OK, Vandy fans, I hope you're sitting down for this.
M. J. Garrett, Vanderbilt's starting wide receiver opposite Dan Stricker, is going steady. No surprise there-- the golden-haired senior from Donelson Christian Academy has always maintained a sterling reputation as a ladies' man.
What is surprising, however, is that Garrett's main squeeze for the last 14 months-- Nashville native and Father Ryan graduate Roseanne Runyon-- is a coed currently pursuing her undergraduate degree from... er...
"She goes to UT-Knoxville," says Garrett.
Say it ain't so, M. J.!
"But I am the biggest Vanderbilt fan at heart," pleads Roseanne.
"She hasn't missed a game," says Garrett. "She comes down here every weekend, and we see each other. She fully supports me and the team. It's awesome."
How, one might ask, did such an unlikely relationship come to be? The two lovebirds, it seems, met at a local swimming pool during the summer of 2001. What began as a summer fling has blossomed into true love... a love that transcends long distances and the bitterest of school rivalries.
Do Runyon's fellow dorm-mates at the (ahem) University of Tennessee know that the object of her affections dresses up on weekends in black and gold?
"Of course!" she says, in a way that implies she is not shy about letting anyone know where her loyalties lie. "I make it world-wide known.
"I'm just in love!" she says glowingly, putting her arm around his waist.
"She's sporting a Vandy license plate up in Knoxville," adds M. J.
Now that's a brave lady. Geez, this is sounding serious. Could wedding plans be in the couple's future? On this point, M. J. is non-committal.
"We're kind of in agreement here," says M.J. "We need to finish up this year, and then we'll start worrying about that kind of stuff."
Good plan. Vanderbilt needs Garrett, not to mention several other receivers, to have productive seasons if the Commodores are to achieve their season goals. The 6-3, 202-pounder, who caught two touchdown passes against the rival Vols in a game two years ago, entered fall camp as a projected starter opposite All-SEC candidate Dan Stricker. But receiver is probably the one position where the Commodores are blessed with some quality depth, and a number of other receivers have made a strong run at Garrett's starting role.
"We're getting pushed a little bit, and that's good," said Garrett. "What we're really looking for right now is a couple of receivers who can step up. We're going to rotate a lot this year. That's one of Coach Hall's [receivers coach J. D. Hall's] key theories. He likes to play a lot of people."
While Garrett has struggled with some nagging injuries during camp, talented young receivers such as Brandon Smith, Erik Davis and Grant Brigham have impressed the coaches. "The competition is great," Garrett says. "I'm really not worried about it at all."
As veteran seniors who've been through the SEC wars, Garrett and his partner Stricker are being depended upon to carry the added responsibilities of leadership.
"It means just going out there and busting it every day," says Garrett. "I'm a vocal person, but I'm not that much of a vocal leader. I like going out, having a hard work ethic, and trying to stay positive even when times get rough. Because it has-- for me personally, and it has for the team. As long as you can be a shining light, I think you can bring people along."
In his junior season Garrett hauled in 27 passes for 455 yards, including a 73-yard bomb against MTSU. But he hasn't rested on his laurels during the offseason. The stepped-up conditioning program, according to Garrett, has helped him become even stronger and faster.
"I'm really into the conditioning aspect of football, and it has been UNREAL," says Garrett. "I think that T. [former strength coach Todd Suttles] did a wonderful job my first three years here, but Coach [current strength and conditioning coach John] Sisk has brought it to a whole new level. That conditioning test we did-- it was hard, even for the guys who were in shape. But for the most part everybody's bigger, stronger, faster."
Meanwhile Runyon has been preparing for the upcoming season as well, and for her, that means preparing to spend a lot of time behind the wheel.
"I'll make every one of the games this year, even the road games," coos Roseanne. "I've got my car up at school this year, so I'll definitely make every one."
All right, perhaps this is all sounding a little better. The star-crossed pair does make a striking couple. To outsiders it may make little sense... but then, true love seldom does.
Perhaps it's comforting after all to confirm that there are some passions in life that run even deeper than most Southerners' for college football.