Franklin busy off-field building Vandy traditions

Before James Franklin arrived, Vanderbilt didn’t have much

football tradition when compared to the rest of the Southeastern

Conference.

Alabama fans cheer ”Roll Tide,” while the Arkansas faithful

call the hogs. Tennessee’s ”Rocky Top” is the song everyone not

wearing orange loves to hate. There’s the Gator chomp at Florida,

tailgating in the Grove at Mississippi, cow bells clanking at

Mississippi State and a rooster crowing at South Carolina.

Even though Franklin has spent the past few months prepping for

Thursday night’s season opener against the ninth-ranked South

Carolina Gamecocks, he’s been almost as busy rallying both players

and fans to stir enthusiasm over the Southeastern Conference’s

smallest and only private school.

Each player must know, and sing, the fight song. The Commodores

join the student section singing the alma mater, and flashing the

thumb and first two fingers for ”V-U” has become their own high

five. It’s been a big change for the Commodores.

”We didn’t really know the song,” senior defensive tackle Rob

Lohr said.

”A lot of people didn’t realize what it was all about. Knowing

the song now and being able to like sing it after a game in the

locker room with the team and also singing the alma mater with the

fans after the game … that’s a big thing for us because it’s a

big deal not only because we feel we can get involved with the fan

base but also with the student body, which they are our peers. They

are people we go to class with.”

Franklin made his presence known first on the field where he

guided Vanderbilt to a 6-7 record in 2011 and only the program’s

fifth bowl berth ever. That earned him a pay raise in a contract

extension, and he pushed for improvements to the stadium where new

video boards and a hillside berm in one end zone will be on display

Thursday night.

Ground should be broken for an indoor practice facility later

this year, and all the changes are starting to be noticed.

”They are trying to play football at Vanderbilt, they really

are,” South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said. ”They have spent

the money. When we decided we wanted to play here at South

Carolina, we started spending the money, building all kinds of new

facilities, and that’s what they are doing.”

Franklin mimicked Tennessee’s ”Vol Walk” to the stadium before

games by having his Commodores get off buses and walk through the

Vanderbilt tailgate area on their way to the locker room. Franklin

placed an anchor Commodores carry across the street over to the

stadium for games now has a resting place of honor inside the main

locker room.

He added ”Vanderbilt” back to the front of the jersey for this

season, something that had been missing since 1994.

Look at any of Franklin’s tweets, the phrase (hash)AnchorDown

usually is at the end. The phrase even is sewn into the inside of

each jersey near the neck and is on the new artificial field inside

the stadium. And Vandy fans also shared photos of themselves

throwing up the ”V-U” sign trying to help promote that.

Franklin says they have done a lot but shares the credit with

his coaches, players, administration, alumni and fans.

”It’s very, very important to lay a foundation for what you

want the future to be and what you want it to look like. Branding I

think is very, very important. Our colors, the star V. We have

strong colors. We have a strong emblem, so I think all those things

are important. And I think building a sense of pride of who we are

and what we represent is very, very important, and it’s something

that brings us all together,” Franklin said.

”Whether you’re in California or New York or London and you see

somebody wearing the star V, you have something in common with

them. I think all those things are very important in building a

sense of pride of who we are and what we represent is the most

important thing.”

Strong safety Javon Marshall says he didn’t know the words to

the fight song ”Dynamite” before Franklin arrived. Freshmen now

must learn the words and be able to sing it.

”Really coach Franklin did a great job of coming in here and

re-establishing traditions,” Marshall said. ”Probably my favorite

one is the fight song. I like the fight song a lot. Beforehand we

didn’t really know it, and he came in and he installed pride in us

to sing the fight song. We sing it with pride. We have a great

time. If you see some of the videos, we have a great time singing

it.”

Now Franklin’s next challenge is making sure that winning

seasons become another Vanderbilt tradition.

AP Sports Writer Pete Iacobelli in Columbia, S.C., contributed

to this report.

Follow Teresa M. Walker at www.twitter.com/teresamwalker