There are a lot of things to be thankful for today, and for Vandy fans, sophomore Zach Cunningham is one of them. The inside linebacker has been a standout on Vanderbilt’s unrelenting defense this season.
He moved into the starting lineup in late September and has been a huge reason why Vanderbilt has been so successful on defense ever since. Cunningham is one of the most productive tacklers in the SEC with 60 solo tackles, 83 total stops, 16.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 quarterback sacks in just eight starts.
The 6-foot-4, 234-pounder is tied for fifth in the nation with four forced fumbles, and those 16.5 tackles for loss are the third-most in the SEC. Only two other Commodores have surpassed that number since the mid-1970s: LB Jamie Winborn in 1999 and DE Alan Young in 1993.
Cunningham is an influential player the Commodores just can’t live without, and people are starting to take notice, according to ESPN.com’s David Ching. Cunningham has even managed to impress coach Derek Mason.
“Zach Cunningham may be the best linebacker I’ve ever had the opportunity to coach in this structure of defense,” Mason said. “I’m not trying to talk him up because he’s on my team. He can match in coverage, he’s a sideline-to-sideline player, he has tremendous strength and he’s instinctive as all get out.”
Consider that Cunningham would’ve never had a shot if Nigel Bowden wasn’t injured after the second game of the season. Now, the sophomore is one of Vandy’s most prized possessions.