QB Carta-Samuels ready for Vandy closeup

BY foxsports • August 1, 2013

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Last season, Vanderbilt relied heavily on an offense that averaged 30 points per game, the program's highest tally in nearly a century.

It also played a large part in the team's nine wins, most for the Commodores since 1915, including a Music City Bowl victory over North Carolina State. And if Vanderbilt is to match or even surpass the breakthrough that 2012 eventually became, the offense must go a long way in setting that tone once again.

Offensive line? Check that, as four starters return.

Receivers? All-SEC Jordan Matthews, considered one of the best in the nation, leads a talented trio.

Tight end? The Commodores go three-deep.

Running back? The three-headed tandem of Wesley Tate, Brian Kimbrow and Jerron Seymour will go a long way in replacing Zac Stacy, the program’s all-time leading rusher.

But what about quarterback? Last season, Jordan Rodgers, the younger brother of Packers superstar Aaron Rodgers, led the team on and off the field.

Waiting in the wings is fifth-year senior Austyn Carta-Samuels, who started as a freshman and sophomore at Wyoming before transferring to Vanderbilt in 2011.

"I don’t think, I know," Carta-Samuels said Thursday during Vanderbilt's media day about whether he's ready to lead the Commodores offense, and the team, in general.

"I have been working for this for 22 years of my life," he added, "I have an unbelievable coaching staff around me and great players to put me in the position to be successful."

Third-year coach James Franklin, who has guided Vanderbilt to unprecedented consecutive bowl berths, feels Carta-Samuels has all the tools to take over at quarterback and have the offense not miss a beat.

"We have high expectations (for Carta-Samuels)," said Franklin, whose team was scheduled to start practice Thursday and open the season against SEC foe Ole Miss on Aug. 28, in a nationally televised game at Vanderbilt Stadium.

"I do see him in the office watching film all the time," Franklin added. "Talking to the players and strength coaches just casually in the hallways, they are excited. He’s got a strong arm. It’s not like this is the first time he has every played before."

Unlike most college quarterbacks assuming the reins as a starter, Carta-Samuels has previous body of work. In 2009, he became the first true freshman to start for Wyoming since 1974 and was named Mountain West Conference Freshman of the Year. The following year, he completed 61 percent of his passes for 1,702 yards and nine touchdowns.

But the yearning to attend Vanderbilt, where grandfather Tom Samuels had played baseball, was always in the back of his mind. After sitting out 2011 under NCAA transfer rules, Carta-Samuels lost the starting nod last season to Rodgers, although he did start and lead the Commodores to a win over Presbyterian after the team opened 0-2 last season.

"I have family who is invested here," said Carta-Samuels, whose younger brother, K.J. Carta-Samuels, a standout quarterback at San Jose (Calif.) Bellarmine Prep, has committed to sign with the Commodores next season.

"Vanderbilt has always been my dream," he added. "To do this with Coach Franklin and with the teammates that I have, it’s a dream come true for me. It's an unbelievable story. I'm just working to make it the biggest story in the country. I would love to go 13-0 and win a national championship."

At 6-foot-1 and 215 pounds, Carta-Samuels has the size and speed to become a dual threat, although the Vanderbilt offense, unlike last year, won’t call for the quarterback to tuck the ball and run nearly as much. Instead, Carta-Samuels will be used to augment a variety of weapons with his strong arm and consistent play.

"He has put a lot of time in," Commodores offensive coordinator John Donovan said of Carta-Samuels. "He’s prepared hard. He's smart. He's tough. He's got a great arm. He’s got great people around him.

"I think the experience of being in this system is probably the most important thing at the quarterback position. And now he’s going into Year 3 of being here, and that’s a big factor in executing the way we need that position to execute, since we put a lot on him."

Sure, Carta-Samuels can say he has already been a two-year college starter at quarterback. But he also knows that playing in the Mountain West Conference is a far cry from what he is about to go through while competing in a league considered by most to be the best in the country.

"I was very young and very naïve as a freshman and sophomore as to what college football was all about," said Carta-Samuels, who completed 14 of 25 passes for 208 yards and a touchdown in his one start last season. "The SEC and my teammates and my coaches have taught me a lot about college football and how big of a role we play in society in general.

"They know the ups and downs that I have been through and having to overcome all the different things I have faced in my career. Sitting after starting for two years as a true freshman and true sophomore has put me through a lot."

The fact that Carta-Samuels won’t be asked to do it all — and take advantage of a wealth of playmakers playing behind a deep, big, strong and talented offensive line — will allow him to re-acclimate to being an every-game starting quarterback once again.

"That only helps your quarterback position," Donovan said of the quality depth on offense. "So, we don’t necessarily have to hold back on what he does. The other guys around him should make him better."