With a coaching turnover so close to the recruiting deadline, Vanderbilt had no shot of landing a top recruiting class. High school players would be scared away by the uncertainty in the program, and too many top players would simply follow Franklin to Penn State.
That was the way it was supposed to go down. Too bad nobody told that to Derek Mason. Just 19 days after stepping in as head coach, Mason secured 22 top level recruits last Wednesday. The class includes Nifae Lealao, a big, bruising defensive end and Vanderbilt’s highest ranked recruit. Ever.1
Mason was rightfully excited during interviews on national signing day. He seemed to give some credit to Franklin, saying that the class “was assembled a while ago.” But Franklin deserves only minimal credit here. Only six of Vanderbilt’s final 22 recruits had signed on before Mason was named head coach. And regardless of any recruiting done by Franklin, those students who signed on after Mason was installed did so for their new coach.
Mason deserves plenty of praise for this recruiting class. But let’s keep this all in perspective. While this is a positive step it is only one step on the road to success. And while this recruiting class far exceeded expectations for Vanderbilt, that’s at least in part because some people were expecting the whole class to fall apart.
The Tennesseean is reporting that Mason has taken some verbal swipes at in-state rival Tennessee in recent days. I’ve got to admit that I like the feisty move from Mason, but you could forgive UT for scoffing at his posturing. Vanderbilt just signed a very strong recruiting class. Tennessee? They just signed one of the best in the nation.2
But it’s not just that the Vol’s have a monster class this year. This recruiting cycle has cast light on one of the main problems plaguing Vanderbilt football. Even in the modern world of national recruiting, regional ties still hold strong. Vanderbilt has a hard time recruiting local talent because, in Tennessee, UT is still king.
Vanderbilt only managed to sign three players from Tennessee by Wednesday. Compare that to the 11 signed by the Vols. And it’s not like things are divided up geographically. Butch Jones and company managed to attract five players from Nashville, right in Vanderbilt’s back yard.
And these Tennessee players aren’t just bench warmers, either. Josh Malone and Jalen Hurd both have the potential to be big contributors for Tennessee very quickly.
Recruiting from Tennessee alone wouldn’t be enough to field a strong team. But, the fact remains that Vanderbilt consistently loses in-state recruits to their orange, unpaid rivals. If Mason really wants to be able to take swipes at UT, he’ll need to start winning these recruiting battles.
- It’s also interesting that Lelao had been committed to Stanford earlier this recruiting cycle before decommitting and signing with Vanderbilt. But Mason was not engaging in Franklin-esque poaching. Lelao had already decommitted from Stanford before Mason was hired by the Commodores.
- Rivals.com has them ranked 5th in the nation and it’s well deserved. The class includes five-star wide receiver Josh Malone whom Vanderbilt tried to recruit to be the next Jordan Matthews.
- According to Rivals.com, seven of this year’s top ten recruits from Tennessee signed on with UT. Among the top 20 from Tennessee, Missouri is tied with Vanderbilt for most popular choice, both with two recruits.