NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Over nine months after leading Vanderbilt to just its second bowl victory in the program's history, the Commodores are looking to Larry Smith to lead the team even bigger and better things in 2009. Vanderbilt head coach Bobby Johnson announced on Monday that the sophomore will start at quarterback for the Commodores when the team opens the season against Western Carolina on Saturday inside Vanderbilt Stadium.
Smith, who enjoyed a standout prep career at Alabama powerhouse Prattville High, earned the job after a offseason competition between senior Mackenzi Adams and junior Jared Funk.
"We think Larry's got a lot of tools to run our offense and be able to throw the ball down the field. He's got a very strong arm. We're going to try to throw the ball downfield a little more than we have the last couple of years. Larry also has a presence in the pocket and we feel he sees the field very well and knows what we're trying to do in the offense," Johnson said on Monday.
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"He's also used to winning a bunch of games, he won a bunch of games in high school. He just did a good job for us last year at the end of the Wake Forest game and of course, the bowl game. It gave us a look at really his potential and we want to develop that potential. The best way to develop that is to get him in the game."
Seen as a big addition to the roster when he signed with the program in 2007, Smith redshirted during his true freshman year and did not play until the Commodores two final games of the 2008 season. With injuries to both starter Chris Nickson and Mackenzi Adams, Smith was inserted into the lineup at Wake Forest and performed admirably during his first collegiate snaps, completing 9-of-17 passes for 46 yards and a touchdown against one of the ACC's top defenses.
With both Nickson and Adams still banged up, Smith was tabbed as the starter for the program's first bowl game since 1982 against Boston College in the Music City Bowl. The 6-foot-2, 220-pound passer excited Commodore fans by completing 10-of-17 passes for 121 yards against one of the nation's top defenses and three major NFL prospects. Smith also ran for 25 yards and surrendered just one sack and more importantly, no turnovers in the game.
"It was big for Larry's career," Johnson said of Smith's performance in the bowl game. "It gave him confidence, it gave his teammates confidence and his coaches confidence. He just really showed what he could do, and stepped up in the last two games. I thought that was pretty remarkable. Not that we were that surprised, but we were happy."
"Larry's developed a lot since he's been here and I think he's got all of the tools to be a great quarterback," senior linebacker Patrick Benoist added. "He's very calm and cool in the pocket I think and he takes control of his huddle so I'm proud of Larry and we're all going to be behind him."
A former Mr. Football Award winner in Alabama, Smith was a three-year starter at Prattville and led his team to an incredible 39-2 record as the Lions starter. Throwing for over 6,011 yards and 54 touchdowns against nine interceptions during his career, Smith led the Lions to an elusive state championship during his senior year, defeating celebrated Hoover High and finishing the year undefeated.
"You've got to be a cool customer back there," Johnson noted about Smith. "You've got to be calm and make great decisions and when you walk out there on that field to make that call, you've got 10 other pair of eyes looking at you and the coaches expect you to do the right thing and make good decisions. Quarterback is making good decisions and being able to take advantage of things you see and we feel like Larry can do that for us."
Johnson added that though Smith is his starter, the team has not forgotten about dedicated senior Mackenzi Adams or fourth-year passer Jared Funk.
Adams split time with Smith during much of the spring and preseason and will enter the year as not only one of the Southeastern Conference's most experienced backup quarterbacks but also one of the league's most experienced signal callers overall. Only Florida's Tim Tebow or Ole Miss' Jevan Snead have attempted more passes in their career than the three-year letterwinner and Adams does have career totals of 2,149 passing yards and 14 touchdowns as well as 511 rushing yards and three scores.
"We've been extremely pleased with Mackenzi Adams and the way he's worked too," Johnson said. "We're equally confident that he can go in the game if needed and execute our offense.
"He's done a lot of good things for this program and he continues to do it. He's a competitor and prepares himself. He doesn't gripe about his role and just goes in when we call on him and plays like a starter and that's a great luxury to have.
"Jared Funk's also got a very good arm and we're probably going to run the quarterback less this year than we ever have, so Jared Funk would be a very viable candidate to go in if needed.
"We feel great about the quarterback position now and for the future. We couldn't be more pleased by the way they've gone about it and competed and made each other that much better."
Vanderbilt's game against Western Carolina will kick off at 6:30 p.m. CST time on Saturday. The game will be available on Comcast Sports South throughout most southern markets and will also be available on ESPN360.com.