Ken Seals outlook and perspective is contagious around the Vanderbilt locker room. (Hustler Multimedia/Lexie Perez)
Ken Seals’ outlook and perspective is contagious around the Vanderbilt locker room. (Hustler Multimedia/Lexie Perez)
Lexie Perez

Full circle: How perspective and humility helped Ken Seals regain the starting quarterback position

Ken Seals has had a lot of ups and downs at Vanderbilt, but he will leave West End with newfound perspective and faith.

If Vanderbilt has taught Ken Seals anything, it’s to expect the unexpected.

Seals had his dream come true early in college, starting at quarterback as a freshman for an SEC school; a feat that is rarely accomplished. The job was tarnished from him for nearly a year and a half. As his senior season comes to a close, he has regained the job that he lost. Through faith, humility and a new perspective, Seals has transcended into the ultimate role model for Vanderbilt.

“It was hard to find ways to keep enjoying football,” Seals told The Hustler when asked about not playing during the 2022 season. “I think the best thing I did for myself was just kept my head down and was the same person every day and didn’t let it affect too much of who I was. I really found out who I was during that time without football.”

Prior to coming to Vanderbilt, Seals excelled at Weatherford High School and set the school records in passing yards (5,714) and passing touchdowns (53) in the 2019 season. The three-star recruit was inspired to play at Vanderbilt due to former head coach Derek Mason.

“Ultimately, the reason I wanted to come to Vanderbilt was because of how much they [Mason and his coaching staff] wanted me to come to Vanderbilt,” Seals said.

Seals’s journey on West End has a lot of twists and turns but ends on an inspiring note. His perseverance and maturity are exceptional. Before Seals leaves West End, let’s relive his rollercoaster ride.

Chapter I: Promise

Coming into the 2020 season, Mason and the coaching staff were between four quarterbacks to start for the Commodores. Ultimately, Seales earned the job and became the third true freshman quarterback in the SEC to start a season opener since 1972. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the SEC schedule was revised, and Vanderbilt only played conference opponents. Seals and the Commodores went 0-9, but Seals’s flashes of consistency gave the quarterback inflated confidence.

Ken Seals on the sidelines against Texas A&M on Sept. 26, 2020. (Hustler Multimedia/Hunter Long) (Hunter Long)

Seals became the third Vanderbilt true freshman quarterback to throw for more than 1,000 yards in a season and had the second-most passing yards, passing attempts, completions and completion percentage amongst all true freshmen quarterbacks in FBS.

Seals said he used former Vanderbilt quarterback Kyle Shurmur as a resource every day during the 2020 season. At the time, Shurmur was a volunteer assistant coach and developed a strong bond with Seals. When Seals started to break some of Shurmur’s records, Shurmur was excited and wanted Seals to continue to break records.

Shurmur did not return to Vanderbilt as an assistant coach the following season, but Seals said he will never forget the memories the two had together during the 2020 season.

A few months later, Seals won a quarterback battle again, outlasting Mike Wright for the starting job. 

Chapter II: Rude awakening

Heading into the Commodores’ 2021 season opener against East Tennessee State, Seals was ready to show the world what he was made of. He envisioned Vanderbilt to blow past ETSU and start off his sophomore season on a strong note. That was far from the case, as Seals threw two interceptions and no touchdowns in Vanderbilt’s embarrassing 23-3 loss to ETSU.

Ken Seals against Florida
Ken Seals prepares to take a snap against Florida on Oct. 9, 2021. (Courtesy of Vanderbilt Athletics) (Vanderbilt Athletics)

“Going into my sophomore year, I kind of had a different expectation, like ‘I’m just going to throw the ball around the yard and we’re going to do whatever we want to East Tennessee State,’” Seals said. “I had a completely rude awakening after that game…It was hard whenever I had that conversation that I was getting benched. It wasn’t what I wanted to hear, and it totally was unexpected when it did happen my sophomore year.”

The rest of the season spiraled downhill quickly for Seals, breaking his finger against Florida in Week Six. Seals injured himself again a few games later. Wright’s play during Seals’ time recovering from injury led to a quarterback switch late in the season. 

Seals — who was once the face of the program — was now Wright’s backup. Wright concluded the season for the Commodores and Seals’s time as the Vanderbilt starter looked bleak.

Chapter III: Perspective and faith

Fast forward to Aug. 23, 2022. 

In the week leading up to Vanderbilt’s clash with the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors, the depth chart for the game was released. Something that came as a shock to several media outlets, including The Hustler, was that Seals was listed as the third-string quarterback. Once the commander of the offense, Seals was now going to sit behind Wright and true freshman AJ Swann. Seals would not see the field in the 2022 season. 

When Seals was bumped from QB1 to QB3 on the depth chart, he said his perspective began to change. He described that, though it was difficult for him to continue to enjoy football, he made it through the humbling experience thanks to inspiration from chaplain Lance Brown and head coach Clark Lea.

Ken Seals celebrates after Vanderbilt beat Florida on Nov. 19, 2022. (Courtesy of Vanderbilt Athletics) (Vanderbilt Athletics)

“He [Brown] really started to reach out to me, and he helped me deepen my faith,” Seals said. “The way that he [Lea] saw it is that the game of football and life is synonymous, and how you live is how you play. So much of the message that I took from those meetings, I was able to apply directly to my situation.”

It was through the hardest moments in his football life that Seals found himself. He learned that football is just a game, and he wants to be defined by more than just an athlete.

Just a few days after Vanderbilt’s last game of the season, Wright entered the transfer portal and Swann was named QB1 for the 2023 season. Many insiders believed Seals would enter the transfer portal and look to be a starter for another college. In the age where college athletes often enter the transfer portal, Seals did not follow the status quo. In what ended up being one of the toughest decisions of his life, the veteran ultimately decided to stay at West End.

“Even though I wasn’t playing and wasn’t doing everything that I wanted to do, I think, at the end of the day, I still really liked my coaches. I really believed in what Coach Lea was building here,” Seals said. “I still felt like I had more here for me at Vanderbilt. I still felt like even though I was kind of buried on the depth chart I believed my opportunity was going to come.”

Chapter IV: Maturity

When Vanderbilt had a commanding 40-10 lead over Alabama A&M on Sept. 2, Swann was taken out of the game in favor of Seals. Seals took his first game snap in 644 days and FirstBank Stadium was filled with elation. Seals scored a touchdown to Kamrean Johnson in his first drive back on the field. Although Seals may not have gotten much playing time in the game, returning to the field was an emotional moment for the veteran.

“It was a cool moment,” Seals said. “It reminded me that, although it’s felt like just me at times, it reminded me that I still have people that support me and that are cheering for me.”

Two weeks after beating Alabama A&M, Vanderbilt played UNLV. Seals had two throws for the Commodores against the Rebels due to Swann suffering an elbow contusion that sidelined him for a few plays. In the ensuing week, against Kentucky, Seals saw the field again due to Swann re-aggravating his contusion. Although Seals did not get many snaps against Kentucky, he made the most of his opportunity and went four-for-seven on pass attempts.

Vanderbilt Football celebrates as Ken Seals scrambles in for a score against the Missouri Tigers on Sept. 30, 2023. (Hustler Multimedia/Michael Tung)

In Vanderbilt’s next game, Lea gave Seals the nod.

Seals’s start felt like fate. His first Vanderbilt believer, Derek Mason, was in attendance for the game.  The man who gave Seals the opportunity to start at quarterback for the Commodores in the 2020 season was now the color commentator for SEC Network and covered Seals’s first game back as the starter in two seasons.

“What in the world?” Seals said. “First game I get to start again, and Coach Mason is calling the game. I’m like, what is happening?’”

Seals proved that the moment was not too big for him. Vanderbilt lost to Missouri by 17 points, but Seals was a bright spot, throwing for 259 yards, two touchdowns and one interception while going 20-for-31 on his pass attempts.

Seals was back where he started. Two years after losing his starting job, he had regained it. This time, though, Seals had unprecedented perspective and maturity.

“All I can ask for is an opportunity, and it’s on me to make the most of it,” Seals said after the game. 

In Vanderbilt’s next two games, Seals showed signs of consistency, throwing for a combined four touchdowns, one interception and 481 yards. Seals’ touchdown-to-interception ratio is 9-2 and the quarterback remains grateful for his opportunity.

With four games left in Vanderbilt’s season, Lea and Co. have an important decision to make. Lea can let Seals conclude his Vanderbilt career on a high note or look back to Swann once he’s fully healthy.

Whether he’s the starter moving forward or not, Seals remained focused on what he can control and hopes to continue leading by example.

“It was then his faith and the help those positive influences around him began to show the true character that every parent works to build in their children,” Seals’s father Robert said. “Ken Seals is driven by his faith in God and loves Vanderbilt and his teammates. My son is a man that I respect.”

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About the Contributors
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].
Lexie Perez
Lexie Perez, Graphics Editor
Lexie Perez (‘26) is from Northern Virginia and is majoring in climate studies and human and organizational development and minoring in business in the College of Arts and Science. She enjoys listening to 70s and 80s pop music, doing the daily Wordle and rooting for the Nashville Predators and Cincinnati Bengals. She can be reached at [email protected].
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Jane Carrillo
8 months ago

Truly wonderful article about aninspiring and great athlete. Love the last sentence from his father.