The 2016 football season for Vanderbilt was a success, especially if you consider wins over Ole Miss, Tennessee and non conference rivals MTSU and Western Kentucky part of that success. Also the Dores making it to a bowl game after a three year hiatus is something to be excited about and something this team in general worked hard to achieve.
Well none of the success happens in 2016 without a collective team effort. The offense, defense, special teams, coaching staff and everyone else involved with the Vanderbilt football program, have to pull their weight for everything to come together. This football team needed a few guys to step into big roles and give production when called upon. We all know the stars of the football team but these three guys and one in particular, were key factors and big reasons to why the 2016 Vanderbilt football team finished with a .500 record and a postseason berth.
2016 "Unsung Hero"
* Khari Blasingame - (Soph) - Running Back *
This was honestly a tough decision between two guys but given the production, the need for someone of his size at his position and his willingness to work within the team to change positions, Khari Blasingame had to be the choice. The Alabama native came to Vanderbilt as a linebacker but this offseason, Blasingame made the switch to offense and gave the Commodores offense the battering ram back they needed. Coming into the season at 6'1 220 lbs, Blasingame had the size, speed and agility the staff wanted in the backfield but had yet to see what he could produce on the field.
He didn't disappoint as the sophomore running back produced good numbers but more importantly gave the Commodores all-time leading rusher, Ralph Webb a break and the team a secondary force in their rushing attack. Blasingame finished the season with 443 yards rushing but had 10 touchdowns on the ground along with being the team's goal line rusher. His bruising style of running opened up opportunities in the passing game. Blasingame gave the team that hard, physical tough the bring down type of guy it had been looking for. Webb is a tough runner as well but in his own style. Blasingame gives size along with his agile running that compliments Webb quite well.
More than anything, Blasingame gave the Commodores offense another dependable weapon that is so greatly needed. Vanderbilt's offense had been struggling for going on three years but things began to click midway through the year. Blasingame was a key factor towards the offense's sudden success. Headed into the 2017 season, having Blasingame and Webb back in the backfield, gives the Commodores a two headed monster that will be used early and often.
Thomas was not in the starting lineup to begin the year but after an a concussion sidelined Nigel Bowden, the Florida native linebacker stepped in and started on defense the remainder of the season. Thomas did an outstanding job playing against the run and allowing Zach Cunningham to roam the field making plays. Thomas is a physical and fast linebacker that got better as his career went along and could be reaching his maximum capability. Thomas finished fourth on the team in total tackles with 59 and 3.5 tackles for loss.
The senior interior lineman might have unnoticed for his play on the field this year but not by me. Gouger did an admirable job of manning down the center position, which is a very important position on offense. Going against the massive interior lineman of the SEC is a tough gig and Gouger handled himself quite well. His versatility to play guard or center could give him a shot at the next level.