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VOL. 36 | NO. 4 | Friday, January 27, 2012

Hayward shows scouts what VU has to offer

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MOBILE, Ala. - Since taking over the Commodore football program, James Franklin has been busy selling the idea that it’s not the “same old Vanderbilt.”

And from the way Casey Hayward has performed during Senior Bowl practices this week, perhaps Franklin’s message is reverberating past Nashville and Middle Tennessee.

Hayward’s play has caught the attention of Redskins secondary coach Raheem Morris, as Washington’s staff is coaching the South squad in the Senior Bowl. And Hayward was one of National Football Post’s risers after the second day of practice, showing off good cover skills and the ability to compete with the bigger receivers here at the sessions.

While Vanderbilt will never be confused with Alabama, LSU or Southern Cal in churning out pro prospects, Hayward is proof that the Commodores are at least shedding their reputation as pushovers.

“People used to look at Vanderbilt as, ‘Oh, it’s just Vanderbilt. They’re in the SEC, but they’re at the bottom of it.’ But at the end, we’re producing athletes now, and that’s what we’re trying to prove,” Hayward says.

The change started with former Commodore coach Bobby Johnson, who ended the long-standing bowl drought in 2008. Now the movement appears to be on fast-forward with the enthusiasm Franklin is trying to bring to the Vanderbilt campus.

Casey Hayward led the Commodores in interceptions and was a second-team, All-SEC selection.

-- Associated Press

“Coach Franklin is a great guy. He’s laying a foundation too that we’re not going to be losers at this institution,” Hayward says. “I think right away he came in with a message, and everybody’s eyes got big, and said, ‘He’s right.’

“We’ve got the talent to win here in the SEC. We had a lot of opportunities to win this year. We came up short some, but next year, I think they can bounce back and do well.”

Hayward says he is part of building something that began a few years ago with quarterback Jay Cutler being a first-round pick in the 2006 draft – an actual road map from Vanderbilt to the NFL. Prior to Cutler, it was rare to see a Vanderbilt player in an NFL huddle as the program would often go years between draft picks.

But what began as a trickle with Cutler has become a steady stream of players showing the culture is slowly but surely changing within the once-hapless Commodore football program.

“It’s definitely improved with all of those guys – Cutler, D.J. Moore, Chris Williams, Myron (Lewis). They definitely laid the foundation and I’m trying to do the same thing,” Hayward says.

Hayward wants to use the Senior Bowl to achieve his dream of playing in the NFL and says he is drawing on his experience of playing for the Commodores the past three seasons to help him do just that.

“I think I’ve proven a lot in the last three years. I just want to prove to everybody that I can come in and compete one-on-one against the offensive guys,” he said. “I’m used to it, going against guys one-on-one every day and making plays. Hopefully, I’ll make more plays throughout the week.”

Proving himself to be an NFL-caliber player is Hayward’s main goal, of course, but as he also wants to help build Vanderbilt’s growing reputation for produsing NFL-caliber talent.

“We’re trying to make it a routine,” Hayward says.

Terry McCormick covers the Titans for TitanInsider.com and is the AFC blogger for National Football Post.