Kenan Arkan: Sometimes boyhood dreams do come true

Sophomore offensive lineman Kenan Arkan says the only way to erase the painful memories of losses past is to pull off an upset the next week. Vanderbilt (1-5, 0-3) hopes to snap a four-game losing streak against No. 5 Georgia (6-0, 3-0) at 11:30 CDT Saturday in Athens, Ga. The game will be televised regionally on the Jefferson-Pilot network.

In 1996 Vanderbilt opened the season at night on national TV against Notre Dame in Nashville.  Watching the game on ESPN in far-off Pittsburgh, Pa., that evening was a promising 14-year-old high school football player, Kenan Arkan.

While most of the college football world was focusing on the Irish, who won the game 14-7, Arkan was fascinated by the team wearing the home black and gold.  As the story goes, he turned to his father Suha and said, "Dad, if I do well my junior and senior years, that's where I would love to play."

Whattaya know-- every once in a while, boyhood dreams do come true.  By January 2000, the boy had grown into a strapping, 6-foot-7, 270-pound hulk, and had accepted a scholarship offer to play for Kent State of the Mid-American Conference.  But when Vanderbilt coach Woody Widenhofer unexpectedly called to offer him a scholarship, Arkan knew he would have to go back on his verbal commitment to the Golden Flashes.

"When Woody offered him, Kenan was surprised and pleased," said Arkan's father Suha.  "He said, Dad, this is where I have to be.  This is what I've dreamed of."

"I always knew about the school academically," said Kenan (pronounced "KEN-nin").  "I didn't know much about the football program.  I just wanted to be part of it... the town, the guys, the fans.

"I just wish we could do more for them."

Ah, therein lies the paradox.  Off the field, says Arkan, being at Vanderbilt has been a blast.  He loves the city.  He's close to his teammates.  He loves his coaches.  He's getting playing time-- now in his third year in school, he is playing virtually every offensive snap at right tackle for the Commodores.

But few players on the team take losing harder than Arkan.  And recently his Saturdays have been shattered by a number of troubling losses-- like last week's inexplicable loss to MTSU.

"Yeah, outside of football we have a great time," says Arkan.  "I liked the last staff.  I like this staff-- they're all about winning.  Academically it's great.

"Unfortunately everything's kind of tainted a little bit, because we don't win.  Too many close games.  Too many games like MTSU.

"I don't think these losses ever leave you," he adds, solemnly.  "I can still remember my redshirt year, Miami of Ohio, very vividly.  I can remember watching the Kentucky game [in 1999] before I even came down here.  They don't ever leave you."

Coach Bobby Johnson said Wednesday that the players have responded well in practice this week in putting the 21-20 loss to Middle Tennessee behind them.  It was a game in which the team looked uncharacteristically undisciplined.  The Commodores entered the game the least-penalized team in the SEC, but were flagged 14 times for a whopping 141 yards vs. the Blue Raiders.

"Coach just told us that we beat ourselves," said Arkan.  "He was absolutely right.  We had too many penalties, and didn't capitalize on their mistakes.

"Whenever we go out and play, we're supposed to go out and take it to whoever's on the field.  It doesn't matter who's out, who's missing-- none of that matters.  We've got to come out and play.  We didn't play [against MTSU].  We killed ourselves, and it's unfortunate."

"The losing is very trying," says Suha, who commutes to every game from Pittsburgh.  "My heart goes out to Kenan, and to all the players.  He works his tail off, and so do those other kids.  Nobody wants to lose.  I never wanted to lose when I played ball."

The Arkan family has produced more than its share of athletes.  Suha, a native of Turkey, played professional basketball there before coming to the United States.  Kenan's brother Erol, a 6-8, 310-pounder, played football at Iowa State and Slippery Rock.  His grandfather played football for San Jose State in the 1930's.

Last year in his redshirt freshman season, before 106,000 in the season finale at Neyland Stadium, Kenan got his first collegiate start at left tackle as a substitute for the injured Justin Geisinger. Top Stories