Nick Wagoner

Growing up in tiny Centreville, Ala., about 20 miles east of Tuscaloosa, Zac Stacy found himself smack dab in the middle of one of college football’s fiercest rivalries.

The Auburn-Alabama rivalry goes back a long way with a noted tradition of hatred. For most of his youth, Stacy did his best to stay out of the fray and not choose a side. But when the Iron Bowl finally arrived every year, he had little choice but to at minimum declare an allegiance via his attire.

“I didn’t really have a favorite team in terms of Alabama or Auburn, but the shirt I wore for Alabama-Auburn day was Auburn,” Stacy said. “I guess you could say I was an Auburn fan growing up. I really wasn’t recruited by Alabama. I was recruited a little bit by Auburn. I never got an offer from either one of them.”

By no means does a t shirt help a player get drafted but considering the Auburn ties of both general manager Les Snead (he played there) and coach Jeff Fisher (his son plays there), it certainly couldn’t have hurt Stacy’s chances that he opted for War Eagle over Roll Tide when he was younger.

Of course, the reasons Snead, Fisher and the Rams opted to not only draft Stacy but trade two sixth round draft choices to move back into the fifth to land him go well beyond wardrobe.

“I think he was one of probably the last guys on our board that we were really, really jacked about,” Snead said. “The rest was just going to be people we liked, but not jacked about, so at that point in time we said, ‘Hey, let’s go get him.’ We had been managing that running back board a little bit, and he was a guy we’ve liked for a while. It went from deep to thin pretty quickly so we went and nabbed him.”

After a career in which he established a number of important rushing records at Vanderbilt, Stacy proved he was the ideal fit for the Rams to come in and join the likes of Isaiah Pead, Daryl Richardson and Terrance Ganaway in a backfield charged with the difficult task of replacing Steven Jackson.

“Zac is a very explosive runner,” Fisher said. “He averaged, I think, over 6 yards per carry in that conference, which is something to be said. He’s an outstanding young man. He’s smart. He’s good out of the backfield. He’s a pass protector. He’s a complete back. He’s a strong inside power runner that kind of gives us a change of pace. You can’t have too many of these guys. We’re looking forward to Isaiah taking a step and Daryl continuing to improve, and Terrance, but this was a guy we felt like had a chance to make some plays for us.”

Realistically, the Rams had an opportunity to choose any running back in this year’s draft that they wanted as a potential addition to the backfield. When they made their second first-round pick at No. 30, the likes of Alabama’s Eddie Lacy, North Carolina’s Giovani Bernard and Wisconsin’s Montee Ball all remained available.

Instead, the Rams opted for Georgia linebacker Alec Ogletree and, with the knowledge they wouldn’t be picking again until the third round, they made it clear they were just fine waiting to get the running back they wanted later on. It wasn’t until Cincinnati took Bernard with the fifth pick of the second round, No. 37 overall, that the first back came off the board.

Quietly, though, the Rams had no remorse about not landing any of those other backs as they had developed an affinity for the multi-talented Stacy.

Little more than two weeks before the draft, a Rams contingent including Snead, Fisher and running backs coach Ben Sirmans made a trip to Nashville to put Stacy through a private workout.

After the workout, Sirmans and Stacy did some film work together so the Rams could get a better idea of Stacy’s ability to adjust mentally. Since Vanderbilt is one of the country’s finer academic institutions, Stacy did not disappoint with his work on the offensive concepts and playbook.

Stacy came away from the workout believing the Rams came away more than satisfied with what he had to offer.

“I felt like they were (interested),” Stacy said. “The only thing I could control was just going out and competing for them. Everything else took care of itself. Just talking to them, getting a vibe from them, they were real impressed. They were impressed with the football knowledge that I have from an offensive standpoint, from a playbook standpoint, and so I had a feeling that they were pretty interested.”

It didn’t hurt Stacy’s case that Fisher was already well aware of him long before the workout. Considering Fisher’s ties to Nashville and proximity to Vanderbilt as well as his obvious ties to SEC football, Fisher had spent time watching Stacy play during his year away from the game and had kept tabs on Stacy’s career.

“He definitely mentioned that he watched me while he was here in Nashville,” Stacy said. “He definitely kept a close eye on me. He was really proud of the success I had. I figured he liked me a little bit, that was definitely positive. Coach Fisher is a great coach. He has a great staff on his hands up there in St. Louis. I’m just proud to be part of the organization. I’m just blessed to be in this opportunity.”

What Fisher saw in watching Stacy was an intriguing back capable of doing a little bit of everything even while playing for a team that didn’t regularly find itself competing for conference championships.

Despite’s Vanderbilt’s struggles in the standings, Stacy continued to find ways to be productive against some of the nation’s most dominant defenses. He set school records in rushing yards (3,143) and rushing touchdowns (30) and became the first back in school history to post back to back 1,000 yard seasons. In his senior season, Stacy averaged 5.5 yards per carry after posting 5.9 yards per attempt as a junior.

Considering the level of competition, Stacy’s numbers were all the more noteworthy.

“There’s always a stretch that we (have) in our schedule where we’re playing Florida, Georgia and Tennessee back-to-back,” Stacy said. “It was good to have success against those teams as well. At the same time, playing against NFL-type bodies and taking that pounding week-in and week-out was definitely a great internship, per se, to me in terms of taking that pounding from those little bitty line backers and defensive tackles. I tell people all the time that’s one of the things that will help me be prepared for the next level, playing in the SEC. We have a theme about the SEC: SEC stands for ‘Speed Eliminates Competition.’ We are a fast conference and have a lot of big bodies in that conference. The success I had and some of the things I did around the league these past couple years are definitely a reflection of how well and how prepared I am to play at the next level.”

As though Stacy’s production wasn’t enough to draw the interest of the Rams, his intangibles certainly set him over the top. Stacy is heavily involved in community services projects in Nashville and graduated from Vanderbilt in three and a half years with a degree in special education.

Stacy also was a team captain during his final season with the Commodores.

“I kind of had to get molded into that vocal leader because I always led by example,” Stacy said. “I was the guy that came to practice with a blue-collar mentality and it kind of domino effected the other guys, especially the young guys in terms of how to practice, how to get things done, how to compete and practice at a high level from a professional standpoint.”

Something of a student of the game, Stacy is well aware of Jackson’s legacy in St. Louis and all of the records that he owns. But he’s making no pretense about trying to replace or replicate anything Jackson did; instead focusing on how he can do anything to help the team win.

Instead, Stacy knows it’s his job to help add to an interesting mix of young running backs. Pead, Richardson and Ganaway are the most tenured backs on the roster with each entering just their second season in the league. While Pead and Richardson and supposed to provide the lightning, the 5’9, 218-pound Stacy knows he’ll be asked to help provide some thunder with a more powerful, between the tackles style.

“I feel like I run like I’m 230 (pounds) because I have a unique sense of power about me,” Stacy said. “I love getting north and south as quick as I can. I love getting out in open space. I was used a lot in the screen game at Vanderbilt. Being out in open space and making guys miss, and just being that productive back. One thing I (take) pride in as a running back is productivity and consistency. That’s one thing I did a pretty good job of throughout my career at Vanderbilt, being productive and consistent. That’s one of the key aspects you have to have at that position at the next level.”