February 3rd will mark the beginning of a new chapter for Vanderbilt football. Sixteen - or more - new recruits will make their commitment to the Commodores official when they fax their letters of intent to Nashville. However, the most important names on Derek Mason's list of incoming freshmen won't be the ones filtering through Natchez Trace's last remaining landline. Instead, those three prospects are already on campus.
JoeJuan Williams, Zaire Jones, and Deuce Wallace officially made the city's western border their home back on January 11th when they officially enrolled at the university. That alone is a huge recruiting win for Derek Mason and his staff; it means that three of the team's most highly rated prospects are safe from poachers as National Signing Day approaches. No matter what catastrophe may rain down on Wednesday, these three playmakers are locked in to rebuilding Vanderbilt's national profile.
The Commodores don't just have any three recruits on campus. According to 247Sports, Williams, Jones, and Wallace make up three of the top four commits in the team's 19 man class of 2016. Williams is a four-star defensive back whose size (6'3, 195 pounds) and athleticism made him one of the Volunteer State's most sought-after prospects. He chose Vanderbilt over scholarship offers from powerhouse programs like Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, LSU, Michigan State, Oklahoma, Texas A&M, Tennessee, and Penn State. He could step into the Vandy rotation immediately and keep the program's tradition of powerhouse secondaries alive in 2016.
While Williams is the headliner of the class, Jones and Wallace are accomplished high school stars in their own right. Jones is a more compact, hard-hitting safety who developed into a four-star recruit thanks to his ability to effectively shut down both the pass and the run as a senior at Meridian High School in Mississippi. He chose Nashville over overtures from Missouri, Mississippi State, Virginia, and Indiana.
Deuce Wallace hasn't faced the same kind of high-profile recruiting competition as his two classmates, but part of the reason for his truncated list of scholarship offers is because he's bled black and gold since giving Mason his verbal commitment last April. Wallace has been one of the program's most vocal supporters, tweeting about everything from his fellow recruits to Vandy alum Brandt Snedeker's latest PGA Tour results. Now, he'll bring an arm that threw 39 touchdown passes as a high school senior into Vandy's quarterback mix. He picked Vandy over programs like Northwestern, Wake Forest, and Temple.
Getting this trio on campus doesn't just secure their commitment - it also provides a head start on the rest of their incoming classmates. Williams, Jones, and Wallace's early enrollment means they'll be eligible when spring practices start. That extra month of familiarity with Mason's schemes could have a major impact down the road. A list of recent early enrollees at Vanderbilt turns up starters like Kenny Ladler, Patton Robinette, Johnny McCrary, Darreon Herring, and Nehemiah Mitchell. While the returns at quarterback have been middling, players like Ladler, Herring, and Mitchell have all played significant roles in building top 25 defenses in Nashville.
So while the majority of the Commodores' recruiting targets commit, decommit, and fax their letters of intent on National Signing Day, the team's highest-profile players will be shuttling between their dorm rooms and classes on an average Wednesday morning at Vanderbilt. Derek Mason may not be getting much sleep as the biggest day of his offseason approaches, but he'll certainly rest a bit easier knowing players like JoeJuan Williams, Zaire Jones, and Deuce Wallace are already in the fold.