Lewis Has Commodores Riding High

Editor's Note: This is the final in an 11-part series previewing Southeastern Conference football teams.

FAYETTEVILLE — Vanderbilt cornerback Myron Lewis admits every once in awhile he'll think about his final interception of the 2008 season.

Even if he wanted to forget about the play, enough people have come up to Lewis over the past seven months to remind him of his late-game heroics in the Music City Bowl.

With Vanderbilt clinging to a 16-14 lead over Boston College, Lewis intercepted a pass with 1 minute, 36 seconds left to spoil the Eagles' New Year's Eve plans and clinch the Commodores' first bowl victory in 53 years.

"If somebody brings it up to me, they ask me the feeling (I had) because the series before I got beat deep for a touchdown," Lewis said at last month's Southeastern Conference Media Days in Hoover, Ala. "That was the only thing I was thinking, I had to redeem myself and just be able to make a play when the time counts."

Lewis' interception was his fifth of the season, but more importantly, it gave the Commodores a chance to celebrate their first postseason victory since the 1955 Gator Bowl.

Vanderbilt coach Bobby Johnson was only 4 years old the last time the Commodores won a bowl game. But the momentum created from last year's 7-6 finish has given Johnson and his players confidence and reason to believe that they're no longer a punchline in the SEC.

They're finally getting respect.

"Well, if I could do a Rodney Dangerfield impersonation," Johnson said, adjusting his tie. "But I can't. I'm not very good at his impression.

"... We weren't seeking respect. We were seeking to do as good as we could possibly do in our program. (Respect) comes with it."

Lewis, for one, has received his share of respect since the end of last season. The 6-foot-2, 205-pound senior was named to both the coaches and media All-SEC second teams after serving as a do-it-all player for Vanderbilt last season.

Along with his five interceptions, Lewis recorded 76 tackles, had five sacks, broke up six passes and forced two fumbles. And his streak of 25 consecutive starts doesn't appear to be in jeopardy because of the arthroscopic shoulder surgery he had in the spring.

"I'm 110 percent. My shoulder's strong. I'm back in the weight room lifting. I'm running," Lewis said. "Everything is A-OK with me."

The Commodores are in better shape as well.


DIFFERENCE MAKER: Senior Jared Hawkins is Vanderbilt's top returning rusher after gaining a career-high 593 yards and four touchdowns last season. The Commodores could use an even bigger year from Hawkins, but first he must show he's recovered from a foot injury that sidelined him during spring practice.

RISING STAR: The departure of several starters has cleared the way for sophomore wide receiver Tray Herndon to have a breakout year. Vanderbilt's struggling passing game could use the help. Herndon sat out last season after transferring from Minnesota.

BIGGEST STRENGTH: Vanderbilt has veterans returning on both the offensive and defensive lines, and that experience will be needed as the Commodores play 12 consecutive games this season. Having returning co-captain Bradley Vierling at center and a pair of seniors at offensive guard should help.

BIGGEST QUESTION: Vanderbilt coach Bobby Johnson hasn't named a starting quarterback yet, so for the next few weeks senior Mackenzi Adams and sophomore Larry Smith will compete for the job. Adams is the more experienced of the two, but Smith made his first career start in the Music City Bowl and pulled out one of the biggest wins in school history.

MARK YOUR CALENDAR: For whatever reason, Vanderbilt has given Houston Nutt trouble over the years. One of the few blemishes on Ole Miss' record last season was a 23-17 loss to Vanderbilt in Oxford, and Nutt can expect another tough game when the Rebels travel to Nashville on Oct. 3.

FORECAST: Fifth in the SEC East.

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