Nov. 21, 2007
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REMINDER - SENIOR DAY CEREMONY PREGAME: Commodore fans - make sure you arrive early to Vanderbilt Stadium on Saturday to honor the 2007 senior football class. The ceremony is expected to begin around 12:40 p.m. CT.
When the 17 members of Vanderbilt's senior class cross Jess Neely Drive and enter Vanderbilt Stadium for a final time on Saturday to play Wake Forest, they will be looking to add a chapter to their legacy that no senior class has been able to claim in their lifetime - win six games and gain bowl eligibility.
From earning a 17-6 win at then-No. 6 South Carolina to losing three SEC contests by a total of 11 points, including two games by three points or less, the Commodores' season has been one of many peaks and valleys.
Despite the highs and lows of the 2007 season, a win on Saturday would give Vanderbilt (5-6, 2-6 SEC) its first non-losing regular season since the Commodores finished 8-4 and played in the Hall of Fame Bowl in 1982.
Beginning with their first season as freshman in 2004 when they finished 2-9, the senior class has played an integral role in Vanderbilt's progression under head coach Bobby Johnson. After earning two wins in 2004, the Commodores posted records of 5-6 and 4-8 in 2005 and 2006, respectively. The Commodores have continued their improvement this season and with one game to play they are on the brink of six wins.
Heading into Saturday, Vanderbilt's four-year win total of 16 is already the most victories in a four-year span since 1992-95 when the Commodores also had 16 wins. The last time Vanderbilt had at least 17 wins over four years came from 1991-94 when they won 19 games.
Even more impressive is what the Commodores have done in the last three seasons. During that time, Vanderbilt has won 14 games - the most in a three-year span since also winning 14 games from 1992-94. A win on Saturday would give the Commodores their most wins in a three-year span since tallying 15 wins from 1982-84.
"I think (the seniors) came here and believed in our coaching staff," head coach Bobby Johnson said. "They've done a lot of great work to try to get our program on par with others in the SEC. I think we can say we can compete consistently in the SEC and that's a lot to do with what those guys have done."
Among the seniors playing in their final home game on Saturday is center Hamilton Holliday, who will be making his 26th career start. Although the Commodores have lost three in a row, Holliday understands the importance of a six-win season.
"Obviously (we) would be the first Vanderbilt team in a long time to be bowl eligible and to have six wins," Holliday said. "It would still mean a lot, bowl or no bowl. It is still going to be a special season if we win this Saturday."
Win or lose on Saturday, this senior class has already made an indelible mark on the program. Included in the group of seniors are household names like linebacker Jonathan Goff and offensive tackle Chris Williams. Also included are lesser-known names like walk-on linebacker Dominic Morais and defensive tackle Brandon Holmes. Together, this group came to Vanderbilt and made winning an expectation.
The litany of successes over the last four seasons reads more like an essay than a short story. Included during this period was Vanderbilt's first-ever road win over a ranked team (No. 16 Georgia in 2006), Vanderbilt's first 4-0 start since 1984 (2005), the Commodores first win at Tennessee since 1975 (2005) and Vanderbilt's win over its highest-ranking opponent since 1937 (No. 6 South Carolina in 2007).
No one understands the importance of this senior class as well as Johnson, who has seen the class from day one.
"Some of them have been outstanding players, but most of all they've been outstanding leaders," Johnson said. "They kept their class together and then they brought in the younger classes as they came in. They have led us to believing that we can be a good football program.
"My hat is off to them. I appreciate all their hard work and believe me, it's hard work. We've got some guys who are outstanding students in that class. We got some guys who are hard-working students who busted their butt to get a degree here. I just think it's a pretty special group."
With one regular season game to be played, we still may not have seen this group's greatest achievement of all - bowl eligibility.