Vanderbilt Football heads to the Texas Bowl, the sad passing of Turner Cockrell, basketball

Our Vanderbilt Commodores football team, after 2 clutch season ending victories over Ole Miss (36-29 OT) and Tennessee (38-13) now move on to play Baylor in the Academy Sports & Outdoors Texas Bowl on Thursday, December 29th at 8 PM CT. The game will be broadcast by ESPN.

Huge stuff for the team after coming so close in 4 other games this season against Notre Dame (17-22) @South Bend, vs. Florida (27-37 after leading 21-3 in the third quarter and having running back Ke'Shawn Vaughn out for the game which was costly), @Kenucky (7-14) and @ Mizzou (28-33).

So huge reward for the hard work by the whole team. The seniors get to go out playing and hopefully winning a bowl game and impressing the NFL scouts along with guys like JoeJuan Williams, Ke'Shawn Vaughn, and Jared Pinkney, who are juniors and could go out for the NFL draft though hopefully not. The underclassmen get 15 more practices, and recruiting gets a huge boost for 2019 AND 2020. When we made our first bowl since 1982 in 2008, Bobby Johnson said it would help recruiting for 2009, and really help recruiting for 2010. In that 2010 class we signed Andre Hal, Wesley Johnson, JMatt and Kenny Ladler, among others, who are all playing in the National Football League right now and led us to three straight bowls under James Franklin from 2011-13.

This freshmen class we have this season is top of the line and that's a direct result of our 2016 Independence Bowl appearance. Stud freshmen receivers C.J. Bolar and the awesome Amir Abdur-Rahman along with 4 star linebacker Alston Orji, high 3 star safety Maxwell Worship, who had a huge blocked punt against Ole Miss, and 4 star wide receiver Cam Johnson, who hurt his knee earlier this season and was lost for the season, but Cam will be back and has unlimited potential. It was the 42nd ranked class in the country, but it’s an underrated, talented class, and we can certainly build on this bowl game for 2019 and 2020 and beyond. We have excellent talent on this year’s team and a lot of talent coming back, so there’s a very bright future ahead on West End.

Baylor is quality. Their coach, Matt Rhule, was the Temple coach in 2014 who came into Nashville and took it to us in the season opener. So he knows what he’s doing. Baylor finished the season at 6-6 and 4-5 in the Big 12 with a season ending victory over Texas Tech, 35-24, at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, TX. They also took No.15 Texas to the wire, losing, 23-17 with a throw to the end zone on the last play of the game at Austin. Texas is playing Georgia in the All State Sugar Bowl on January 1, 2019 at 7:45 PM CT, so they’re an outstanding team, which says a lot about Baylor.

Rhule’s teams play explosive offense and solid defense. So we have our work cut out for us. But I expect our team to be prepared and motivated to close out the season in a big way. Can’t wait.

Zach Cunningham had a pick six today for the Houston Texans and Andre Hal also had an interception. Great to see both guys back. Zach had a bad knee and Andre a shoulder and were out for a couple of weeks. It’s pretty incredible that Andre is playing this season after winning his battle with Hodgkins Lymphoma. Great stuff from both guys. I’m watching the Patriots and the Vikings play right now, and Adam Butler of the Patriots already has a sack and Stephen Weatherly of the Vikings is playing well also. Pat Shurmur, Kyle’s dad, led his New York Giants to a 30-27 overtime victory over the 8-4 Chicago Bears. The Giants are 4-8, but have won 3 of their last 4 and playing very well. They haven’t thrown in the towel and that’s a testament to Pat’s coaching. More coming up this week on how our other guys did today.

Turner Cockrell (1997-2018)

Some very tough and sad news in football as Vanderbilt 3rd year tight end Turner Cockrell lost his battle with cancer on Thursday. Turner was 21. He was a delightful young man and would have been a big part of our football team’s fortunes. He was a very good player and a prince of a person and teammate.

Turner, from Acworth, Georgia, was a 2 year starter at Allatoona High School where he helped lead his team to a 14-1 record and a Class 5 A state championship in his senior season in 2015. Turner was a first team all state honoree during that senior campaign in helping his school win its first state championship in program history. Turner contracted melanoma in 2017 and battled like a champion, but sadly the cancer spread to his lungs and he was called home on Thursday. Many prayers go out to the Cockrell family as they grieve the loss of their beloved son, both by his family and the Vanderbilt football program. He’s in a great place but we’ll miss him. Rest in peace Turner. You’ll always be a Commodore.

Basketball fell to N.C, State in Miami yesterday, 80-65. We’re still getting used to dealing with the blow of losing star freshman point guard Darius Garland for the season after a meniscus tear has cut his season short. Darius is still a high draft pick in the NBA in 2019, so it may be tough to get him back, so it’s a tough loss. He’s also an awesome kid and team leader.
We’ll miss him, but we have to adjust and have good talent. I also trust Bryce to have us playing good basketball very soon. We have been playing good basketball. We’re 5-2 and we play Middle Tennessee this Wednesday at 6:30 PM CT at Memorial on the SEC Network. Know we can turn it around. N.C. State is a high quality team, so hopefully we’ll grow from that game. With star big man Simi Shittu, sharpshooter Aaron Nesmith, point guard Saben Lee and our other talented guys, we should be able to right the ship. We need a good game Wednesday against MTSU, which is 3-5 and just lost to a good Lipscomb team, 84-74. Lipscomb is 6-1, including a 73-64 victory over then No.18 TCU at Fort Worth., so they’re for real. MTSU will be super psyched to play us, so we’ll need to play well. Lipscomb is not on our schedule in the regular season.

So awesome stuff from our football program and guys in the NFL. Basketball is talented and well coached. Just need to snap back on Wednesday. Will be back in touch in the next couple of days.

Please keep Turner’s family and the team in your prayers. He was an awesome guy and had many friends. We will miss him, but know he’s happy now and has relief from the difficult disease he battled. Have a great evening.