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March 3, 2011Jay Fullam has already lived a quite an eventful life at 20 years of age.
From three-time all-state standout on the high football field at Chattanooga's McCallie School, to a community and school leader in the classroom, to a starting safety in the Southeastern Conference, Fullam has experienced a lot of things that most young men his age would envy.
However, like a number of other young men across the country, there has always been one dream that he has planned to pursue throughout his life and now the sophomore has decided to leave the Commodore program in order to pursue that lifelong goal.
"I have decided to transfer from Vanderbilt to the Air Force Academy, if everything works out the way it should," Fullam told VandySports.com on Thursday.
"My family has a history with the Air Force, with my grandfathers being fighter pilots and now my brother being selected for flight school. My whole life, I always wanted to attend the Air Force Academy and I gave up on that dream to play SEC football because Coach [Bobby] Johnson was allowing me to do Navy ROTC.
"However, the Navy was not where I truly wanted to be. I expressed to our current coaching staff that I love football here and that it has been an experience I will never forget. I have given this program everything I had from day one and I didn't want them to feel that I quit on them but rather, I was pursuing a life long dream of military service."
From day one, most have understood Fullam's desire for military service. In his personal bio page of the Vanderbilt football media guide since coming to the school, it has detailed Fullam's desire to be a fighter pilot, following in the footsteps of his family, including his grandfather who served during the Vietnam War. He even talked about having a future as a fighter pilot while he was a three-star recruit during the 2009 signing period.
Fullam plans to continue his college football career with the Falcons, but wanted to express that football had nothing to do with his decision.
"I will be playing football at the academy. I will have to sit out my first year due to transferring, then I will be able to play my sophomore and junior seasons," Fullam said. "After that my eligibility will be out and I can focus on my military career and academics for my senior year.
"The decision had absolutely nothing to with football though, but instead personal goals. It just seems like the right thing to do. As my intentions if I remained at Vanderbilt were to join the Air Force right after graduation.
"I hope everyone can somewhat understand this situation but mostly respect it. I just really want to emphasize that football had nothing to do with it. I wish nothing but the best to my teammates and coaching staff, I hope they go on to do great things and they will always be a part of my family."
Fullam was Vanderbilt's first verbal commitment in 2009, selecting the Commodores over offers from Northwestern and all of the service academies including Air Force.
As a true freshman in the fall of 2009, he impressed the Commodore staff with his intelligence and athleticism and looked to be in line for immediate playing time before a hand injury cost him two months of contact drills and forced him to redshirt.
In 2010, Fullam emerged as the opening day starter at strong safety, posting 10 solo tackles and forcing two fumbles in his college debut against Northwestern. In the next game against the LSU Tigers, Fullam registered five tackles, helping the Commodore contend for a possible upset during most of the game.
An shoulder injury against Ole Miss would cost him his starting role but he still finished with 30 total tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss and two forced fumbles as a reserve and special teams player.
"My experience at Vanderbilt has been very enjoyable," Fullam reflected. "Having the opportunity to play SEC football was something that I will never forget. The guys on the team and the coaches here are some of the best people I have ever met. They helped me to grow both as an athlete and as a person.
"Although I did not get to know the new coaching staff very well, they are bringing a new attitude to the program that every Vanderbilt fan should be very proud of. The guys are working harder than they have ever worked and I know it will pay off in the fall.
"One of my greatest memories has to be my first start in the Northwestern game. Just getting to step on the field with the guys on my team, knowing I had the chance to represent the SEC is something I will never forget.
"Although I let emotions get the better of me for most of the game, and quite frankly just played poorly, it was the experience of a lifetime. As much as I hate to admit it, I will never forget the call at the end of the game either, but I won't go in to much on that as we all know the story and how that goes.
"After that, just knowing I got to line up against the best week after week and playing guys I had watched play growing up was amazing. There's just nothing like playing under the lights against a SEC powerhouse.
"I can say that the number one memory I will have though is the brotherhood I was able to share with my teammates. They are guys I would go to war for any day, no pun intended. Friends that will last a lifetime.
"Everyone sees them solely as tremendous athletes, but I had the opportunity to know them as the amazing people they really are. My teammates were what made my decision so hard, however when I broke the news to them they only made it easier. They gave me nothing but encouragement and told me that they too felt it was a dream I couldn't give up on.
"I will never forget them for that. Vanderbilt fans should know the kind of quality kids they are supporting and be proud to show their colors. Just because they may not be the biggest or the fastest, I can say that they are the best."
Fullam's departure leaves the Commodores with five scholarship safeties this spring including three-year starter Sean Richardson and nine game starter Kenny Ladler. Redshirt sophomore Al Owens and rising true sophomores Andre Simmons and Karl Butler will also participate.
Vanderbilt signed three safety prospects during the 2011 signing period including three-star prospects Larry Franklin and Jahmel McIntosh as well as Texas standout Andrew Williamson.
Vanderbilt is schedule to begin its first spring practice under new head coach James Franklin on March 18th.