VandyNation: Anthony, tell us what it is you're doing today.
Anthony Azama: As far as with the Citrus Bowl, I help out in marketing and membership. My primary responsibility is with the new All-star game that we're doing at Florida Citrus Sports. We do the Citrus Bowl, we do some games like the Notre Dame-Navy game last year, but we picked up this new Rotary Gridiron All-star Classic. We've been doing it for about 3 years, and I'm the personnel director for Team Florida. Team Florida is comprised of the seven football-playing schools within the state, and kids that played in Florida in high school but chose to go out of state to college. Jared McGrath [former Vanderbilt running back] played in the game last year. We have NFL coaches with the official All-star game, and over the last 3 years I've probably put over 100 kids in the NFL. It's been great to give back in that way.
But also the game is to raise money for the Buoniconti Fund, to help find a cure for spinal cord paralysis. It's been a great help to those working to find a cure down at the Miami center. I had a great opportunity to work with Don Shula, the game chairman. My coaches have been (retired NFL coaches) Wayne Fontes and Lindy Infante. The first year Team USA, the opposing team, was coached by Chuck Noll, whom Coach Woody used to work for-- so you see what a small world it is.
The last 2 years, we were going against Buddy Ryan-- Buddyball. So it's great to still be involved in the sport, helping kids achieve their goals, like Jared McGrath. He ended up getting picked up by San Francisco, and hopefully he'll be able to make that squad.
It's great to still be involved in sports. Coming from Vanderbilt, you understand how to go about the game the right way. Then going on to the Citrus Bowl, I got the best of both worlds.
Thinking back on my career at Vanderbilt, I went four years under three different coaches. I was brought in by [Gerry] Dinardo, had two years under [Rod] Dowhower, and one under [Woody] Widenhofer, but I learned something under all of them. All of them had a different leadership style, but the same premise, and that's winning.
Dinardo was a great recruiter-- you look back and even when LSU was 4-7 they were at the top in recruiting. Dowhower was meticulous about details, and Widenhofer was a great people person, who gets people to believe. It's been a great ride so far.
VN: What's your best memory of playing at Vanderbilt?
AA: The win against Georgia, I think it was 43-30, Georgia's Homecoming. It was an away game, 1994. I didn't start, but I came in in the first quarter and had my first interception. I had about 7 tackles, and it was going from playing in front of about 5,000 at the most in high school to playing in front of about 80,000. I could feel my heart pounding outside of my chest, but it was a great win and a great start for Vanderbilt.
VN: I remember a game when you more or less saved a game against Northern Illinois. Do you remember that?
AA: You're exactly right. It was a momentous occasion for me. I had a lot of fun, and I can always say I contributed to at least one win. It was great.
VN: Do you still keep up with the Commodores on football Saturdays?
AA: Yes I do. I catch as many games as possible. Not only that, but I also keep up with some of my teammates who've gone on to the league, Cory Chavous and Jamie Duncan. Jamie Duncan was at the stadium last year when we had a joint practice between the Bucs and the Dolphins. It's amazing how many players the Bucs have on their squad from Vanderbilt! It's been great to still be in that family.
I love what Vanderbilt is doing now, starting this All-star club where they bring former players back. Because the three things you've got to do in a football program: youi've got to be able to recruit, you've got to be able to retain and keep those good players, and you've also got to be able to reconnect, and bring in those players who've been great role models, who can help keep morale up even when you're going through a rocky season.
VN: Good luck, Anthony, on your position, and maybe we'll see you in the Citrus Bowl when Vanderbilt plays there one of these years.
AA: I'd love that. That would be so great.