Vanderbilt's Bennett Way Ahead Of Schedule
And for a football player from Birmingham, that's like rubbing salt on an open wound. Wide receiver Earl Bennett, a record-setter-to-be at Vanderbilt, didn't care, though. The graduate of West End High in Alabama's largest city refused to let the snub bother him.
"I feel like it's a business and the coaches (at Alabama and Auburn) made what they thought was the best decision. I'm delighted to be at Vanderbilt University.
"I'm just enjoying my time while I'm there."
That could be only one more season, and by now the home-state schools surely must be distraught over letting Bennett cross the state's northern border.
Amazingly, the 6-foot-1, 202-pounder could shatter a Southeastern Conference record by the time his junior season ends. Kentucky's Craig Yeast established the conference mark for career receptions when he reached 208 in 1998.
But Bennett snagged 161 passes in his first two seasons in Nashville -- 79 in 2005 and 82 in 2006. Barring an injury or an unforeseen setback, the two-time, first team all-SEC pick should break the record some time in October or early November.
Vanderbilt coach Bobby Johnson said the process of recruiting Bennett wasn't as simple as it appears, even though Alabama and Auburn ignored him.
"Everybody thinks we stole Earl," Johnson said. "A lot of people knew about Earl. Our coaches did a good job of recruiting him. There are a lot of guys out there that blossom late in their senior year in high school or even in their career in college that don't have the ratings that some people do.
"That's what recruiting is all about."
Bennett said that breaking the record would be special. But when speaking at the SEC's football media days in July, in his home city, Bennett focused more on teams goals than individual ones.
He talked about the 17 starters Vanderbilt returns. He raved about the always-improving relationship he has with Commodores quarterback Chris Nickson. And he spoke of a team goal that college football fans would think of as crazy, considering it came out of the mouth of a Vanderbilt player.
Vanderbilt hasn't been to a bowl game in 24 years. But Bennett has his sights set on an even bigger target.
"We feel like we can win each game that we play," Bennett said. "The BCS is on our mind right now, going to a BCS bowl game. We've been working hard during the offseason, we've stayed positive and humble, and we're just getting ready for the season to start."
COACH: Bobby Johnson, 6th year.
2006 RECORD: 4-8, 1-7 SEC.
RETURNING OFFENSIVE STARTERS: 9.
RETURNING DEFENSIVE STARTERS: 8.
OFFENSIVE FORMATION: Multiple.
DEFENSIVE FORMATION: 4-3.
IMPACT PLAYERS: Wide receiver Earl Bennett, linebacker Jonathan Goff, quarterback Chris Nickson.
THURSDAY'S PREVIEW: Alabama's Simeon Castille.
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