At quarterback, Vandy's future is Bright

Vanderbilt fans so far have only seen brief glimpses of backup quarterback Steven Bright, but they've seen enough to whet their appetites for more. The 6-foot-4 redshirt freshman has stealthily moved up the depth chart to No. 2, and the coaching staff is looking for ways to ease him into additional playing time.

Vanderbilt backup quarterback Steven Bright was only six years old when his father Tom realized there was something very special about his son's athletic ability.

"It's really kind of silly, but Steven played shortstop in T-ball," says Tom Bright. "He caught a line drive, tagged the bag to get the runner, and tagged the runner for an unassisted triple play.

"That can happen, I know. A lot of kids have probably done it. But Steven did it because he knew what he was doing. And that was the point in time that you just say, this kid just has something.

"There are kids that have musical IQ's. There are kids that have mathematic IQ's. This kid just has a sports IQ. It doesn't matter what sport he plays, he automatically understands it. It's been magical to watch him grow and develop. It's been a lot of fun."

Vanderbilt fans so far have only seen brief glimpses of the Greer, S.C. native, but they've seen enough to whet their appetites for more. The 6-foot-4 Bright has stealthily moved up the depth chart to the No. 2 spot behind starter Jay Cutler. Head Coach Bobby Johnson has expressed a desire to give the youngster more meaningful snaps... although it hasn't really happened yet.

"Steven is a big guy who can run," Johnson is fond of saying. "He's got a very fine arm. He's got a presence about him. He's not afraid to make plays."

Bright has appeared in every game this season as the holder on placekicking attempts, but has only seen limited action at quarterback, either when games were already decided, or when starter Jay Cutler was forced from the game due to injury. Though Cutler has been brilliant at times this season (UT-Chattanooga, Mississippi State, South Carolina), he has also had his bad outings (TCU, Florida). Naturally, his tendency to be either on or off has caused some fans to yearn to see more of what the towheaded Bright can do.

Though Bright is the quiet, composed type, he has spent much of the season quietly preparing himself to enter a game at any time, should the need arise.

"Being a backup quarterback, you never really know when you might hear your name called," said Bright. "You could go in anytime. I just have to stay ready.

"It really helped getting into the first couple of games this year. I got in and got some good playing time. Quarterback is all about experience. I feel like now I could go in and compete the whole game."

In his first appearance, a 51-6 win over Chattanooga, Bright entered the game in the fourth quarter and threw a laser of a touchdown pass to Marlon White, another freshman. He played in the waning moments vs. Auburn, but sat out the next four games.

Before the Oct. 18 Georgia game, Johnson, Offensive Coordinator Ted Cain, and Quarterbacks Coach Jimmy Kiser conferred and made the decision to try to present Bright with more opportunities to demonstrate his ability. He played briefly vs. Georgia, and entered the game for a few snaps last Saturday vs. Florida.

Listed in the media guide at 218, Bright has beefed up to a robust 230. Against Georgia, he dragged several would-be Bulldog tacklers along in a manner that reminded some of Kentucky's "Hefty Lefty", Jared Lorenzen. (At SEC Media Days, Johnson joked that if Bright didn't stop eating, they might have to convert him to a defensive lineman.)

Raised just outside Greenville, S.C., the home of Furman University, Bright attended several of Bobby Johnson's football camps at Furman and grew comfortable with Johnson and his staff. When Johnson accepted the Vanderbilt job, Bright ultimately elected to follow him and become part of Johnson's hastily assembled first recruiting class-- but it was never a slam-dunk. Lou Holtz and South Carolina stayed in the battle for Bright's services until the bitter end.

"I guess it just worked out that Vanderbilt was the best place for me," Bright said. "The offense we run, you've got to be able to run and throw. I ran a good bit in high school. I like running, so it suits me pretty well."

Bright started at quarterback for four straight years at Greer-Riverside High School. In the ninth game of his senior year, he suffered a broken ankle that kept him out of the state all-star game, and may have adversely affected his recruiting. The ankle required surgery, but there were no long-term effects-- he feels today he has completely regained his mobility.

In 2002, his first year on campus, the plan called for Bright to redshirt; but as the No. 3 option at quarterback behind Jay Cutler and Benji Walker, Bright still had to prepare each week as though he would play. Luckily for Bright, even though Cutler missed two games, the Commodores were able to make it through the year without enlisting Bright's services.

"Last year was just a learning year for me," Bright said. "When I came in last year, I was just trying to learn the offense. I did that, and by the end of the year I knew the offense pretty well. So now when I go into a game, it's just a matter of putting it all together.

"It all kind of clicks, once you get into the game. If you know your stuff, and you study hard enough, you'll be fine once you get in the game."

Vanderbilt's Oct. 25 visit to Columbia for the South Carolina game was a homecoming of sorts. Over 25 relatives and close friends were present in the Steven Bright cheering section-- including his parents and his brother, a baseball player for the Gamecocks.

"He gets his height from his mother's side of the family," Tom Bright said. "His maternal grandfather is 6-5, and Steven's uncle is 6-5."

Besides his baseball-playing brother, Bright has a cousin who plays basketball at Providence and throws javelin, and another cousin who plays football at Slippery Rock.

With Cutler entrenched as the starter, Bright must wait his turn-- but he's confident his turn will come soon.

Johnson talked about the dilemma the coaches face in attempting to find more playing time for a talented backup, and hinted that there might be more playing time in Bright's future.

"It's tough on a quarterback to go out there every series," Johnson said. "He gets chased around a lot and we run the option.

"We're going to try to get Steven in there more. We have good intentions, but sometimes when a game gets tight, you feel like you should keep your best players in there when you have a chance to win. I think that's a mistake that I have made, and that a lot of coaches make.

"Maybe if you would substitute a little more earlier in the game, then your players are going to be fresher at the end of the game when you have a chance to win."


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