'Tis a growing and seemingly irreversible trend, but one from which, thankfully, Vanderbilt has largely been insulated. OK, Brad Gaines did it back in the late 80's. Through the 90's, there was a Jermaine Johnson here, a Jamie Winborn there... but for the most part the Commodores' most talented senior players shunned the lure of the NFL and stayed for their senior seasons.
Why? Perhaps it was because of the inherent value of the Vanderbilt diploma... or maybe it was just the scarcity of NFL-caliber talent through most of the 90's. For whatever reason, loyal Commodore fans never had to worry much about losing players early to the League.
Until last year, that is.
Following Vanderbilt's disappointing 2004 season, three fourth-year junior Commodores-- fullback Matthew Tant, defensive end Jovan Haye, and cornerback Dominique Morris-- abandoned their final year of eligibility and declared for the Draft.
The Draft came and went last April, and only Haye heard his name called (in round No. 6). The other two now wear the title, "undrafted free agent."
Meanwhile, marquee quarterback Jay Cutler took a good, hard look at the professional game, before a much-publicized decision to return to Vandy for his fifth year. Upon the announcement of Cutler's decision, Vandy fans let out a sigh of immense relief; losing three starters prematurely was difficult enough, but losing Cutler would have been simply devastating.
I know how old-fashioned this must sound, but... whatever happened to fulfilling a commitment to play four years for your school? In a world where coaches get fired with years remaining on their contract; where pro athletes hop from franchise to franchise looking for the best deal; and where disgruntled college athletes routinely transfer to another school to improve their opportunities... players who feel compelled to complete their obligations to the school that provided them a free education have become rare birds.
That's why I'm thankful to know Moses Osemwegie.
Last year, Moses Igbinomwanhia Osemwegie, Jr. probably had a better year than any of the three Commodores who turned pro. After a junior season which saw him record 94 total tackles despite missing the season finale, the gritty, 6-0, 228-pounder was named All-SEC by both the coaches and AP.
If any Commodore appeared NFL-ready at the end of last season, it was Osemwegie. He could easily have arranged to graduate last May, and with all the injuries he's sustained over three marvelous seasons (and one redshirt season), few would have blamed him.
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Yet last winter, while several of his compadres seemed eager to explore their NFL options and move on-- Osemwegie never gave it a serious thought.
"I feel like, coming into college, Vanderbilt has invested a lot in me," he says. "They gave me a four-year scholarship. I feel like that was a commitment they made to me. I feel like I have to hold up my end of the bargain.
"No, wait, let me rephrase that... I WANT to hold up my end, and give them my four years of football. I appreciate so much [Vanderbilt] giving me that opportunity, and I just felt it was something I should do."
Wait a second... did I just hear that come out of a modern-day athlete's mouth?
"I'm just committed to this program."
Part of it, he says, is also the loyalty he feels to the recruiting class that reported to campus in the fall of 2001. Cutler, Kelechi Ohanaja, Dustin Dunning, Trey Holloway, Otis Washington, Ralph McKenzie, Chris Booker, etc....
"We were brought in together," Moses said. "Almost all of us redshirted, except for two guys. We got to learn a lot about each other that redshirt year.
"Today, we go out together. We do everything together. It's just like... family, really."
To his teammates who took the NFL plunge (including his old Montgomery Bell Academy teammate Morris), Moses feels no bitterness. He wishes them only the best. "Their decision was right for them," he says. "Mine was right for me."
Osemwegie credits his mother and father with instilling certain old-world values in him: that education comes first; that a promise is a promise, and a commitment is a commitment.
"My mom and dad [father Moses Osemwegie, Sr. is now deceased] brought me up the right way, the only way I've ever known," he says. "I'm happy about that. I love my mom and dad, and hopefully one day I hope I can achieve what they've achieved in life, and provide for my kids what they provided for me."
Who says there are no role models any longer? Osemwegie plans to take a light load this fall and collect his Human and Organizational Development degree in December. Along the way, the captain and spiritual leader of Vandy's defense will complete his fourth year of eligibility and try to help reverse the Commodores' football fortunes.
The NFL and the big bucks? They'll have to wait a few more months.
Photos by Brent Wiseman, Copyright 2005 for VandyMania.com. Contact Brent at brent(at)vandymania.com