When Vanderbilt tight end Sam Dobbs posted his latest video to YouTube, he hoped for a few thousand views on what was a well-edited and produced final product.
“I knew it was a pretty good edit, I felt like it was a pretty good video, and everyone loved it on the team and throughout the other sports teams,” Dobbs said. “So I knew it was gonna get some exposure, but I had no idea it was gonna blow up.”
The video, of course, is the “VF” sorority recruitment video that has gone viral over the past week, raking in nearly 500,000 views on YouTube alone. Picked up by outlets like Sports Illustrated and Barstool, it drew rave reviews across a broad spectrum of viewers.
While the inspiration for the video is obvious, how it actually came together is anything but. The team had been brainstorming ideas for a video for the annual Black & Gold Banquet, a sort of social event for Vanderbilt student-athletes. Offensive lineman Ean Pfeifer came up with the idea, and Dobbs helped put it in motion on an April Sunday afternoon. Everything came together over a single weekend, and the filming process took only two hours despite the lack of an involved, detailed plan.
Dobbs’ only request? Go big, or go home.
“It’s one of those things where you gotta go all-in, or you can’t go in at all,” Dobbs, who’s produced his own videos for years, said. “I said in the big group chat of the football team, ‘If you guys want to do this, let’s do it. But we need guys going 100 percent.’”
Although all the filming took place in one day, Dobbs spent hours sifting through sorority recruitment videos online in preparation. All the details had to be just right, from the music selection all the way down to the players’ attire. Dobbs’ use of a drone to capture some of the footage added to the production value, which he saw as one reason for the video’s success.
“I tell you what, I looked at so many sorority recruitment videos online,” Dobbs said. “I honestly had to clear my search history after that. Looking at all those videos, I got all these shot ideas. … I basically knew I was gonna fly the drone over the stadium and over the practice field just to get that overall intro look.”
Perhaps one of the most iconic shots from the video comes when players ride in the back of a white pickup truck down Jess Neely Drive between the McGugin Center and Vanderbilt Stadium. The idea represented something Dobbs had wanted to try for a while, and Commodore kicker Tommy Openshaw’s contributions helped make the scene happen.
“I’ve always wanted to experiment with following a vehicle down a road, and I just think that looks really cool,” Dobbs said. “Tommy Openshaw let us use his truck, and it worked perfectly. It’s white, just like the t-shirts, so it was matching.”
Dobbs told teammates to meet him on the practice fields if they wished to take part in the video, and the turnout was better than he expected. What he wasn’t surprised by, however, was their ability to improvise and to play their roles while keeping relatively straight faces.
“I was not surprised, because a lot of the guys you see, they’re always goofing off and having a good time,” Dobbs said. “So it kind of comes natural to them to just be themselves, and that’s basically what I told them to be. … I didn’t give them lines to say or anything.”
While Dobbs carried much of the load in terms of filming and production, his teammates also chipped in with their own ideas for different scenes. Offensive lineman Jared Southers suggested including copious amounts of sarcasm that resulted in Pfeifer’s description of how the locker room’s anchor represents how the team is “anchored together.” Another scene featured quarterback Shawn Stankavage berating teammates for stealing his pizza rolls.
Dobbs says he “took whatever looked the best” out of the various scenes and didn’t micromanage. Some cuts didn’t make the final video, and the team ran out of time to shoot a pool scene that had drawn enthusiasm among the players.
One particular teammate, however, wasn’t quite sure about participating until filming was underway. Starting quarterback Kyle Shurmur was hesitant to make his acting debut, but he ultimately warmed up to the idea and featured in what Dobbs considers his finest video to date.
“He at first came onto the field and was like, ‘Man, this is not going on YouTube,’ and I was like, ‘OK, you can leave if you don’t want it on YouTube,’” Dobbs said.
One of the things Dobbs likes most about the video and its popularity, however, is how it shows that Vanderbilt student-athletes don’t just eat, sleep and breathe sports. Players may not get chances to show their personalities through football, making this video a fun opportunity for them. At a school that makes a point of producing well-rounded student-athletes, the video highlights the players’ unique non-football interests.
“We’re not just football players, we’re also human beings that are living the college life and having fun,” Dobbs said. “We’re not football machines. … Even though we’re bogged down with football and academics, there’s always room for having fun every now and then.”