, 2-1 SEC) possess the No. 4 overall defense in the SEC conference, having allowed just over 50 yards rushing per game with three fumble recoveries and three interceptions. The Dogs were ranked No. 1 in the country entering the 2008 season, and are poised as a possible National Championship contender.
"We don't have anyone on the schedule who we're really scared of," Barden said. "We respect everybody, but I think everybody respects us as well. So, we're ready to play."
The game is set for 11:30 a.m. CT Saturday at Sanford Stadium. Many of Barden's friends, and his family, will be there, whether watching from the stands or just up the road.
"We have to win or it's going to be a rough day for me," said Barden. "It [the game] has a lot more stake with my hometown and everyone who's going to be around, but I'm just to go out and try to do what Vanderbilt needs me to do."