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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.

Press Conference Notes: Lea adds first SEC win to the resume, looking to make it two against Florida

Clark Lea addressed the media on Tuesday afternoon ahead of his team’s matchup against Florida this Saturday.
Barrie Barto
Vanderbilt players on the sideline, as photographed on Oct. 8, 2022. (Hustler Multimedia/Barrie Barto)

Clark Lea addressed the media following his first SEC win as coach, beating then-No. 24 Kentucky in a 24-21 thriller. Mike Wright led a masterful game-winning drive finishing with an eight-yard touchdown to Will Sheppard. This is the biggest win in the Clark Lea era thus far, but Lea appeared to be far more focused on this weekend’s home matchup against Florida. 

Despite the excitement of winning his first SEC game, Lea opened the press conference by giving his support to the University of Virginia football program after this weekend’s tragedy, losing the lives of Lavel Davis Jr., Devin Chandler and D’Sean Perry. Lea discussed the many connections Vanderbilt and Virginia’s program have, including first-year defensive coordinator Nick Howell coming from the same position at Virginia last season. Lea also mentioned that this weekend’s game is Vanderbilt’s Turner’s Heroes Game, in honor of late Vanderbilt football player Turner Cockrell. 

“I’ve got a friendship with Bronco Mendenhall, the former coach, Nick Howell and Kirk Garner, both on our staff, Nick coached there, Kurt played there. Adam Smotherman, their strength coach, is a former Vanderbilt athlete [who] played just after I did, and Dez Kitchens who is on staff there, was a part of Bobby Johnson’s staff here,” Lea stated. “Our hearts are heavy, we stand behind them, we grieve with them and our thoughts and prayers are with them after they recover from this unthinkable tragedy.

“Next I would like to highlight that this weekend is our Turner’s Heroes Game, in honor of Turner Cockrell’s legacy, a former Vanderbilt football player who we lost in his battle with cancer in 2018. We are excited to welcome back Turner’s family; that’s his dad, Randy, his mom Noelle Cockrell, sister Katherine, brother Parker, also Turner’s teammate Cody Markel will be back with us. Cody, in his dorm room at Vanderbilt, started the nonprofit that bears Turner’s name and this is a privilege for us to represent and honor someone we care a lot about here,” Lea said.

After the introduction, Lea pivoted and gave a statement regarding this past weekend’s performance. Lea was visibly exhilarated in his post-game interview on the field, but he is not letting these emotions linger and is already focused on the Florida game. Though obviously happy with the performance, Lea also recognized that his Commodores were not playing their best football throughout the game. 

“It’s nice to be up here after being with the team on Saturday and experiencing a conference win with them, that was a special moment for us; one that we have to put in our rearview mirror now and move forward, but one that we are grateful for,” Lea said. “It’s a performance we would like to build upon. It wasn’t a perfect four quarters, it wasn’t four quarters of our highest level but they were strong enough to play throughout to give us the opportunity to win the game.”

Mike Wright started the game and delivered in the clutch against Kentucky, amassing over 300 total yards and two scores. He started in place of the injured true freshman quarterback AJ Swann, who remains questionable entering the week. Lea remained ambiguous when asked about Swann’s playing time this week, given that he is presumably available for the contest. 

“As of right now, [AJ Swann’s] questionable. I think we need to see whether or not he’s able to get back in time to prepare and to be able to play at a level that helps us win. All of that is up in the air right now but we are hopeful for his health and hopeful he is able to make a return for us this weekend. As we go, if we are able to get him back healthy, we will allow him to play so long that he is cleared.” 

When asked who would start given Swann’s return, Lea said that the person that gives Vanderbilt the best chance to win will start.

“The reason I phrase it that way is because, obviously, AJ is our starting quarterback, but yet there’s a certain level of preparation, a certain level of investment that we expect each week to be prepared to play, particularly at this level, particularly in the game we’re going to have on Saturday,” Lea said. “Mike Wright is a proven winner for us, and he’s also been the starter here so we have complete confidence in Mike.”

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About the Contributors
Brett Needelman
Brett Needelman, Former Staff Writer
Brett Needelman ('23) is studying human and organizational development, economics and business in Peabody College. Brett is from a suburb of Chicago and is an avid believer that the Bulls will make the playoffs next season. You can reach him at [email protected].
Barrie Barto
Barrie Barto, Editor-in-Chief
Barrie Barto ('25) is majoring in medicine, health & society with neuroscience and communication of science & technology minors in the College of Arts and Science. She previously served as Photography Director. When she's not strolling around campus with her camera, you can find Barrie cheering on the St. Louis Blues or tracking down the best gluten-free food in Nashville. She can be reached at [email protected].
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