Vanderbilt coach Clark Lea finalizes staff

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Vanderbilt coach Clark Lea has hired two more staff members, with former NFL wide receiver Earl Bennett as director of player development at his alma mater and Kaelene Curry director of mental performance.

Bennett was inducted into the Vanderbilt Athletics Hall of Fame in 2017. He played three seasons at Vanderbilt and left as the Southeastern Conference’s all-time leader in career receptions. Bennett was the 70th overall pick in the 2008 draft by Chicago and caught 185 passes for 2,277 yards and 12 touchdowns in five seasons.

He still has the SEC record for most TD catches in a single game with five against Kentucky in 2005. Bennett earned both a bachelor’s degree at Vanderbilt and a master’s in education.

A licensed professional counselor in Colorado, Curry has been a mental performance coach, speaker and consultant for the Selking Performance Group the past six years. She also was a mental health counselor with Green Couch Counseling and an adjunct professor for the sport and performance psychology graduate program at Denver University.

Curry was an assistant softball coach at Northern Colorado in 2016 before moving to the counseling center from 2017-19. She was a softball assistant coach and recruiting and camp coordinator at Sonoma State in 2014-15. She played softball at Missouri-Kansas City.

Lea also hired North Dakota State’s AJ Blazek as his new offensive line coach and John Egorugwu from the NFL’s Buffalo Bills as his linebackers coach.

Blazek spent the past two years at North Dakota State, where his offensive line helped set a school record with 4,601 yards rushing while winning the 2019 FCS national title. He was offensive line coach at Rutgers between 2016-18 and was the line coach and run game coordinator for Western Illinois from 2013-15.

Blazek coached the offensive line and tight ends at Winona State between 2009-12 and was co-offensive coordinator his final three seasons. He was offensive coordinator and offensive line coach at Fort Hays State between 2005-08. He started coaching at his alma mater, Iowa, from 2001-04.

Egorugwu was defensive quality control coach and assistant linebackers coach with the Bills the past four seasons. He was a staff assistant with the Baltimore Ravens in 2015 and 2016, working mostly with linebackers.

He started coaching at his alma mater, William Jewell, working with linebackers in 2010 and 2011. He was a graduate assistant at Missouri working with the defense in 2012 and offense in 2013 and 2014. He was wide receivers coach in 2015 at Missouri State.

Lea wrapped up his first staff by hiring LaMar Morgan as cornerbacks coach.

Morgan started his coaching career in 2012 as a graduate assistant at Vanderbilt, helping the Commodores go 9-4 in back-to-back seasons with two bowl berths.

He spent the past two seasons coaching cornerbacks at his alma mater, Louisiana Lafayette. He helped the Ragin’ Cajuns go 10-1 last season. Morgan was safeties coach with Houston in 2018 and spent 2016-17 as defensive backs coach at Louisiana Monroe.

Morgan coached defensive backs at Western Carolina in 2014 and 2015. He was a two-time captain and safety at Louisiana Lafayette.

Air Force football sanctioned for recruiting violations

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AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. — The Air Force football program received two years of probation from the NCAA and had its squad size reduced by 10 for four years as part of its sanctions for recruiting violations.

The penalties were announced Thursday after Air Force and four individuals reached an agreement with NCAA enforcement staff on recruiting violations. A fifth individual in the case has contested their role and will be heard by the committee on infractions.

The sanctions also include a fine and a reduction of 46 total official visits for the football program in the 2022-23 and `23-24 academic years. In addition, there’s a prohibition on unofficial visits in football from Sept. 1 through Oct. 12, 2022, and a reduced number of evaluation days this fall.

Air Force has around 115 players on its varsity roster, plus a JV team that all count as NCAA athletes and its roster size.

“The (committee) appreciates the parties’ efforts in working collaboratively together to reach agreement on the violations, levels, classifications, and significant and meaningful penalties,” Gary Miller, the chief hearing officer for the panel and president at Akron, said in a statement. “The panel also recognizes that Air Force has gone above and beyond in its overall approach to this case.”

In a joint statement, Air Force Academy Superintendent Lt. Gen. Richard Clark and director of athletics Nathan Pine said: “The U.S. Air Force Academy is pleased that our case has progressed to the point of the NCAA accepting our negotiated resolution. We will continue working with the NCAA on this ongoing self-reported case from the COVID dead period, as it’s our responsibility to ensure integrity of the institution, athletics department, cadet-athletes and staff.”

The Falcons are off to a 3-1 start and host Navy on Saturday to begin the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy competition. The trophy is presented to the service academy with the best record in the round-robin format.

Florida shakes up secondary after dismal game at Tennessee

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida coach Billy Napier is shaking up his secondary after the Gators allowed 349 yards passing – including 247 of those on eight plays – in a loss at Tennessee.

Safety Trey Dean, a fifth-year senior who has started 32 games and played in 54, is out with what Florida is calling a “lower leg injury.” But no one would be surprised if Napier was quietly benching Dean after he made two mental errors against the Volunteers that resulted in 70- and 45-yard gains and set up touchdowns.

Freshman Kamari Wilson will replace Dean and make his first college start Sunday against Eastern Washington.

Cornerback Jaydon Hill will join Wilson in the starting lineup. Hill, a third-year sophomore, will make his first start since 2020. He missed the 2021 season with a torn knee ligament. He impressed Napier and his new staff in the spring but sat out preseason camp with another knee injury.

Hill will replace sophomore Avery Helm, who also struggled against the Vols.

“You talk about what he’s been through from an injury perspective,” Napier said following practice Wednesday. “Jaydon was one of the better players that we had on our team in spring practice. I was very impressed . It’s no surprise to me. He showed pretty quickly here that he’s very capable. I’m excited to watch him play.”

Georgia transfer Jalen Kimber, a former five-star recruit, is now listed as a third-team cornerback. Kimber played just 11 snaps in Knoxville a week after he returned an interception for a touchdown in a 31-28 win against South Florida.

“I like to say we try to eliminate the bad football,” Napier said. “Talking about mental errors, misalignments, poor communication, bad fundamentals and techniques, bad decision-making within the play. … We have a laundry list of things that we need to eliminate each week.

“Last week’s game, I thought we were really close, but there’s 12 or 15 plays in the game where Florida is beating Florida. We’ve got a smart group here. I think they’re very aware of what the issues are, and I think they’re working hard to address those issues.”