The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
Since 1888
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.

Hawaii Practice Notes Day 3: Commodores visit Pearl Harbor, continue game prep

Defender Anfernee Orji wants to block the outside noise and Australian punter Matthew Hayball sees his family for the first time in nearly a year and a half.
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Vanderbilt Athletics
The Commodores gathered before practice at a local high school on Aug. 24, 2022. (Photo courtesy of Vanderbilt Athletics)

Editor’s note: Vanderbilt Athletics sponsored a trip to Hawaii for Deputy Sports Editor Andrew Wilf, granting him on-site access to the team’s day-to-day activities for journalistic purposes.

On Aug. 23, the Vanderbilt defense visited the Pearl Harbor Memorial, while the offense and special teams group traveled to the Pearl Harbor Memorial on Aug. 24. The memorial features a boat ride to the U.S.S. Arizona memorial site, which commemorates the 1,177 of the 2,341 service members that perished on Dec. 7, 1941.

“I’m not a big history person but learning history is a great thing,” Anfernee Orji told The Hustler. “Being able to learn the history of Pearl Harbor, talk to some of the guys [his teammates], watch the actual footage of Pearl Harbor [attack] just makes you appreciate the country even more.” 

Orji—a senior linebacker—is the backbone of Vanderbilt’s defense. In 2021, the Texas native led Vanderbilt with 93 tackles and 13 tackles for loss. Orji started all 12 games for the Commodores and ranked 12th in total tackles in the SEC. Orji’s impressive junior campaign resulted in national recognition for the captain. Earlier this summer, Orji was placed on the Bednarik Award Watch List and the Butkus Award Watch List. On Aug. 23, Orji was named to the coaches’ preseason All-SEC list. 

“It’s cool, it’s a great honor [being named to the preseason ALL-SEC list], but you have to earn it every day,” Orji said. “Coach says you just have to go every day and play ball.”

Vanderbilt’s third day of practice was held at a local high school from 9:35-11:05 a.m. HST. The Commodores practiced in a warm climate of just under 85 degrees with a 66% humidity level. Wednesday was Vanderbilt’s second day of full pads, and the Commodores are continuing to block the noise of being eight-point favorites on Saturday.

“We don’t look at any of that,” Orji said when asked about what it means to be favored by over a touchdown this weekend. “We just came here to play football [and] play our hardest level [of football]. If we do that, we’ll like the results.”

Punter Matthew Haybell is also excited to compete on Saturday. Hayball—a fifth-year senior—comes to Vanderbilt from Florida Athletic. At FAU, the Australian was given an honorable mention nod on the All-Conference USA list in 2021. Before this year, he was named to the preseason watch list for the Ray Guy Award which honors the best punter in NCAAF. Hayball said he is thrilled to make an immediate impact on Vanderbilt’s special teams.

“It is an honor [being named to the Ray Guy preseason watch list], but it’s a preseason award,” Hayball said. “We’re hoping to perform throughout the season and we’ll go from there.”

Hayball’s Vanderbilt debut will be extra special, thanks to members of his family traveling from West Adelaide, Australia, to watch Saturday’s clash with Hawaii. After Tuesday’s practice, the punter’s family introduced themselves to the team to emphasize their support for the Commodores.

“It means a lot,” Hayball said when asked about the significance of members of his family coming to Honolulu. “I haven’t seen them for about a year and a half being so far away. So, it’s not always easy but it’s going to be special having them for the first couple of games in the crowd.”

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About the Contributor
Andrew Wilf
Andrew Wilf, Former Sports Editor
Andrew Wilf (’24) is Sports Editor for The Vanderbilt Hustler. He is from Livingston, N.J., and is majoring in history and minoring in business. He joined the sports staff his freshman year, previously serving as a Staff Writer, Assistant Sports Editor and Deputy Sports Editor. Beyond writing for The Hustler, he is also the host of Anchor Analysis, Commodore Clash and Live From West End. In his free time, Andrew enjoys watching the NFL and playing golf. He can be reached at [email protected].
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