VandyNation sat down with Vanderbilt senior linebacker Nate Morrow at the recent SEC Media Days in Birmingham:
VN: Nate, you had some pretty big losses in your linebacking corps last year with Jamie Winborn and Matt Stewart moving on to the NFL. What was it like playing next to guys like that?
Nate: Oh, it was a phenomenal experience. Every time you step on the field with guys of that caliber you just learn so much. It was really easy as a player because you knew you could always count on them to make the play. They were just great individuals themselves, not just great football players, but great people. It was nice to play with such good friends who at the same time were such great football players.
VN: Well, I guess the next question is, can the linebackers possibly be as good after losing two guys like that?
Nate: I knew that was coming (laugh). Time will tell. They have the potential, definitely, to do that. But it's just a matter of doing it. Everybody has potential, but you just have to see what happens when you get on the field. I think they're going to step up. Hunter Hillenmeyer and Mike Adam have both had a great offseason. They've been working their tails off. They both expect to play at the same level as Matt and Jamie.
VN: If I remember right, for the last few years Vanderbilt has had a linebacker who's either led the league in tackles or been right up there. So which of you is going to take up the slack this year?
Nate: (Laughing) I don't know. You'll have to talk to Antuian [Bradford], I think he's the one excited about that (grin). If they come over to my side I'll try to make a tackle. You never know, nobody expected Matt last year to take off and have 108 tackles, and he did. So wait and see!
VN: You and Antuian are the seniors now and more or less the leaders. You're also a defensive captain. Is that a role that comes easily to you?
Nate: I don't think it comes easy to anyone because it's a great responsibility. But at the same time I embrace it, because the players were the ones to vote on it. When your peers vote you to something, it means you've done something in your past years to earn their respect. It's a privilege to be the captain of a team. I'm excited about it. I think we have a great four captains with Dan [Stricker], Antuian and Jamie [Byrum], and great leadership with Greg [Zolman] and the other seniors. I don't think it's going to be too bad because it's going to be all the seniors, and everyone's really stepped into the leadership role.
VN: Tell me what to expect out of Mike Adam and Hunter Hillenmeyer this year.
Nate: I think you should expect them… well, not to be Jamie and Matt, because that's not fair to them. This is the first time both of them have really started. Mike did come in early last year, but he wasn't really as prepared as he wanted to be. So the first thing is not to expect them to be Jamie and Matt-- they're two different players. But do expect them to be great hustlers, because they are. They're hard workers, and you can expect to see that, especially as the season goes on. That first year you start is a time of, first, survival, and then going in to really make plays. So you can expect great things, but just realize that they're not NFL guys… yet.
VN: How about the depth behind the four starters… maybe name a few guys who've worked hard and put themselves in position to earn some playing time.
Nate: Actually everybody's worked hard, so this is an easy question. Libnir Telusca, Doug Wolford, Pat Brunner, Brandon Walthour, Luke Hammond-- those guys have had a great, great summer. Eric Byrum, and Jovan Haye are two freshmen that have been here this summer, and they look great too. They have really put in the time. It's just a matter of getting the opportunity to prove themselves.
VN: Woody said he was going to be more involved with the defense this year. I know he really likes to coach linebackers. Have you noticed a difference? How hands-on is he being with you guys?
Nate: He's really been upstairs a lot this summer. I stop in to see him and he's watching a lot of film, really getting involved, talking with me about defensive schemes. I think he is going to take a more active role, and I think he's excited about doing that. It gets him back to what he loves, and that's coaching defense. I think it will be a fun camp getting to work with him more.
VN: Can you tell me the story of your recruiting and how you settled on Vanderbilt?
Nate: I was getting recruited to several different schools, Big Ten, SEC, some others, and came to Vanderbilt and fell in love with the campus and the coaches. Woody, and Norm Parker, who was the one who recruited me-- I really enjoyed them both, and thought that this would be a great place for me. We have integrity about the program, because we do things the right way. We don't sacrifice academically to benefit us athletically. When you can do that, and win, it's a lot more to be proud about. When you become a part of a team that's always won, it's not special. But when you come and help turn a team around, that's something extra. I came to Vanderbilt to have the opportunity to do all those things.
VN: Is a winning season in the cards this year?
Nate: A winning season is without a doubt in the cards this year. I know a lot of people aren't expecting a whole lot from us, but we're confident. We just have to decide how good we want to be. It's really up to us. But that's definitely a goal we're shooting for.