For a while, that personal awareness was the younger Shurmur's greatest strength as the Commodores' quarterback.
Hard to believe the team the Gamecocks dispatched that night - in a 13-10 grinder, in a Vanderbilt Stadium that was half-filled with fans wearing garnet - was the same one that showed up Tuesday at SEC Media Days, armed with the confidence that a breakthrough is near. "And right now, we feel we're in the midst of a renaissance". For a while, at least, it was typical Vanderbilt - a blowout loss at Georgia Tech, a close scrape with Western Kentucky, a grinder against Florida.
"We've improved every year during coach Mason's regime at Vanderbilt".
Playing in a bowl game and proving on and off the field that the program is on the rise are also reasons for confidence. "But at the end of the day, we compete".
"Now Vanderbilt has won three of the last five contests versus Tennessee, but [that was] the first time for me in my tenure that we had won, the first time that we had gained bowl eligibility in my tenure". "I've been a consistent back my past three years, and I think that's my biggest thing". He also has been head coach of the Cleveland Browns. He says he's not trying to convince anybody to get behind it, but that the movement's already started. "If you want to see great football, if you want to have an opportunity to see a great team doing great things, come check us out". He led the conference in carries and had the third most carries in 2015, but he has never missed a game in his college career. Running back Ralph Webb said Mason turned things around by changing practices to increase the level of competition between players.
"He developed a more competitive atmosphere", Webb said.
Kyle Shurmur comes back as the starting quarterback. Despite losing in the Independence Bowl to N.C. State, Vanderbilt returns 18 starters and has the momentum to be an even bigger factor in the SEC East race this season.
Of course, Shurmur believes the 'Dores can win the division. "Winning is all at the end that really matters to me".
"He's the back nobody talks about, but all he does is perform". This much is for certain: by the time SC and Vanderbilt meet this coming season, October 28 at Williams-Brice Stadium - after the Commodores have faced Alabama, Florida and Georgia in consecutive weeks - we'll know if the Vandy renaissance is a real thing, or if all this talk Tuesday was just bluster.
"You know there is no ceiling. You put him on a stage, and he's going to be big". "That's where we are".