Vanderbilt Announces Updates To Stadium Ahead Of Football Season

FirstBank Stadium construction rendering. Courtesy of Vanderbilt Athletics

Fans attending Vanderbilt Athletics sporting events this fall should be prepared for road closures, and new routes to pedestrian walkways, entrances and exits of facilities as part of the construction that is underway.

Both the South and North end zones are under construction to make way for a renovated FirstBank Stadium, a new basketball practice facility, student-athlete dining hall, and a variety of premium seating options.

“I appreciate Commodore Nation’s patience this fall as we reimagine FirstBank Stadium and the future of Vanderbilt Athletics, together,” says Candice Storey Lee, vice chancellor for athletics and university affairs and athletic director. “We are forging ahead with the progress that we all deserve, in spite of the temporary inconveniences that accompany such a huge undertaking. By sacrificing together this fall, we can ensure Coach Lea’s team enjoys the home-field advantage it deserves.”

“As Team 3 builds on the foundation put in place on the field, we continue building on the foundation you make possible by supporting Vandy United. We’re in this together.”

Fans should be prepared for road closures. Those traveling to campus will experience detours and road closures at Natchez Trace between Jess Neely Drive and Kensington Place. Jess Neely Drive between Natchez Trace and 25 Avenue South will be closed, and 25th Avenue South between Jess Neely Drive and Blakemore Avenue will be closed. There will be no through traffic on Children’s Way between 24th Avenue and Natchez Trace. For more information on best routes, visit here.

There will be changes to fans’ walking routes to the stadium and paths to reserved seats. The specific entrance to use based on seating location(s) will be printed on the digital ticket, along with way-finding signage throughout the FirstBank Stadium footprint, Vandyville areas and parking lots that will indicate how to enter and exit the stadium, find seats, and directions to concessions and rest areas.

The entrances and exits to FirstBank Stadium will also change for the 2023 season. Individuals are encouraged to download the Vanderbilt Athletics app, visit the Construction Central page, arrive early to each game, and to be patient while the university works through this construction phase. Fans with tickets in sections P-V (East stands) should plan to enter FirstBank Stadium at the Memorial Gymnasium entrances off 25th Avenue. Fans with tickets in sections A-G, The Bridge, or suites should enter through the Frist Family Gate located near the crossing of Natchez Trace and Vanderbilt Place.

Vandyville—located on Natchez Trace—will remain the central hub for guests looking to enjoy the pregame tailgating experience. Tailgating packages are available through game day partners Revel Xp. The Max Nance Kids’ Zone has moved from the outdoor track off Natchez Trace to the John Rich Complex (football practice fields) located behind the McGugin Athletic Center. Guests can enter and exit via Natchez Trace near Jess Neely Drive. Activities include inflatables, tailgate games, a balloon artist, face painter and arts and crafts; admission is free with activities beginning two hours prior to kickoff.

Parking passes are available for advance purchase in the flat lots between Natchez Trace and Vanderbilt Place. These lots are not guaranteed to be available to drive-up traffic on game days. Drive-up parking is available in the 25th Ave. Garage and the West Garage on a first come, first served basis. Parking Lot 1 is reserved, and Parking Lots 2 and 4 are general admission for pass holders. Suite holder parking will remain in the same location.

Fans will still be able to enjoy the Star Walk at an updated location. Click here for the most current information.

Belmont Opens First-Ever Bruin Shop

Belmont University has announced the launch of The Bruin Shop, which will feature new gear and apparel while serving as the Official Merchandiser of Belmont University Athletics.

“We are extremely excited for the opening of The Bruin Shop,” says Josh Ward, Senior Associate Athletic Director for External Engagement. “The Bruin Shop will be the primary spot for our Belmont fan base to purchase items, express their fandom and be ready to support our teams. It is a great addition to our university community and will be a great partner for Athletics.”

The Bruin Shop offerings will feature the latest styles and brands, including Bruin Under Armour apparel and gifts. The new location will be on the first floor of the Jack C. Massey Center on 15th Avenue. The new Massey Center building will house a variety of university teams, including the Belmont Data Collaborative, the Transformational Innovation Hub and the Cone Center for Entrepreneurship.

“We look forward to opening our Bruin Shop doors and the launch of our new website,” says Johanna Lewis, Director of Auxiliary Services. “I’m so proud of our amazing team, who brought the entirely new Bruin Shop assortment to life in just a few short months.”

The campus community and Belmont neighbors are invited to The Bruin Shop Grand Opening celebration, which begins Aug. 17 and runs through Aug. 22.

For a complete listing of promotions and ‘register to win’ giveaways during the grand opening celebration, click here.

Vanderbilt’s Will Sheppard Named To Biletnikoff Award Watch List

Will Sheppard. Photo: Courtesy of Vanderbilt Athletics

Vanderbilt senior wide receiver Will Sheppard has been named to the Watch List for the Biletnikoff Award, which is presented annually to the nation’s top receiver.

Sheppard is one of 50 players on the Biletnikoff Award Watch List and one of seven from the Southeastern Conference. The senior has also been named to the Watch List for the Maxwell Award, which is given to the nation’s top player each year, the Shrine Bowl 1000 and a preseason All-SEC selection by Phil Steele.

The Mandeville, Louisiana, native has led Vanderbilt in receiving touchdowns each of the last two seasons, including nine last year. That mark ranked second in the SEC and 11th in FBS.

Sheppard caught the game-winning touchdown pass with 32 seconds remaining at Kentucky, giving Vandy their first SEC victory since 2019. He posted three games with multiple touchdown grabs and had a career-best 171 receiving yards during a win at Northern Illinois.

During his sophomore season, Sheppard was part of Vanderbilt’s first game with a 300-yard passer and two 100-yard receivers in eight seasons while grabbing eight catches for 119 yards and two scores in a win over UConn.

With 1,383 career receiving yards, he looks to move into the program’s top 10 this season. He is also looking to become the 20th player to lead Vanderbilt  in receiving yards during consecutive seasons, and the first since Kalija Lipscomb in 2018-2019.

The Commodores open the season on Aug. 26 when Hawaii visits FirstBank Stadium for a 6:30 p.m. kick. Tickets are available now. For more information, click here.

Lady Raiders Announce Four-Game Series Against Lady Volunteers

Middle Tennessee and the University of Tennessee women’s basketball programs have agreed to a four-game series over the next four years.

The first of four meetings between the Lady Raiders and Lady Vols are scheduled for December 6, 2023, in Propst Arena at the Von Braun Center in Huntsville, Alabama, the site of the 2023-24 Conference USA Men’s and Women’s Basketball Tournament, followed by a pair of matchups in Knoxville in 2024 and 2026, and one in Murfreesboro in 2025.

“With the Conference USA Tournament in Huntsville this year, we wanted to introduce our fans to this great city and thanks to Tennessee, we are able to create a terrific showcase for women’s basketball,” says Director of Athletics Chris Massaro. “It gives our women’s team a meaningful game in the same arena as our conference tournament.”

This year’s game will mark the 16th meeting in series history between Middle Tennessee and Tennessee. The Lady Vols took the last meeting in the first round of the 2021 NCAA Tournament. The last time the two squads met during the regular season was in 2013.

“This is an exciting opportunity to showcase the talent and passion for women’s basketball in the State of Tennessee,” says Head Coach Rick Insell. “Year in and year out, these are two of the top programs in the country and the most devoted fanbases in our state. I want to thank Kellie Harper for renewing this rivalry.”

The Lady Raiders are coming off one of their best seasons ever, finishing 18-2 in conference, winning the Conference USA tournament, and being ranked at No. 21 in the Associated Press Top 25.

Fans can secure their spot at the highly anticipated matchup in Huntsville through the purchase of a Middle Tennessee women’s basketball season ticket package. Single-game tickets will also be available for $20 each. Beginning Monday, September 4 at 10 a.m. CT, fans can conveniently make their purchases online through via the Von Braun Center.

Vanderbilt Men’s Basketball Adds Three New Staffers

Featured L-R: Donald Williams, Thomas Gray, Dan Dardarian. Photos: Courtesy of Vanderbilt Athletics

Vanderbilt men’s basketball Head Coach Jerry Stackhouse announced the hiring of three staff members: Donald Williams (Director of Player Personnel), Thomas Gray (Director of Recruiting) and Dan Dardarian (Assistant Director of Basketball Operations).

The three veterans of the coaching industry have a wealth of experience at all levels of basketball.

A national champion as a student-athlete at North Carolina, Williams brings his extensive experience as a player and coach to Vanderbilt.

“Donald Williams is going to be an impactful addition to our basketball program,” Stackhouse says. “He is an extremely accomplished player and has had a successful coaching career at both the high school and grassroots levels. As an NCAA national champion, Final Four Most Outstanding Player, and former professional, Donald has a unique and valuable perspective. Those experiences are aligned with the goals of our student-athletes and I am excited to see him share his knowledge and mentor throughout our program.”

Williams was a four-time letterwinner for the UNC basketball program and earned Most Outstanding Player for the 1993 NCAA Tournament after leading the Tar Heels to the National Championship.

He went on to enjoy a long pro career playing both in the U.S. and overseas in Europe and Asia. Throughout his pro career, he also founded the Donald Williams Basketball Academy in Raleigh, North Carolina, which included basketball camps, an AAU team and private lessons to the youth in his home state.

Throughout his coaching career, he served as Head Coach for the boys’ programs at Northwood High School in North Carolina, as well as a stint as the Head Coach of Denmark Tech Community College in South Carolina.

On the girls’ basketball side, Williams has served as the Head Coach at Raleigh Charter High School, St. Mary’s High School and Wakefield High School in Raleigh. During his time at Wakefield, Williams was named conference Coach of the Year twice while leading the team to the No. 1 ranking in North Carolina and No. 12 nationally according to USA Today.

Gray will take on the Director of Recruiting role at Vandy after spending the 2021-2022 and 2022-2023 seasons at McNeese State as an assistant coach. He has SEC experience, spending three seasons as the Ole Miss Coordinator of Men’s Basketball Operations from 2018-2021.

“Thomas Gray is an experienced college basketball coach with ties to the Southeast at various levels, including a previous stint in the SEC,” Stackhouse says. “His understanding of the region and the recruiting landscape of our conference will help us continue to be efficient in our identification of the right type of student-athletes who will excel at Vanderbilt. Thomas is highly organized and his basketball collegiate administrative experience will be a key contribution to our program.”

As the Head Coach at Southwest Mississippi Community College from 2014-2018, Gray compiled a 61-39 record over his four seasons. He guided the Bears to the NJCAA Region 23 semifinals in each of his final two seasons. During his tenure, Gray coached 15 players that went on to earn NCAA Division I scholarships, the most of any Region 23 team over that four-year span. Student-athletes excelled on and off the court under Gray’s tutelage with all but two holding grade-point averages that exceeded 3.0 throughout his time as Southwest’s Head Coach.

Gray led the Bears to their third-consecutive season of at least 17 wins, the first time Southwest accomplished that feat in three decades. During the 2016-17 campaign, Southwest finished runner-up in the MACJC South Division, the highest division finish since 2001, with an 18-9 record.

His team was named the NJCAA Men’s Basketball Academic Team of the Year for the second consecutive year with a team GPA of 3.59, the second-highest cumulative GPA in the history of NJCAA Men’s Basketball. The Bears became the first MACJC men’s basketball team to ever win the award in 2015-2016, boasting a 3.42 GPA. In just his second season as Southwest head coach, Gray led the Bears to a MACJC state championship for the first time in 53 years.

Dardarian makes his way to Vandy following two seasons as the Director of Video & Scouting for the SMU women’s basketball program.

“Dan Dardarian is coming to our program with extensive experience in video, scouting, and basketball analytics,” says Stackhouse. “He has worked for successful programs on both the men’s and women’s side and always found opportunities to bring value to their operational goals. We are excited about his ability to help our program.”

Prior to his time in Dallas at SMU, Dardarian spent three seasons with the Michigan women’s basketball program as the Video Coordinator. During his tenure, which included filming and analysis, the Wolverines advanced to the NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 for the first time in program history.

Prior to joining the staff in Ann Arbor, Dardarian became the first video coordinator at IMG Academy in Florida. In addition to managing a video database of more than 400 games per season, he coordinated schedules and assisted with pro days. In 2017, IMG featured a player in the boys’ and girls’ McDonalds’ All-America Game, becoming the first school in history represented in both games.

A native of Michigan, Dardarian earned his Bachelor’s degree in journalism from the Oakland in 2008 and earned a Master’s in sports administration from Wayne State in 2011. While at Oakland, he worked as a student assistant for the men’s basketball program under long-time Head Coach Greg Kampe. His duties included film exchange and video breakdown, while assisting the coaching staff during the program’s transition to NCAA Division I.

Colin Parker Named OVC Assistant Commissioner For Championships

Colin Parker. Photo: Courtesy of the OVC

Ohio Valley Conference (OVC) Commissioner Beth DeBauche has announced the hiring of Colin Parker as the Conference’s Assistant Commissioner for Championships. He will start his position in late August.

In his role, Parker will serve will oversee Conference championships and serve as the primary sport administrator for assigned sports, in addition to being the Assistant Tournament Director for the OVC Men’s and Women’s Basketball Championships. He will also serve as a liaison for coaches groups, oversee officiating programs for assign sports, and serve as the OVC’s primary contact for student-athlete participant gifts and awards, as well as managing the league’s merchandise sales program among other duties.

“Colin is a product of this Conference, knows the OVC well and came highly recommended,” says DeBauche. “We are excited to have him join our team in the Conference office.”

Parker comes to the OVC from Ohio Wesleyan University where he has served as the Assistant Athletic Director for Facilities and Event Management since July 2021. At OWU he was responsible for the oversight of home events for 24 sports, as well as scheduling, maintaining and overseeing all athletic facilities, including the weight room and campus fitness center. Parker is in charge of hiring, training and supervising a staff of over 50 student workers.

Prior to Ohio Wesleyan, Parker served as a graduate assistant for athletic operations at Eastern Illinois University. He served as game-day administrator for the Panthers’ 20 NCAA Division I sports; hired, trained, and supervised a staff of more than 20 student workers; compiled schedules for multiple athletics facilities; and oversaw the setup, testing, and operation of replay, timing, and other technology for athletics events.

He also has experience with event administration with the Big Ten Men’s Basketball Tournament and interned in stadium and event operations with the Sporting Kansas City of Major League Soccer.

Parker is a 2019 graduate of Eastern Illinois, majoring in kinesiology & sport studies: sport management and minoring in business administration. He also received his master’s degree in kinesiology, sport & recreation: sports administration from EIU in May 2021.

Parker, a native of Antioch, Illinois, and his wife, Ashley, were married in 2021.

Wes Boling To Return As Lead Broadcaster For Belmont Men’s Soccer

Former Nashville SC radio broadcaster Wes Boling is set to return as Belmont men’s soccer’s Lead Broadcaster for the 2023 season.

Boling spent the previous four-plus years with Nashville SC in Major League Soccer (MLS) as well as Belmont soccer.

“We are thrilled to welcome Wes Boling back to the Bruin Sports Network team,” says Greg Sage, Associate Athletic Director. “Wes is a respected voice in the soccer community; his experience, professionalism and on-point delivery will enhance our productions for ESPN.”

Boling returns to the Bruin microphone after commentating Belmont men’s and women’s soccer earlier this decade on the ESPN family of networks and OVC Digital Network.

“I am honored to call Belmont soccer matches this season,” says Boling. “Coach [David] Costa leads a vibrant program at a world-class institution that is close to my heart. I can’t wait to broadcast matches this fall.”

A communications and public relations industry veteran, the Nashville native and Brentwood Academy product previously worked as a sports reporter and content editor at WVLT-TV in Knoxville, Tennessee. Boling earned a Master’s degree in business administration from Belmont in 2013.

Greg Walter Named OVC Associate Commissioner For Football, Basketball & Baseball

Greg Walter. Photo: Courtesy of the OVC

Greg Walter has been named the Ohio Valley Conference’s (OVC) Associate Commissioner for football, basketball and baseball, as announced by Commissioner Beth DeBauche.

In this role, Walter will serve as a member of the OVC’s Senior Leadership Team and will be the primary administrator for the sports of football, men’s and women’s basketball and baseball. His duties will include serving as the Tournament Director for the OVC Basketball and Baseball Championships, overseeing the officiating programs and developing playing schedules.

“I have followed Greg’s career for years and know he is a thoughtful, diligent and committed administrator who has made the organizations with which he has been affiliated better,” says DeBauche. “I have enjoyed working with Greg on matters and am delighted he has agreed to join our staff. Given his vast and varied experience and tremendous leadership skills, I know he will serve the OVC members well as we move the conference forward.”

Walter has served as an Associate Commissioner for the Missouri Valley Football Conference (MVFC) since 2012 and an Associate Commissioner with the Pioneer Football League (PFL) since 2013.

In his role with the PFL, he has overseen regulatory matters, developed league schedules and conducted a comprehensive study of the league’s financial aid policies.

In his tenure with the MVFC, Walter has been involved in all strategic initiatives and governance groups, overseen negotiation of the league’s next television agreement and developed a six-year scheduling and policy framework following recent membership changes.

From 2012 to 2021, he fulfilled the role of Associate Commissioner for the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC), where he was involved with all levels of governance and strategic decision-making. Walter co-led the development and implementation of the MVC’s 2015 strategic plan as well as benchmarking and goal-setting initiatives conducted by governance bodies and coaches’ groups across all sports.

He also served as Assistant Commissioner of the Summit League (2008-2011), Associate Director of Compliance for the Big Ten (2005-2007) and a compliance officer at the University of Utah (2004-2005).

Walter has served on the NCAA Division I Baseball Committee (2020-2021), the Division I Council (2017-2019), the Division I Legislative Committee (2017-2020), the Division I Interpretations Committee (2016-2020) and the Enforcement Interpretations Process Working Group (2019-2020).

Walter received a Bachelor’s degree from Northwestern University in 2000 and earned his Juris Doctorate from the University of Virginia School of Law in 2003.