Top Vanderbilt Seniors for 2009

Vanderbilt's 2009 football season is rapidly approaching. Questions linger, can Vanderbilt get back to a bowl this season? Who will be the Black and Gold leaders of the upcoming season? Today VandyMania.com takes a look at some of the top returning seniors on the Commodore squad.

Bradley Vierling C (6-3, 294, R-Sr.)- Last year Vierling was a team captain on the first Vanderbilt team to get a bowl victory since 1955. Since his freshman year Vierling, who will again be a captain in 2009, has worked hard in the weight room and on the practice field to maneuver his way up the depth chart. Offensive line coach Robbie Caldwell once commented of the Pennsylvania native that, "he's the type he'll fight a chain saw and it running." Vierling was recently selected to Phil Steele Magazine's 2009 preseason All-SEC team (fourth team).


Thomas Welch OT (6-7, 310, R-Sr.)- Welch came to Vanderbilt as a 235-pound tight end. He has since gained 75 pounds by following strength coach John Sisk's intensive training regimen. Welch has 13 career starts at offensive tackle and has the quickness and mobility that has attracted the interest of NFL scouts. It looks like he will make the move to left tackle coming out of spring practice after playing on the right side last season.



Mackenzi Adams QB (6-3, 212, R-Sr.)- Always a battler and a stalwart off the bench, Adams will finally be the most experienced quarterback on the Commodore squad. He has completed 193 of 363 passes for over 2,100 yards over his career. Adams also led Vandy to a huge win at South Carolina in 2007 and rallied the 'Dores past Auburn in 2008. If he passes for just 500 yards during the upcoming season he'll move into the top 10 list of all time Vanderbilt career passers. As rumors persist that sophomore Larry Smith will start in the 2009 opener, you can bet that regardless of who gets the nod against Western Carolina we'll see a bunch of Mackenzi Adams during 2009.


Jared Hawkins TB (5-10, 195, R-Sr.)- Hawkins is one of the strongest and fastest players on the Commodore squad. He can bench over 400 pounds and runs a 4.4 forty. He's been known to hurl opposing players off of him after plays. Like most players, he performs better when he's healthy. The past two seasons J-Hawk suffered late season injuries that have either taken him off the field or limited his effectiveness. With more experience and a veteran offensive line to block for him, look for Hawkins to have a breakout year and eclipse the 2,000 yard career rushing mark.


Steven Stone DE (6-5, 272, R-Sr.)- Stone is one of the big reasons Vanderbilt's defense is expected to be very good in 2009. His size and strength along with great speed and intensity give him the essential tools needed by a successful defensive lineman. Stone has 9.5 career sacks including five in 2008. His sack of South Carolina's Chris Smelley late in that 2008 contest helped the 'Dores to pick up their second straight win over Steve Spurrier. Already picked to Phil Steele Magazine's 2009 preseason All-SEC team (fourth team), you can bet that Stone will make a bid for first team honors by the end of the season.


Broderick Stewart DE (6-5, 230, R-Sr.)- Stewart isn't very big but he's fast as a bolt of lightning. With 16 careers sacks he needs just six more to become the all-time career sack leader at Vanderbilt (Alan Young had 21.5, '89-'93). One concern is a severe lower leg injury he suffered against Tennessee last season. Hopefully he'll be fully recovered and able to help Vanderbilt return to another bowl while breaking that sack record.


Patrick Benoist (6-0, 220, Sr.)- A second team All-SEC selection as a junior, Benoist had 109 tackles during the 2009 campaign. One of his finest performances was his 13 tackle effort in the big ESPN Gameday win over Auburn. In another big win, he had 15 tackles versus South Carolina. He's a second team selection to Phil Steele Magazine's 2009 preseason All-SEC team. An economics major, Benoist has also received several honors for his exploits in the classroom.


Myron Lewis (6-3, 205, Sr.)- D.J. Who? Lewis has started 25 consecutive games for Vandy and is considered one of the best cornerbacks in the Southeastern Conference. He is rated the No. 6 cornerback out of 219 nationally by NFLDraftScout.com. Already with six career picks, he had five of them in 2008. Additionally, Lewis has an impressive total of 18 career passes broken up. Few Vandy fans can forget his game ending interceptions against Auburn and Boston College. Without those two key interceptions the 2008 season could have been another losing Vandy season but Myron Lewis got it done. His height and skills will make him a definite defensive leader on this year's squad.


Ryan Hamilton S (6-2, 208, R-Sr.)- Hamilton "the Hammer" is considered one of the hardest hitters on the Vanderbilt squad. Only junior cornerback Alan Strong is said to pack a harder hit. Hamilton, a second team selection to Phil Steele Magazine's 2009 preseason All-SEC squad, tied a school record with three interceptions, scored a touchdown on an interception return, and saved a score with a goal-line tackle to help the Commodores defeat Ole Miss 23-17 in Oxford. While the defensive secondary has some big shoes to fill, Vandy fans can take solace in the fact that veterans Hamilton and Myron Lewis will be there to keep things in order.


Greg Billinger DT (6-4, 287, Sr.)- Returning starter at defensive tackle. Billinger has steadily develolped into a boni fide SEC defensive lineman since he selected Vandy over home state Georgia. Look for him to anchor the inside of the most experienced and talented defensive line during head coach Bobby Johnson's time at Vanderbilt.



Brett Upson P (5-11, 188, Sr.)- Wow! Music City Bowl MVP and I'm proud that I helped politic in the press box for him to get that honor. Yes, Bryant Hahnfeldt was equally deserving but the vote was taken before the final, winning field goal. Remember, too, Upson's heroic effort at Kentucky. He developed into a weapon by drawing roughing the calls. The three against UK were probably the difference in the game. Also selected to Phil Steele Magazine's 2009 preseason All-SEC team (third team).

Others

Alex Washington WR (5-10, 182, R-Sr.)- Injured last year will be counted on to fill in for Justin Wheeler who was injured in the spring.

Eric Hensley OG (6-6, 315, R-Sr.)- Veteran starter on the offensive line.

There were so many players that helped the 'Dores get to a bowl in 2008. It's good to see many of them back for 2009.

Photos by Stan Jones.

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