Last time around for Dan Stricker

For 13 years, the SEC career receiving record was held by a Vanderbilt player-- 2,964 yards, by Boo Mitchell (1985-88). In 2001, Mitchell's record fell to LSU's Josh Reed (3,001 yards). But Vanderbilt's Dan Stricker has an excellent shot to bring that record back to Nashville.

For 13 years, the SEC career receiving record was held by a Vanderbilt player-- 2,964 yards, by Boo Mitchell (1985-88).  In 2001, Mitchell's record fell to LSU's Josh Reed (3,001 yards).

Now in his senior year, Vanderbilt wide receiver Dan Stricker has an excellent shot to bring that record back to Nashville.  With 2,260 career receiving yards, Stricker needs 705 yards to overtake Mitchell for the school record, and 732 to surpass Reed.  Both records are well within reach, as Stricker has averaged 1,037 yards per season the last two seasons.

Despite his track record, however, the 2002 season is full of question marks for the fifth-year senior.  If Stricker is to reach the records, it will happen under a new head coach (Bobby Johnson), with two new quarterbacks (Benji Walker and Jay Cutler), and as part of an all-new offensive system (devised by offensive coordinator Ted Cain).

Not that Stricker is too concerned about individual achievement.  The captain from Cincinnati returns in 2002 knowing he is easily the Commodores' most proven returning offensive playmaker.  But in typical Stricker fashion, he is quick to stress that his focus is on team goals.

"I believe in team 100%," said Stricker.  "When Greg [Zolman] was a senior, he wasn't like, we have to get this done because I'm going to break these records.  As with Greg, I take the standpoint that this is just another season.

"Yes, I'm going to try as hard as I can, and as a captain I'm going to get everyone else to try as hard as they can.  It's not about working hard because this is my last season, but working hard because as a team we want to accomplish something great."

Teaming with his fellow Ohioan Zolman the last three seasons, Stricker was able to put up big receiving numbers-- 65 catches for 1,079 receiving yards in 2001, and 61 for 994 in 2000.  With an uncanny knack for getting open, Stricker quickly became Zolman's favorite target, and often was able to bolster Zolman's numbers by adding yardage after the catch.

But the Zolman era is now history-- the record-setting Vandy quarterback now plays for pay with the Indianapolis Colts.  Accordingly, the Commodores' quarterback situation is a huge question mark for 2002.  Stricker will be playing catch with two inexperienced quarterbacks, neither of whom has yet taken a significant collegiate snap.

"We're all learning a new offense, and we all have had the same amount of time to learn it," said Stricker.  "In the past we already knew all the plays, how to run the routes and make the adjustments.  This summer's been more of a teaching session more than anything else, so that we get everything that we need covered.

"The quarterbacks have to think hard about what their reads are before they do any certain pass, just because no one's really familiar with the offense.  It just takes a little more time before they feel comfortable with the passing game.  But we've made great progress this summer, and I think we're just going to roll right into camp."

After head coach Woody Widenhofer resigned under pressure in 2001, Stricker, then a fourth-year junior, took a hard look at the NFL.  He went as far as to apply for and receive an evaluation from pro scouts, which can be done without obligation.  Stricker says the scouts told him he'd be projected about where he expected to be in the draft.

But incoming head coach Bobby Johnson convinced Stricker he would play in instrumental role in offensive coordinator Ted Cain's new offense, and Stricker decided to stick around.  (It was probably Johnson's most important off-season recruiting coup, although Stricker says it really didn't take that much convincing.)

"Coach Johnson said he really wants to get the ball in the hands of players who can make plays," said Stricker.  "He said, Dan, we know that you can make plays, and you'll get your share, just like you did last year.

"[The NFL] is a goal that I'm working hard to attain right now.  But I love college.  I love the atmosphere, I love my teammates, the camaraderie and stuff.  I didn't really want to leave."

On a Vanderbilt team with lots of new faces, Stricker will be counted upon for his leadership and experience almost as much as his playmaking ability.

"It was really just a personal decision that I feel satisfied with.  There were new quarterbacks, new running backs, a new right side of the line, and a brand new offense.

"When we went over the offensive tactics, what he felt we could get done, I felt comfortable that it wasn't going to be a 'grind it out on the run' offense like we'd seen with Coach Johnson's offenses at Furman.  That made me feel a whole lot more comfortable with what we're going to try to do, and I definitely wanted to be part of that.

"As a leader on the team I didn't want to leave my guys a year early."

Potentially, there are plenty of rewards for coming back.  In addition to the records, with a good season Stricker should be a strong candidate for All-SEC honors.

But there are no givens.  Stricker must overcome a shoulder injury and stay healthy and productive.  And with the SEC stacked with pro-caliber receivers like Tennessee's Kelley Washington, Georgia's Fred Gibson, and Florida's Taylor Jacobs, competition for post-season honors will be fierce.

Not that Stricker is concerned about that either.

"Maybe because it is my last season I'm working a little bit harder and trying to push guys a little bit harder," says Stricker.  "I think it helps the younger guys, because they're seeing a great work ethic from me, and hopefully that will rub off on them."

Once he knew he would be coming back, Stricker took a light load in the spring semester.  The fifth-year senior is now only six hours short of a degree in Economics.

"It's really a win-win deal," says Stricker, "because Econ graduates from Vanderbilt are highly recruited for a variety of jobs, so I'm sure I can flow into one of those pretty easily.

"But I feel pretty sure, if I'm injury-free and have a good season, there's no reason why [next year] I wouldn't be a professional receiver."

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Coming soon on VandyMania premium: In an exclusive interview, Stricker talks about his rehabilitation from shoulder surgery, the effects of the team's summer workout program, and his outlook for the upcoming season.


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