How did the Vanderbilt football staff sign a 4,000-yard rusher from the football-rich Miami, Fla., area in less than two months? They didn't.
The story actually began years three and a half years earlier, when a freshman at Hialeah Senior High School earned a starting spot at tailback after a pair of kickoff return touchdowns in his third varsity game. That was when Wesley McGriff, then an assistant coach for the University of Miami, first took notice of Jerron Seymour.
McGriff, brought on to Head Coach James Franklin's Commodore staff last winter as the defensive backs coach and defensive recruiting coordinator, saw something special in Seymour.
"I thought he was the best running back in Dade [County]," McGriff recalled. "What I saw was a kid that loved football, had good explosion and tremendous balance. He had an older brother that was a great running back, so I saw the pedigree there. [Jerron] was so consistent year in and year out. A lot of kids may do it for one year, maybe two years, this kid did it for three and a half years, so I knew he was an SEC football player."
Seymour had been overlooked by many schools, including his hometown Hurricanes, due to his height, or lack thereof. A highlight reel on YouTube of Seymour's junior season at Hialeah, which included 1,439 rushing yards and 17 touchdowns, measures the back at 5'9". Vanderbilt lists Seymour at 5'7". The truth may be south of both numbers.
McGriff--who coached with Franklin at Kansas State in 2007 before spending the last four years at Miami--knew his head coach would have to take a chance on Seymour, but he believed enough in the back's talent to show the tape to Franklin.
"It didn't take long for Coach Franklin," McGriff said. "He knows talent. He saw the tape and said, `We gotta have this guy. He's a football player.'"
That evaluation by Franklin and McGriff eventually led to an offer, and Seymour announced his intent to sign with Vanderbilt on live television with a number of other top South Florida prospects.
Once on campus, Seymour quickly made his mark on the collegiate field. With junior Warren Norman nursing an injury, Seymour stepped in as the No. 2 tailback from game one against Elon. In the second week, Seymour was the team's leading rusher in Vanderbilt's 24-21 win over Connecticut, thanks in large part to his first VU touchdown--a 40-yard, first-quarter scamper. Through the first half of the season, Seymour had run for 180 yards and three scores as a backup to junior starter Zac Stacy.
Seymour had not expected to make such an immediate impact.
"I'm kind of surprised that I'm in the rotation at second-string running back right now," Seymour said. "I thought I was going to come here and probably help out in the special teams game and get limited reps, but they needed me to step up and fill that second-string spot."
He's done more than simply fill in, and Coach Franklin bristles at the notion that Seymour's reps have been used to spell Stacy. Instead, he sees the freshman as a key part of Vanderbilt's offense and has been pleased with his performance, whether or not Seymour's number is called for a particular play.
"The thing I've been most impressed with him, not only has he been effective as a runner, but for a true freshman he's blocked well," Franklin said. "He has had very few mental mistakes, as well, so he's probably way ahead in terms of where most freshman are, especially at that position."
Getting thrown into the fire in your first season of Southeastern Conference football is no easy task, as Stacy and Norman can both attest. In 2009, that duo shared the Commodore backfield as true freshmen.
"Any time you come into the SEC and make a huge contribution like he's doing now, that's rare as a freshman," Stacy said. "Since he stepped foot on campus, one thing that stood out about him was his football IQ. He's a very smart football player. He's done a great job, and he's gonna keep building and getting better as a player."
Franklin credits Stacy and Norman with helping Seymour adjust to the college game quickly.
"Zac Stacy and Warren Norman are both two really, really mature, class-act, sharp kids," Franklin said. "They've taken him under their wing since he arrived on campus. They've done a really good job, those two guys."
Seymour is quick to echo his coach's sentiments.
"I'm like their little brother," Seymour said. "They help me with everything. Any time I have a miscue in practice, they're there to correct me, teach me up and make sure I'm doing the right things. On and off the field, I look at them as role models."
The example that Stacy has put in front of Seymour this season has certainly been an inspiring one. The junior rushed for 579 in the Commodores' first seven games, including a 198-yard, three-touchdown performance against Army. But even with the gaudy stats, Stacy credits the game plan with putting both him and Seymour in the right situations, and he says he would choose the success of the team over individual accomplishments.
"[The coaches] do a great job of subbing us in and out, keeping us fresh," Stacy said. "Whenever Jerron goes in, he does a great job of making plays, as well. If he has five touchdowns and I have zero, as long as we get the `W,' that's all I'm worried about."
That team-first attitude has pervaded Vanderbilt's entire roster and is already paying dividends. The Commodores also know that their coach is their biggest champion and has the best interest of the team as a whole in mind. None more so than 19-year-old Seymour.
"The difference with Coach Franklin," Seymour said, "He doesn't care about the size of the player, just the heart and what you can bring to the team."
To alter a phrase: It's not the size, or height, of the 'Dore in the fight, it's the size of the fight in the 'Dore.