Webb leaves mark on Vanderbilt

Nov. 28, 2017

By Zac Ellis

KNOXVILLE, Tenn.Ralph Webb could not contain his emotions in the wake of last Saturday’s Vanderbilt’s 42-24 win over Tennessee.

In a live postgame interview with SEC Network’s Dawn Davenport, Webb smiled ear-to-ear on the field at Neyland Stadium as Davenport requested his reaction to the Commodores’ rivalry win. At one point, Davenport prefaced a question by reciting the Vanderbilt running back’s splashy stats from the evening.

“One hundred and sixty-three yards and two touchdowns for you tonight,“ Davenport began.

In that moment, Webb couldn’t help but interrupt.

“Let’s go! Come on! Woo!” the running back exclaimed, all smiles once again.

At the interview’s conclusion, Webb bear-hugged Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason, who lied in wait nearby. The redshirt senior had closed his storied Vanderbilt career in memorable fashion, helping the Commodores beat the Vols for the fourth time in six seasons. Webb ran for 163 yards and two touchdowns on 25 carries against Tennessee, or 6.5 yards per carry. He put a banged-up senior campaign behind him to tie a season-high with his 163 rushing yards.

Webb, a four-year starter, closed his Vanderbilt career as the program’s all-time leading rusher with 4,173 yards. Mason said the Commodores won’t soon forget Webb’s immense impact on West End.

“He really epitomizes this Vanderbilt football team,” Mason said. “It didn’t start easy for him; he’s worked extremely hard throughout his career to make sure people remember his name. His season didn’t go the way he wanted it to go, so it mirrored our season.

“But in the end, he goes out on top. He goes out as the best running back to play here at Vanderbilt University. That says a lot about his character.”

Webb’s ascension to SEC glory had humble beginnings. A lightly recruited prospect from Gainesville, Fla., Webb grew up a Florida Gators fan but ended up at Vanderbilt as a late addition to then-head coach James Franklin’s 2013 signing class. After redshirting that year, Webb emerged as a starter in 2014 and set freshman records in rush yards (907) and carries (212).

Webb went on to set sophomore and junior rushing records, as well, all while building on a remarkable starting streak. His final game against Tennessee on Saturday marked his 49th consecutive start at Vanderbilt. Webb finished 2017 with a team-leading 831 rushing yards and 10 rushing touchdowns and completed his career as the sole owner of 11 Commodore records.

ELLIS: Vanderbilt closes 2017 in style with rout of rival Tennessee

“Through the grace of God, he’s blessed me with the ability to go out each and every Saturday and play,” Webb said after the Tennessee game. “My teammates, the coaching staff, the support system, the trainers keeping my body healthy enough to go out and recover and get back on the field each and every Saturday.”

But Webb’s career extends beyond Vanderbilt. With 163 yards against Tennessee, he moved into sixth place on the SEC’s all-time career rushing list (4,173 yards). He entered last weekend in ninth place but overtook Florida's Errict Rhett (4,163 yards from 1989-93), LSU's Dalton Hilliard (4,050, 1982-85) and LSU's Charles Alexander (4,035, 1975-78).

That historic career came to a close on Saturday in a mostly empty Neyland Stadium. The majority of those clad in orange had departed for the exits long before Webb and his teammates celebrated on Shields-Watkins Field. That party eventually made its way to the visitors’ locker room, where Webb helped lead one final but enthusiastic rendition of “Dynamite” with his fellow Commodores.

Asked later to assess the importance of closing his career with a win over Tennessee, Webb smiled.

“My overall record is 3-1 [against Tennessee],” he said. “I wouldn’t want it any other way.”

But Mason said Webb cemented himself as a Vanderbilt legend long ago.

“In a conference of giants, in a conference where guys are on big-time teams doing big-time things, he found his place at Vanderbilt University and carried us to where we needed to go,” Mason said. “He’s going to leave a strong legacy here at Vanderbilt University for running backs to come.

“Ralph Webb, I can’t say enough about him. He’s a Vanderbilt man through and through.”

Zac Ellis is the Writer and Digital Media Editor for Vanderbilt Athletics.


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