Back during the NFL Combine Vanderbilt running back Zac Stacy reflected upon the lessons passed down to him from Commodores head coach James Franklin, a former Packers assistant.
Even though Stacy’s college eligibility is exhausted, they’re lessons he’s keeping with him even as he prepares to enter the world of the NFL.
“I’m just taking the core values he taught every single one of us: have a positive attitude, a great work ethic, compete in everything you do, and you must be willing to sacrifice,” said Stacy.
James Franklin didn’t spend much time in Green Bay, one season as the Packers wide receivers coach mentoring Donald Driver back in 2005.
It’s hard to blame Franklin for jumping ship. He’s been on the rise in the coaching ranks ever since, first as offensive coordinator at Kansas State for two seasons and then at Maryland for another three.
Franklin was named as Maryland’s head coach in waiting in 2009, but when he was offered the head gig at Vanderbilt in 2011, he couldn’t pass up the opportunity.
What Franklin has accomplished in just two years at Vandy has been nothing short of historic. First he became the only Commodores coach to guide the team to a bowl in his first season and then became the only coach ever to take them to back-to-back bowls.
Vanderbilt lost its first bowl appearance in 2011 to Cincinnati in the Liberty Bowl but is on the rise after last season’s Music City Bowl victory over North Carolina State to reach nine wins, the most since 1915 at Vandy.
As for Stacy, he rushed for more than 1,000 in back-to-back seasons in 2011 and 2012 and became the first Vanderbilt player ever to rush for more than 3,000 yards in his career.
When asked by a reporter if he was surprised to hear a Vanderbilt running back had never been taken in the modern NFL Draft since going to a seven-round format, Stacy wasn’t fazed.
“I’m just going to do what I can, control what I can control and all the other stuff can take care of itself,” siad Stacy.
If all goes according to plan, Stacy will break that ignoble streak, but being selected in April’s draft isn’t a guarantee.
Generally considered a mid-round prospect at best and an undrafted free agent at worst, Stacy used the Combine to sell himself to NFL teams.
While his 40-yard dash time of 4.55 seconds was somewhere in the middle of a group of more than 30 running backs invited to Indianapolis, his 27 bench press repetitions and three-cone drill time of 6.70 seconds each ranked in the top four among players at his position.
The bench press number shouldn’t come as a surprise as Stacy’s best quality is arguably his strength.
“One of my biggest assets is my unique sense of power that I have about me,” said Stacy. “I want to be that guy, an every-down back to be able to get that third-and-short. For the most part, I just want to be an complete back: run, catch, block. Just be a complete back and show consistency as well.”
To become the three-down back at the pro level that he hopes to be, Stacy will have to avoid the injuries that hobbled him in college. An ankle injury in 2009 and a head injury in 2010 didn’t allow him to finish either of those season, missing the last few games each year.
While his statistics were roughly the same in 2012 as 2011, Stacy fought through a leg injury at midseason to share the load with fellow running backs Brian Kimbrow and Wesley Tate.
Despite the minor setback, Stacy ended the season with a bang by rushing for a season-high 180 yards and two touchdowns in the regular-season finale at Wake Forest and then breaking the century mark again in the bowl win and scoring another touchdown.
Now it’s time for Stacy to take his game to the next level. And even though he’s not the most highly-rated running back in this year’s draft class, that doesn’t bother him.
“I’ve been under-the-radar my entire career, so this is nothing new,” said Stacy.
Brian Carriveau is the author of “It’s Just a Game: Big League Drama in Small Town America,” and editor of Cheesehead TV’s “Pro Football Draft Preview.” To contact Brian, email firstname.lastname@example.org.