NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Vanderbilt senior class has been through more than most relative to its peers across the landscape of college football: The COVID-19 pandemic, a winless season, a coaching change.
Those factors, among others, have been enough for many now-former Commodores over the past few years to decide to choose a different path. There are a handful, however, who arrived either in the summer of 2018 or 2019, who have decided to stay and give their all for Vanderbilt football.
That group will be recognized Saturday when Vanderbilt plays its regular-season finale at 6:30 p.m. Saturday against arch-rival and 10th-ranked Tennessee. Anfernee Orji is proudly part of that small faction of the program.
“It’s unique, but I wouldn’t change it at all,” Orji said of his time in Nashville. “I feel like my career here has been amazing.”
Currently the Southeastern Conference’s leading tackler at 9.4 stops per game, Orji came to Vandy in 2019 somewhat in the shadow of his older brother Alston Orji. Alston had arrived at Vanderbilt the summer prior and had played in 11 games as a true freshman during the 2018 season.
The two brothers had become stars in Rockwall (Texas) despite having been more focused on academics than athletics during most of their youth. Their prowess on the football field soon became undeniable as each developed into four-star recruiting prospects as stars at Rockwell High School.
Alston and Anfernee played together through the 2019 and 2020 seasons at Vandy before Alston decided to depart Vanderbilt. Alston finished his career earlier this season after playing in a few games for Campbell and then deciding to retire from the sport.
Anfernee, meanwhile, has become a leader and defensive stalwart for the Commodores. He has led Vanderbilt in tackles the last three seasons and upped his total in each consecutive campaign.
Orji’s 102 stops in 2022 is a career high and the 6-foot-2, 230-pound linebacker goes into the weekend with 266 career stops under his belt. He has put himself in position to further his playing career as a professional.
“I feel like I’m an NFL player, but it’s always never enough,” Orji said. “There’s always more to give. I feel like I’ve been improving through my career and I feel like I can improve more in the years to come.
“Everyone in college football wants to play in the NFL, but I have to focus on right now so I can get there.”
The middle son of a surgeon and computer…