Three days each week, Jeff Gendelman spends afternoons in Memorial Gym, aiding Melanie Balcomb and the Commodore women’s basketball team as a scout-team practice player. On Tuesday, the junior from New York was one of 17 undergraduates trying to make James Franklin’s first spring football roster at Vanderbilt.
Give Gendelman plenty of credit for trying. Unsuccessful in previous attempts to make the men’s basketball and baseball teams on campus, he was back, fully intent on fulfilling a boyhood dream.
"You could say I’m going for the trifecta, I guess," Gendelman said. "I’ve tried to have a great attitude about the entire thing, give it my best shot, and see how it works out. But really, how many college students get an opportunity like this? It’s awesome."
After weeks talking up the tryouts at frat houses and popular gathering spots across campus, the head coach told the candidates he appreciated their interest, enthusiasm and effort.
"I really appreciate your attitude and willingness to compete. I know it’s important to each of you. However this turns out, I truly appreciate your commitment," said Franklin, who later said several prospects could be added to the roster.
Franklin was a keen observer, frequently praising extra effort, urging proper technique and correcting poor form during the two-hour workout.
"Give me five straight completions, five straight right now," Franklin told 6’4" sophomore John Townsley. The southpaw, a former prep quarterback at Upper Arlington (Ohio) High School, obliged.
"It’s exciting because I haven’t had the spotlight on me since high school," Townsley said. "This is special, just getting the opportunity to keep playing football. If I make it, I’ll do any job they ask me too."
Two of those on the receiving end of Townsley’s passes were freshmen Daniel Hagaman of Brentwood, Tenn., and Jarron Lewis of Houston, Texas. The roommates heard of the tryouts from others living in their dorm at The Commons.
"Ever since I was little, it’s been a dream of mine to play college football," Lewis said. "It would mean the world to me."
Hagaman, a former hybrid safety at Brentwood High School hoping to secure a roster spot at wide receiver was encouraged - and embarrassed - by his brief performance. Before the session began, Hagaman realized he’d committed a huge mistake.
"I felt really good, but I’m sort of embarrassed," Hagaman said. "I didn’t think about doing ball drills. I can tell you forgetting your contacts is really dumb for any receiver."
Head coach James Franklin discussed a wide range of Vanderbilt football Wednesday afternoon during a 30-minute sitdown with 104.5 The Zone’s 3-Hour Lunch bunch - Brent Dougherty, Clay Travis and Blaine Bishop.
From coaching up his young daughters on “building championships” to explaining the concept of grayshirting, describing the rare emotion of hearing a recruit say “yes” to Vanderbilt the night before National Signing Day, Franklin talked on a variety of subjects. Including his only expectation of the half hour: “I want 10,000 at the Black & Gold Spring Game (on April 17). That’s right, 10,000.”