Few players in the SEC have made an impact both on and off the field the way senior running back Zac Stacy has at Vanderbilt.
Last week, he became the Commodores’ all-time leading rusher in their 17-13 win over Auburn and was given a victory ride afterward by his offensive linemen.
Stacy, who’s third in the SEC in rushing with 668 yards, has a chance to put together his second straight 1,000-yard season. Over the past decade, only eight SEC players have accomplished that feat. Among them: Darren McFadden, Felix Jones, Carnell Williams and Knowshon Moreno.
So Stacy would join some elite company if he can grind out 332 more yards this season.
Off the field, he’s been an inspiration to a number of people, most notably his younger brother, Justin, who has Down syndrome. Stacy is majoring in special education and volunteers at Whitsitt Elementary School in Nashville as a student teacher. He works primarily with kids who are dealing with learning disabilities and/or behavioral issues.
We had a chance to catch up with Stacy earlier this week for a Q&A:
What went through your mind after you broke the record last week?
Zac Stacy: I really didn’t know I was that close to getting the record. I was just trying to get a ‘W’ and wanted to put my team in the best position to do that. We’ve faced some adversity this year, but we’ve gotten through it. I’m honored to break the record, but it’s a reflection of the offensive line and a reflection of these coaches putting their trust in me to go out and get the job done.
How far have you come as a running back?
ZS: I sort of got a head start playing running back. Growing up, I wasn’t a big fan of playing football. I loved watching it, but I was more of a baseball guy. Baseball was a huge deal for me. But when I started playing football in Pee Wee, I always played running back. I didn’t play anything else and was used to having the ball in my hands. I was still playing on raw talent when I got here, but coach [James] Franklin and his staff have done a great job helping me become a better student of the game. It’s helped me play faster and a whole lot smarter.
Who are some of the running backs you grew up admiring?
ZS: Being from Alabama, I idolized Kenny Irons when he was at Auburn and also liked to watch Knowshon Moreno at Georgia. Barry Sanders was one of my favorites, and even now, I like to watch Ray Rice.
What position did you play in baseball?
ZS: I was a second baseman and actually had some offers from small schools and community colleges to come play baseball.
Given your 1,193-yard season a year ago, how much more conscious of you have defenses been this season?
ZS: I knew defenses would load the box and key on our running game this year. But that’s where Jordan Matthews has emerged and Chris Boyd has emerged. Whether I get five carries or 25 carries, I just want to take advantage of my opportunities every time I touch the ball and help my team win on Saturdays.
What’s your day like when you’re student teaching?
ZS: I’m in the resource room with second , third and fourth-graders. Kids come in, and I help them with their reading or their math. It’s mostly kids with learning disabilities. That’s what I want to do, work with kids who have learning disabilities, behavioral problems or some type of language impairment. I’ve learned so much about the needs of those kids just being around my brother.
Justin’s a fixture at all of your games with his No. 2 jersey. Talk about your relationship with him and what he’s meant to you.
ZS: The best feeling in the world after our games, whether we win or lose, is seeing him with that smile on his face and getting a big brotherly hug from him. He’s taught me so many things about life and has helped me put into perspective what’s important. Life’s not about sports or football. It’s about love and family and caring for each other.
It sounds like Justin has become quite the celebrity there in your hometown of Centreville, Ala. Who’s a bigger star there -- you or him?
ZS: I get phone calls from all my friends back home telling me how they all love him and how popular he is. He’s at the high school there now. I got a call from my mom two weeks ago was telling me he got asked to the homecoming dance. I didn’t even get asked to the homecoming dance. It’s just amazing to see how he’s touched so many people. I’m proud to be his brother.