You can count on one hand how many players in SEC history have finished with 100 or more tackles in both their freshman and sophomore seasons.
It’s exclusive company indeed, and Vanderbilt middle linebacker Chris Marve has joined that club this season. He leads the SEC with 110 tackles heading into Saturday’s game at Tennessee. He had 105 last season as a freshman.
The 6-foot, 228-pound Marve is the first player in the SEC to hit the century mark in tackles in each of his first two seasons since another Vanderbilt player did it in 1998 and 1999 -- Jamie Winborn.
It’s been a long, difficult season for the Commodores, but you’d never know it by the way Marve has played. He’s battled through injuries, never comes off the field on defense and has collected 10 or more tackles six times, including a season-high 18 tackles against Georgia Tech.
In a league full of big-time linebackers, Marve has earned the right to be mentioned with any of them.
The only thing that has exceeded the pride Marve has played with this season is his effort, Vanderbilt coach Bobby Johnson said.
“He just gives great effort,” Johnson said. “That’s probably the biggest ingredient, his effort. He plays extremely hard.”
Marve took some time earlier this week to talk about battling through the frustrations of this season as the Commodores put a wrap on a disappointing 2009 on Saturday at Tennessee.
Injuries have decimated your team this season. How much pain have you had to fight through to finish the season?
Chris Marve: It’s been a tough season for everybody. When you play 12 straight weeks without a bye in the SEC, it’s going to catch up with you. Every week is physical. There are no breaks, but you just have to stay with it, and that’s what I’ve tried to do. You just keep plugging away and take care of yourself the best you can.
Is there any way to know how grueling it is to play 12 straight weeks in this league until you actually have to go through it?
CM: There’s no comparison to having a bye week somewhere in there and having to go 12 straight games. I knew it was going to be tough, and you just have to make yourself stay strong mentally. You better stick together as a team as well, because it wears on you.
Your defense has been able to hang in there most of the season despite the injuries and despite the struggles on offense. How difficult has it been standing your ground defensively this season?
CM: Our coaches, our staff and definitely coach Johnson instill in you from the first time you get here to work hard, always be ready to step up and stick with the plan. We’ve taken some shots on defense, but have continued to perform.
Where does finishing a season with 100 tackles for the second year in a row rank on your list of goals?
CM: It’s fine to have all these tackles, but I’d rather have a lot more wins. Football is a team game. It’s OK to have these stats. But without the wins, it really doesn’t matter.
To have a losing season coming off what you guys accomplished last year with Vanderbilt’s first bowl win in 53 years, how do you think that will impact the team going into this offseason?
CM: I believe guys will come back hungrier and even more ambitious next year. I can promise you that we’re definitely going to hit it hard this offseason -- running, lifting weights, training, everything we have to do to have a successful season next year. We know what it takes.
Do you feel like there’s enough younger talent on offense that they can grow next season and be a lot better on that side of the ball?
CM: We have a lot of young guys on offense, and playing in this league your first year is tough. It’s easy to make mistakes. I believe a year’s experience will help a lot of those guys out.
Because of the way this season has gone, do you think some will point to the team’s success in 2008 and say you guys were just a one-year wonder?
CM: Not at all. I don’t think it was just a one-year thing. Everybody has injuries. That’s what got us this year. With a lot more hard work this offseason, I believe we’ll be right back where we were last year, if not in a better spot.
How sweet would a win over Tennessee be given everything this team has endured this season?
CM: It would be huge. Ending the season on a good note would have a big effect on this program. It would be a tremendous statement. The main thing is that we’re just ready to play ball and prove that we can start a game and finish a game. This is our last chance to do that.