Bowl week has arrived. After breaking from campus last Thursday to head their separate ways for the Christmas holiday, Vanderbilt's coaches and players reconvened on campus for a 3 p.m. team meeting Wednesday afternoon in the newly-constructed auditorium in McGugin Center.
As players entered the room, there was a certain bounce in their steps as they reconnected with teammates and coaches, telling stories of their travels and sharing laughs with one another. It had been less than a week since the team was together, but for a group that spends many hours a day together in meetings, practicing or working out, it seemed much longer.
It wasn't too many weeks ago that players had filed into this exact same meeting room to begin preseason camp, and now the final week of the season was upon them.
Even though the week of preparation began on an odd day from what they are used to during the regular season, the Commodores are focused on keeping this week's practice routine as status quo as possible. For example, Wednesday's practice was treated much like a Sunday practice during the regular season. The one difference will come Thursday since the second practice during a game week typically falls on a Tuesday, after an off day on Monday. Because of this, Thursday's practice, will be treated like a typical Tuesday practice.
A meeting will be held before each day of practice. Wednesday's meeting began with the "Quote of the Day" displayed on the giant drop-down screen at the front of the room.
The quote was from Buddha and was typed in all caps:
"DO NOT GIVE YOUR ATTENTION TO WHAT OTHERS DO OR FAIL TO DO; GIVE IT TO WHAT YOU DO OR FAIL TO DO."
The quote was the first slide in James Franklin's PowerPoint presentation to the team. The presentation included slides on the team's recent academic accomplishments, examples of individuals from other programs who made poor off-the-field choices leading up to the bowl game, team objectives for the week and information regarding the day's practice schedule and travel information to Gaylord Opryland Resort, where the team will stay this week.
With Wednesday marking the first day the Commodores had met since fall semester grades had been tabulated, Franklin made it a point to recognize the high academic achievers in the meeting. He displayed a slide with the names of the 43 players who finished with a 3.0 or better GPA for the semester, followed by a slide featuring those who made the SEC Honor Roll and then a listing of players who made the Dean's List with a 3.5 GPA or higher.
Franklin later flipped to a slide that highlighted many of the attributes of the team and the objectives for the week.
"Don't forget what makes us special," Franklin said before reading through the bulleted information on the slide. Included in his message were points on the differences between winning a bowl game versus losing a bowl game as well as the meaning behind words such as: driven, passionate and sacrifice.
"Going to a bowl game is the minimum around here," Franklin remarked. "If you remember the day we got the job and we came in and talked to you guys and we said 'enjoy your Christmas because it is the last time you will be going home for Christmas for a very long time.' Remember that? So make sure you understand this is another opportunity to go out and get a W."
The final point on the slide focused on trusting the process and being a disciplined football team.
"This isn't Year 1, this is Year 2," Franklin said. "You guys are veterans in the system. We are programmed for winning."
Franklin concluded the meeting by reinforcing the finality to the season.
"We have five days left as a family," Franklin stated. "Let's take advantage of every single one of them. ... This is the last game that the 2012 football team will play together again."
The meeting was kept to 15 minutes and led directly into a special teams meeting and then individual position meetings. Following meetings, the team hit the practice field at 4:45 p.m.
After Wednesday's practice, just three remain for the seniors on the roster. The team will practice Thursday, Friday and Saturday before holding a walkthrough on Sunday in preparation for Monday's Music City Bowl (11 a.m. CT).
Once Wednesday's practice had concluded, the players showered and piled onto buses that drove them to Opryland Resort, where they checked into their rooms. Scott Ramsey, President and CEO of the Music City Bowl, and his staff welcomed the Commodores upon arrival. Ramsey told the team that even though they wouldn't be traveling out of town for the postseason, the players would be treated like guests for the next five days. He encouraged the squad to be safe and have fun during the week.
Home Sweet Home A certain advantage to staying in Nashville for the bowl game is the ability for Vanderbilt to use its home facilities throughout the week. The Commodores and NC State are staying at the Gaylord Opryland Resort this week, but Vanderbilt is able to practice at home because it is the training site that is traditionally assigned to the SEC's bowl participant.
The ACC participant is annually assigned to a local high school practice facility.
Wednesday Interviews Franklin and senior quarterback Jordan Rodgers fielded questions from reporters following the Commodores' evening practice session on campus. Watch the interviews: