Vanderbilt’s Jeremy Lucien isn’t your average footballer

Football intelligence. check. physical. check. ball skills. check. Vanderbilt Commodores cornerback Jeremy Lucien ticks many boxes for evaluating a defensive back, yet he’s a far cry from the average college football linebacker. Lucien’s football and personal journey has been shaped by adversity, has seen him cross continents, and could lead to being selected in the 2023 NFL Draft in less than six months.

Jeremy Lucien is not your average CFB left-back

“I try to just focus on the step in front of me,” Lucien explained during his recent session with Pro Football Network. Lucien’s sole focus is on Vanderbilt’s season-deciding game with Tennessee rather than anything that comes after that. “If you try and look too far ahead, you will stumble upon the ones right in front of you.”

This is not to say Lucien was not considered for the 2023 NFL Draft. He had always dreamed of playing in the NFL, and it was no happy coincidence that he found himself competing against the best in the country in the SEC for his final season at the CFB level.

However, with bowl eligibility on the line for the first time since 2018, Vanderbilt’s cornerback is focused on the current job rather than the job he might have next year.

It’s about talking about that next assignment — trying to shut down a wide receiver duo in Cedric Tillman and Jalin Hyatt that might be the best in the country — that you first get a glimpse of what separates Lucien from the college football corner.

Fresh from the practice field, exhausted from a grueling session, the Vanderbilt CB is sharp as if it came straight out of a movie study or a mechanical engineering class.

“When you’re up against beat teams, one of the things that makes studying film easier is that they don’t do a lot of complicated stuff. You’ll see a lot of the same plays over and over. Hyatt is a really explosive receiver, so they’ll definitely count on him a lot during the game. Know where he’s at.” Having a guy like him at any given moment is huge.”

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A nerd, Lucien prides himself on his intelligence and how that translates to the field. In the 40 minutes we spend talking about his soccer journey, Lucien effortlessly recalls several plays that helped show how such intelligence manifests itself on the football field.

The first comes from earlier in his first season in the SEC. The second, which also demonstrates the physicality Lucian plays with, comes from a famous win over Florida in which the Commodores are now in a position to book a bowl season berth with a win over Tennessee.

“There were two different drives, two plays on the screen trying to throw it to my side. Receivers came out in the stack. As soon as one of them backed off, I was flying like a bullet, ignited the blocker, forced the ball back onto my assist and got tackled.”

“The second time around, the same play happens, so I fly faster, light the blocker, get the ball carrier trying to get out, and make a one-yard TFL kick. That shows strength and trigger. That and intelligence are two very big aspects of my game.”

Those aspects of his game allowed Lucien to thrive in his first season on the SEC. A former two-star recruit who had a priority offer from Northwestern — unsurprisingly, another academic institution — but only one FBS offer. When he dropped out of Choate Rosemary Hall High School, it could have been easy to miss out on top-level competition in college football.

But that is exactly what the Vanderbilt cornerback wanted when he entered the transfer portal at the end of the 2021 season. Lucien wanted to test his mettle against the best in the country.

Knowing that the Commodores’ schedule allowed him to take on Georgia and Alabama, as well as the Ole Miss and Wake Forest offenses, Lucien made his way to Nashville. And this season he confirmed his belief that he belongs at the highest level.

“I am a very self-critical person,” explains Lucien. “I would say this has been the best season I’ve had so far. There are plays I wish I could have back and things I could have done better. But the good thing is I’ve prepared well enough that I never go out on the field, or go into a game feeling like I’m not up to par or The players are faster or stronger than me. I feel at home in this league, which has been a relief.”

High school experience helps Lucien embrace adversity

Finding relief in football wasn’t always easy for Lucien. The Vanderbilt cornerback admits he was nervous to hold back before his first exposure to competitive football as a seven-year-old influenced by his cousin Donovan. To a player whose intelligence is one of their calling cards, Lucien refers to himself as a “space cadet” who has been wandering “lost in space”.

However, under the tutelage and training of his father Ronald in the New Jersey backyard, Lucien began to dominate at youth level soccer and “never looked back from there”. Transitioning from youth football to high school proved to be a different experience once again, as the Vanderbilt cornerback has now given his first taste of having to fight through adversity to find success on the field.

“Once I got into high school, I got my first taste of adversity. Everyone is bigger, stronger, faster. It was my first taste of what it was like not to be one of the best players on the field, and to make my way up from the bottom of the totem pole.

“Instead of transferring, I wanted to try and stick with it. I ended up having a lot of success my senior year. My love of soccer shifted from being fun, to loving the lessons I learned from it, and how much it taught me to overcome adversity.”

Lucien’s experiences at Choate have taught him more than just how to fight adversity on the field. The high school experience is significantly different in a boarding school than in a public school. As Vanderbilt’s corner explains, it prepared him for the next stage in his personal and football journey, while giving him life experiences unmatched by most college football players, including a three-month trip to Spain that left him fluent in Spanish.

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“It’s more difficult because you’re forced to grow up faster than most kids. You’re away and you live on your own. You have to manage everything on your own. It forces you to be more independent. I would say it helped me grow a lot, really fast. It made the transition to college A lot easier too, because for four years, I’ve been used to living on my own.”

After being named first-team conference player of the year and player of the year honors, Lucien headed to UConn in 2018. With fine DB room and coming in as one of the best in the state, he’s a freshman cornerback who plunged into action early and often.

While not perfect in one of the toughest positions in the sport, the experience proved pivotal to Lucien’s later success.

“I knew there would be an opportunity for me to play early on. Had some success here and there, but it wasn’t the best season. To put a little corner in it, but I’m glad I got that experience, because it allowed me to make more effective adjustments to my game the following year.”

Lucien has battled adversity at UConn

Just as he was growing into college football with an improvement in his sophomore year, more adversity hit. The global pandemic has led to UConn choosing to cancel its football season. While influencing the momentum for the young linebacker, Lucien provides a unique perspective that further demonstrates that he is no ordinary college player.

“It was really weird. She was [the] The first time since I was seven years old that I didn’t play soccer in the fall. We just trained and raised. It was strange being a spectator. For me, though, I feel like I benefited a lot.

“Usually you come in as a freshman and you move up to retiree. What was good for me is that I got two full seasons of experience and then I got a year off to think about all the improvements I needed to make. I was able to come back in the following years and have one Most productive season up to that point.”

Remarkably, Lucien made the move from an independent at UConn to be more productive in the SEC with Vanderbilt. This year marked career highs for a fifth year in total tackles (46) and pass breakups (5).

While his smart approach to the game has helped smooth the transition, the Vanderbilt CB is quick to heap praise on the Commodores coaching staff that turned the program from an SEC bottom-feed system in 2020 to the brink of bowl eligibility this fall.

“It still amazes me how much I’ve managed to grow in six months,” Lucien said excitedly. “The amount I’ve learned from this coaching staff is insane. Athletic coach [Clark] Leah has completely changed my perspective on how to play this game. I feel like this is a very smart coaching staff, and you’ve learned how to attack defensive offenses. All of this has allowed me to play faster and be more confident every time I step on the field.”

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Lucien was touched by adversity, his football journey, his experiences at UConn, and his coaching staff at Vanderbilt. He drew influences from two of the best college football players to ever do it in Jalen Ramsey and Deion Sanders, evoking the physicality of a former FSU quarterback with Sanders’ trademark bravado.

It’s the rich array of influences that have led Lucien to be more than just an ordinary college football cornerback. While he reiterated that his focus is firmly on ensuring this weekend’s game with Tennessee is not his last at the level, my final question to Vanderbilt CB requires him to make a sales pitch for an NFL team. His answer is – as you’d expect – thoughtful, comprehensive, and compelling.

“I’m very easygoing. If I make a mistake, point out how I’m supposed to do it, and I won’t make the same mistake over and over again. My intelligence and football intelligence is very high. I’ve been able to develop it over the years to be able to slow the game down and see things before they happen.

“So, just a mindset. When I step onto the field, you know I’m going to be better than the guy across from me. That’s what you need in a corner position. I would say those are the three things I bring to the table.”

The man who lined up across from Vanderbilt’s cornerback this weekend is probably considered one of the most explosive wide receivers in the country. Containing a Tennessee pass player and helping the Commodores to a bowl game would add further evidence that Lucien is more than your average college football quarterback.

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