Old-timers still swear by the silky-smooth Bill Wade (1949-51), who elevated the Commodore passing game to unprecedented heights. We middle-aged folks would likely point to Whit Taylor (1981-82) or Kurt Page (1983-84), gunners who played on those pass-happy George MacIntyre teams. Or perhaps it's Eric "Showtime" Jones (1986-88), the brilliant option quarterback from the Watson Brown era.
It may shock some to learn that Greg Zolman, the lanky lefty from Miamisburg, Ohio, has a great chance to surpass them all this season. One of the storylines to Vanderbilt's 2001 season will undoubtedly be Zolman's steady assault on the Vandy record book.
"Steady" may be the word that best describes Greg Zolman. He is certainly not the most fluid Vandy quarterback ever-- at times his release appears protracted and his motion downright awkward. He doesn't throw the long ball as crisply as Taylor or Page, and though he's deceptively fast, he has nowhere near the wheels of Jones.
Yet under the tutelage of Jeff Rutledge and the scheme of Steve Crosby, Zolman has quietly thrived and climbed his way into the Commodore record books. If all goes according to plan, he will leave as Vandy's all-time passing yardage leader… and it won't even be close.
With 5,469 career passing yards, Zolman already ranks third on the all-time list behind Taylor (6,307 yards) and Page (6,233). Also within reach are Taylor's career marks for completions (555), touchdown passes (41) and total offense (6,727 yards).
Few people would have guessed such a thing when Zolman made his debut in the 1998 opener. On a stuffy night in Starkville, the freshman went an unremarkable 7-of-12 for 64 yards in a 42-0 drubbing (pretty admirable really, if you remember the circumstances).
Another freshman, David Wallace, wound up with the next five starts in 1998. But when Wallace struggled to move the team against Georgia, Zolman came off the bench to throw a 50-yard touchdown strike to Adam Ditto. Won over by his performance and his work ethic, the coaches handed Zolman the keys the next week, and Zolman has still not relinquished them.
Five days after turning 20, Zolman led Vandy to a memorable, streak-busting Homecoming win over South Carolina. The next season he led Vandy to a 5-win season, the highlight an overtime triumph in Oxford in which Zolman torched the Ole Miss Rebels for 344 yards.
Detractors point to the fact that he has thrown too many interceptions, that his throws sometimes wobble and float. Yet Zolman has managed to retain a firm grip on the starter's job the last two springs despite some healthy competition from Benji Walker and Tim Olmstead. As for the interceptions… well, not all are his fault (see last year's Georgia game). A shortage of dependable receivers hasn't helped.
But though some still question his natural gifts, Zolman's head for the game and his toughness have never been in doubt. He has missed only one start in three years, that due to a separated shoulder. Numerous times last year he absorbed vicious hits in the backfield, only to bounce right back up. (He "takes a dingin' and keeps on slingin'".)
A glance at his stat sheet shows that his completion percentage has increased every year. His mentor Jeff Rutledege has stressed consistency, which has been Zolman's Achilles heel. When Greg's timing is off (e.g., the Florida game last year), the offense stalls; but when he's in a groove and clicking with his receivers (e.g., last year's Tennessee game), the Vandy attack becomes a formidable threat.
Quarterbacks, right or wrong, get a double share of the glory or blame-- a fact not lost on Greg. Sources inside McGugin say that no one has been working harder this summer than the southpaw. Strength coach Todd Suttles raves about Zolman's compulsive work habits, and the fact that his bench press is up to 335 pounds. He is, by all accounts, setting a noteworthy example for his teammates to follow. His actions communicate an urgency about taking the program to a winning season and a bowl.
Zolman will turn 23 before the season ends, and the maturity began to show last year. This is not the same fresh-faced, mercurial Greg Zolman we saw three years ago. The 2001 model enters the season with 26 starts under his belt. His fine performances in the last two games of 2000 seemed to promise, "Just wait'll next year."
Whit Taylor and Kurt Page are both high school coaches today (at Shelbyville and Nashville-Father Ryan), but Zolman appears headed for the business world. In fact, Zolman has already picked up his undergraduate diploma, did so last May. For his fifth year on campus, he'll be studying business at the Owen Graduate School of Management.
Which, come to think of it, is appropo-- it's that businesslike approach to football that should make Greg Zolman's final year on campus a record-breaking one.
Greg Zolman by the numbers:
PASSING G Att-Cmp-Int Pct Yds TD
1998 7 145- 69- 7 47.6 969 4
1999 11 300-154-16 51.3 2059 10
2000 11 354-187-14 52.8 2441 13
Career 29 799-410-37 51.3 5469 27