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