By TERESA M. WALKER
AP Sports Writer
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Vanderbilt has sent plenty of players to the NFL from the Southeastern Conference’s smallest and only private university. The Commodores have produced defensive backs, linebackers, offensive lineman and even some first-round selections such as quarterback Jay Cutler.
Running back? Nope.
Zac Stacy, the best rusher in Commodores history, is poised to become their first Vanderbilt running back drafted since the NFL went to a seven-round draft, and the first since Frank Mordica was picked by New Orleans in the ninth round in 1980.
“A chance to get drafted, it’s definitely a reflection off Vanderbilt,” Stacy said. “It goes to show where this program is headed, where the success is headed and how it’s going to continue going as well. It would definitely be a good mark to leave being drafted.”
Stacy may be a little modest because his success as the first running back at Vanderbilt to rush for 1,000 yards in consecutive seasons is part of why the Commodores are coming off their best back-to-back seasons. He set school records for career yards rushing, with 3,143, and with 30 touchdowns. He also was the MVP of the Music City Bowl and second-team All-SEC as a senior.
The Tennessee Titans were at Vanderbilt’s Pro Day on March 22 and also visited with Stacy in their draft preparations.
“He’s tough,” Titans general manager Ruston Webster said of Stacy. “He’s got good vision, and he’s got that kind of body that it’s tough to tackle. He’s compact. He’s strong, and he’s got some natural power, so he’s able to run in between the tackles. I think he’s got good vision to find his way. He’s a good football player for sure.”
Stacy sure didn’t look like a potential NFL draft pick during his first two seasons at Vanderbilt. He started only seven games, splitting carries with Warren Norman, though he did average 10.3 yards a rush as a freshman. Then James Franklin was hired as head coach, and Stacy really started producing, with the Commodores occasionally using the wildcat.
He set the Vandy single season rushing record in 2011 as a junior, running for 1,193 yards along with a record 14 touchdowns rushing. He became only the fourth Commodores running back to top 1,000 yards in a season while averaging 5.9 yards per carry.
As a senior, Stacy ran for 1,141 yards, third in the SEC, and also averaged 5.5 yards per carry, scoring 10 TDs. He played a key role as Vanderbilt went 9-4 for the Commodores’ best season since 1915, and finished the season with the SEC’s longest winning streak at seven games.
Stacy believes what Franklin and his coaches taught him has made him a better NFL prospect.
“No doubt about it. One thing that coach Franklin and his staff did with me, not only with me but the whole guys on the team, was helping us become better students of the game,” Stacy said. “With that, that allows you to play faster, allows you to play smarter. So that’s one thing I’ll always thank coach Franklin for, how well he prepared us mentally for the game and how well he prepared us throughout the week.”
Stacy has had an advantage prepping for the draft: He graduated in December with a degree in educational studies. That allowed Stacy to get ready for the draft in Atlanta with trainer Chip Smith. Stacy played in the East-West Shrine Classic in Tampa in January and also made a good impression at the combine in February.
Stacy, measured at 5-foot-9 and 216 pounds, had the second-fastest time in the three-cone drill at 6.7 seconds and improved on his standing long jump with a leap of 10 feet, 6.5 inches at Vandy’s pro day. He also ran the 40-yard dash in 4.5 seconds, which he called pretty efficient, and compared that to a 190-pound back running the 40 in 4.2 or 4.3 seconds.
“My goal was to get at least a 4.5 40, and I got it,” Stacy said.
NFLDraftScout.com projects Stacy as a sixth-round selection with questions about Stacy’s elusiveness and not being a big part of Vanderbilt’s passing game. Stacy said he has gotten indications he could go as early as the fourth round or as late as the seventh. He has talked with a trio of former Vandy cornerbacks for advice on handling the NFL draft process in Casey Hayward of Green Bay, D.J. Moore of Carolina and Tampa Bay’s Myron Lewis.
Growing up in Centreville, Ala., Stacy was a fan more of college sports than any pro team. He also plans to teach or work in education once his football career ends, so he’s not picky about which team selects him.
“You never know how high it goes, so I’m just going to go wait around,” Stacy said.
Follow Teresa M. Walker on Twitter at www.twitter.com/teresamwalker