Vanderbilt coach James Franklin has tried to keep his football team busy and limit the distraction of the ongoing rape case.
Four former Commodores are charged with raping an unconscious woman in a campus dormitory, and Franklin’s second-best receiver, suspended from the team, has been indicted as an accessory after the fact for advising someone how to cover it all up.
”I am as direct and honest with my guys as possible . . .,” Franklin said Wednesday. ”It’s an ongoing case. So it’s really, for my team, there’s really nothing new that’s happening for them. They’ve dealt with this, and we’re trying to heal and move forward.”
Franklin used fall camp to keep the Commodores busy, but camp ended Tuesday. Still, the players didn’t have time to dwell on the five men being arraigned Wednesday — classes started Wednesday at Vanderbilt.
This easily is the biggest challenge Franklin has faced since being hired in December 2010. He’s already Vanderbilt’s winningest coach in nearly a century in his first two seasons, and the Commodores are coming off a 9-4 season that is their best since 1915.
He has 17 starters back from that team along with 17 seniors on the two-deep roster too.
The mantra he has preached to his Commodores is 6 seconds. Focus only about the next 6 seconds, then move on to help them concentrate energy only on what they can do at any given moment.
But this case has been hanging over his Vanderbilt team since June 29 when university officials announced that four players had been dismissed from the team and barred from coming onto the campus.
Vanderbilt announced the names of those four former players the week of the Southeastern Conference media days in July.
Cory Batey, 19 of Nashville, Tenn.; Brandon Banks, 19, of Brandywine, Md.; Jaborian ”Tip” McKenzie, 19, of Woodville, Miss.; and Brandon Vandenburg, 20, of Indio, Calif., were indicted on charges including five counts of rape each Aug. 9 during fall camp.
Franklin said after practice that night that the case ”breaks my heart.”
Then the ongoing investigation hit the team again when a grand jury indicted receiver Chris Boyd on Aug. 16 for allegedly advising one of the defendants how to cover up the incident. Attorney Roger May defended Boyd on Wednesday as an Eagle Scout with an impeccable reputation who has met repeatedly with investigators.
Hours after the arraignments, Franklin held a news conference to talk about the end of camp, his first depth chart of the fall and the Commodores’ 2014 schedule released earlier Wednesday.
Franklin refused to discuss whether the allegations of the incident June 23 shocked him as a coach. Asked about how he keeps his Commodores focused on football amidst all the news, Franklin said eliminating distractions is one of a college coach’s biggest jobs.
”In a lot of ways, I’m glad school’s getting back started so now they’re in a situation where it’s school and football,” Franklin said. ”And when you go to a school like Vanderbilt, that takes up 90 percent of your day.”
Vanderbilt helps kick off the college football season Aug. 29 hosting Mississippi in a nationally televised game. Franklin said coaches always are trying to make sure their team peaks at the right time both physically, mentally and emotionally.
The four former players never played a snap for Vanderbilt, though Vandenburg had been expected to be an immediate contributor as one of the top tight ends coming out of junior college.
Not having Boyd could be a key loss, allowing opponents to double-team receiver Jordan Matthews who chose to return for his senior season instead of going to the NFL.
”Whenever you lose a player, somebody has to step up,” Franklin said. ”That’s really our mentality that somebody has to step up right now right now for our program. . . . Everybody’s going to have a bigger role.”
Franklin said senior Jonathan Krause, listed as the starter opposite Matthews, will be counted on to help ease that pressure and has had a great camp.
”We have a lot of confidence in Jonathan Krause,” Franklin said.