The more last season progressed at Vanderbilt, the more awkward postgame interviews became for running back Warren Norman.
Norman often was asked about a certain run, reception or kickoff return during his record-setting freshman year. Yet it almost always occurred after a loss, as the Commodores dropped their last eight games and finished with a 2-10 record.
"Any time you're not having a great season, it affects you no matter how well you are doing personally," Norman said. "I'm always happy if we're winning, and if we're not I'm going to be disappointed."
Last year wasn't the first time Vanderbilt finished 2-10, but it was the most surprising season of any Southeastern Conference team. The Commodores returned a plethora of starters from their '08 crew that went 7-6 and won the Music City Bowl, but they were woeful offensively in SEC play.
Vanderbilt managed just five offensive touchdowns in its eight league games. Norman scored on a 99-yard kickoff return at South Carolina and also returned kickoffs for scores against Army and Georgia Tech.
"After the season we had last year, we expect a couple of teams to sleep on us," Norman said. "Hopefully we can take advantage of that and upset a couple of teams this year."
Rivals.com rated Norman as the No. 36 all-purpose back and the No. 56 Peach State prospect when the 5-foot-10, 198-pounder from Stone Mountain signed in 2009. In his college debut, Norman rushed 18 times for 105 yards and two touchdowns in a 45-0 whipping of Western Carolina.
Camp start: Friday
Opener: Sept. 4 against Northwestern at Vanderbilt Stadium (7:30 p.m. EDT, CSS)
Fun fact: Vandy had enjoyed an all-time winning record since debuting with a 40-0 win over Nashville in 1890, but that changed with last season's 2-10 mark. The Commodores now have an all-time record of 555-558-50.
In Vanderbilt's only other victory last season, a 36-17 win at Rice, Norman rushed 11 times for 119 yards and a score.
"He just came in and quietly went about his business," said head coach Robbie Caldwell, who Monday had "interim" removed from his title. "We hope to give him an even bigger role. He's working in the weightroom to get ready and to prepare his body, because you're going to take a pounding in this league."
Vanderbilt took a lot of poundings last season, but Norman somehow kept thriving. He finished with 783 rushing yards, 108 receiving yards and 1,050 kickoff return yards, and his 1,941 all-purpose yards not only led the league but set an SEC record for freshmen.
The last freshman to lead the conference in all-purpose yards was Georgia's Herschel Walker in 1980.
"The only thing I could ask for last year was to come in and get some playing time," Norman said. "I didn't expect to return kicks or anything. I just got the opportunity and took advantage of it."
It was an interesting July for Vanderbilt, as coach Bobby Johnson abruptly retired after eight seasons and nine springs. It could be an interesting August as well with a quarterback race featuring Larry Smith, Jared Funk, Jordan Rodgers and Charlie Goro.
Smith struggled as the starter last season before tearing his hamstring in the ninth game. Funk had the best spring. Rodgers is a junior-college transfer and the younger brother of Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Goro was a Parade All-American in '09.
No matter who wins out, chances are he will be turning to Norman to make plays.
"Hopefully I'll get the ball more this year," Norman said. "Playing running back, you always want the ball as many times as you can get. We're coming in with our heads held high, and we're putting last season behind us."