Kalija Lipscomb making unprecedented noise early


Ziyi Liu

Kalija Lipscomb as Vanderbilt defeated the MTSU Blue Raiders 47-24 at Vanderbilt Stadium September 10, 2016.

Max Schneider, Associate Sports Editor

It’s rare that true freshmen are going to make an immediate impact, and fans and coaches alike know that their time will come down the road. For the most part, collegiate teams are built upon veteran leadership and experience.  

Vanderbilt football is no exception, as game-in and game-out the upperclassmen are the ones providing the spark, with names like Zach Cunningham and Ralph Webb being thrown around in NFL draft talks. The anomaly is wide receiver Kalija Lipscomb, who leads the team in receptions, yards and touchdowns over the first six games and looks like quarterback Kyle Shurmur’s favorite target early on.

For most Commodore fans, the poster boy for receiving prowess is Jordan Matthews, who now plays for the Philadelphia Eagles. Matthews is the SEC’s all-time leader in receptions and yards, but even he didn’t have the early success that Lipscomb has had. Through five games, Lipscomb’s 17 receptions for 200 yards have already surpassed Matthews’ freshman numbers, and his two touchdowns are on pace to tie Matthews’ debut-season total.  

Lipscomb’s first score came back in Week 2 against Middle Tennessee State on a beautiful route and a broken tackle for a 16-yard score. He followed it up the next week at Georgia Tech with six grabs for 59 yards and an opening-drive touchdown, Vanderbilt’s only score of the game. Most first-year players would go crazy in celebrating their first collegiate touchdowns, but not Lipscomb. He simply jogged off, as if he’d done it a million times before.

“Before the season started I thought about doing a bunch of celebrations. I wanted to do the Antonio Brown dance after my first touchdown, but when I scored, they all went right out the window,” Lipscomb said. “My teammates were rushing to the end zone, hitting me on the head before I knew it.”

The appreciation for Lipscomb is apparent amongst his teammates, both on and off the field.  They describe him as a guy who really cares about the team, but at the same time is incredibly hard-working, independent and even quiet.

“A lot of people say that I’m quiet,” Lipscomb says. “I guess I just like to keep my head down and work, especially during the season.”  

Lipscomb’s a hard worker who lets his play speak for itself, and it has certainly done so thus far. It clearly caught the eyes of the coaches in training camp, as Lipscomb made a surprise start in the season opener against South Carolina. The coaches have all been quick to praise the effort that the true freshman has brought to the table.

“I could tell that Coach Mason was impressed with what he saw early on, and I’m just blessed that he and Kyle [Shurmur] have the confidence to get me the ball,” Lipscomb said.

Of course, this early success is nothing new for Lipscomb. As just a sophomore at Jesuit High School in New Orleans, a season in which he finished all-state, he led his team to a state championship. It was the school’s first title since 1960. He caught four passes for 95 yards and two scores in that game and later on finished off his senior season with more than 1,000 yards and 11 touchdowns.  

“I could tell that Coach Mason was impressed with what he saw early on, and I’m just blessed that he and Kyle [Shurmur] have the confidence to get me the ball.”

Lipscomb attributes much of his success to his father, Karanja. Karanja never played football himself but has always been his son’s number one fan, and has since created a Vanderbilt fan base of his own back home.

Karanja owns the Avenue Barber Shop in New Orleans, where Kalija spent plenty of days watching TV and chatting with locals growing up. These days, the shop has become a popular destination for Vanderbilt football games come Saturdays. The younger Lipscomb says his father’s barber shop functioned as a second home for him.

“I hated to get my hair cut, but on some days I would spend four or five hours there, just talking to people,” Lipscomb said. “Everyone’s really close, and it was always a good time.”

Lipscomb grew up spending so much time with his father and his father’s colleagues that he considers them role models, and that could be a contributing factor in the maturity he has shown in the locker room.     

But it wasn’t always Kalija on that TV.  

“When I grew up we didn’t watch as much football. It was mostly boxing. I loved to watch [Floyd] Mayweather fight. We would all gather and watch the fights. It means a lot to me now that people are coming just to watch me play.”