UPDATE: Ladarius Banks, a defensive end from Georgia, has reportedly committed today as well, making three. He had offers from Illinois and Cincinnati, amongst others. Big day.
The recruiting trail hasn't typically been kind to the Commodores. Former Coach Bobby Johnson led a steady progression of improving players to Nashville, but rarely made waves with high profile recruits. In general, if Vanderbilt was offering a talented player a scholarship at the same time as a big football school like Nebraska, Clemson, or Miami, it was a safe bet that the only way fans would see these players at Dudley Field would be as opponents.
James Franklin might be changing all that.
Franklin's first full recruiting season has started off impressively as the rookie head coach has made an immediate impact with the team's early signees. This past week brought four new recruits to the Commodores, all of whom address areas of need. More importantly, Franklin got these players to sign with Vanderbilt over some of college football's most established institutions. Of the four players coming to Nashville, three are under consideration for ESPN's Top 150 based on how well they play this season.
|Player||Position||Date Committed||Had Offers From:|
|Jacob Sealand||ILB||15-May||Arkansas, Illinois, Miami (FL), UNC, South Carolina, Purdue, Va. Tech|
|Barrett Gouger||OL||16-May||Wake Forest, Memphis|
|Darreon Herring||OLB||19-May||Arkansas, Clemson, Nebraska, UNC, Stanford, Syracuse, West Virginia|
|Stephen Weatherly||DE||19-May||Boston College, Georgia Tech, Illinois, Ole Miss, Purdue, Wake Forest
The standard Vanderbilt signee in the past decade had been a player who chose the Commodores over schools like Western Kentucky, Rice, Harvard, and Southern Mississippi. In six months, Franklin has changed the competition (so far) to schools like Nebraska, Clemson, Georgia Tech, and Miami. The early returns paint an impressive picture; Vanderbilt has gone from recruiting against football's mid-majors to clashing with FBS powerhouses. That's a major statement both to the level of talent on this team and the culture of Franklin's regime going forward.
We touched upon this when Franklin first came to Nashville and brought a pair of high-profile quarterbacks with him. Josh Grady and Lafonte Thorogood were big pickups late in the game from a coach that was forced to play recruiting catch-up thanks to his December hiring. The two quarterbacks were plucked from schools like Virginia Tech and Iowa to come play for a team that had just wrapped up a 2-10 season. Thorogood's decommitment from Frank Beamer's team was so out-of-line for Vandy football that it even merited its own story.
Now, he's lured four more high-caliber players to West End in a week's time to play with April commit Tre Griffin. ESPN suggests he's got three more potential Top 150 targets listening to his pitches as well, along with what is sure to be a huge list of solid prospects from across the south. Comparatively, the team had just one recruit in 2009. In 2010, they had none. This year, the team has five, and though the numbers may be skewed by decommits and Bobby Johnson's departure, it's tough to argue that this is anything but a step in the right direction for Vanderbilt football.
James Franklin could have stayed the course and perpetuated Vandy's quiet reputation on the recruiting trail, but instead he's chosen to make a statement by going after some big time players and actually landing them. We're only a couple months into the process, but Franklin and his staff, including Herb Hand, Bob Shoop, Brent Pry, Sean Spencer, Ricky Rahne, Chris Beatty, and others all deserve credit for their proactive work to turn the Commodores around from the bottom up. It will be engrossing for fans to watch not only who comes next, but how these high school players develop in their senior years - and that's going to add a new dimension to the Vanderbilt football experience.
Is it premature to assume that four recruits signifies a culture shift? Maybe. Recruits decommit, and there's a long way to go before National Signing Day rolls around in February. Still, there's a level of optimism behind these players and the coaching staff that hasn't existed in Nashville in a long time - if ever. Coach Franklin has played all his cards right so far, and with this week's recruiting news, he's dealt up another strong hand for the Commodores. Time will tell if he can get it done on the field, but Franklin is building a cache of goodwill alongside the team he's constructing on Natchez Trace.