Based off the momentum James Franklin has created for Vanderbilt in recruiting circles, one would think the Commodores are a perennial SEC East powerhouse instead of a program coming off just their fourth bowl game in school history.
Having no previous head coaching experience to help his cause, Franklin hit the recruiting trails in 2011 with little more than a promise of a top-notch education and the ability to play in the SEC.
In a few short weeks leading up to National Signing Day, he did the unthinkable. He turned Vanderbilt into a destination school for highly-regarded talent, and in the process, paved the way for the Commodores to be a contender in the SEC East for years to come.
Vanderbilt’s 2011 recruiting class was not on the level of other high-profile SEC teams like Alabama, LSU, Georgia and Arkansas, but what cannot be denied is the immediate impact Franklin made. He hauled in the two 4-star recruits: quarterback/wide receiver Lafonte Thourogood (Virginia Beach, Va.) and tight end Dillon van der Wal (Westlake Village, Calif.).
To put this achievement into prospective, Vanderbilt had not signed a 4-star recruit since 2003—tight end Jonathan Loyte (Danvers, Mass,).
In the process, Vanderbilt posted their first Top 50 recruiting class in over a decade, finishing ranked No. 49 (Scout.com).
Still not impressed? Of the 21 recruits Franklin signed, 13 were rated as 3-star or better.
How about the fact that Vanderbilt finished the recruiting season ranked ahead of Baylor (50), West Virginia (53), UCLA (55), Maryland (56), Kansas State (61) and Arizona State (64)?
On the field, Franklin translated his message into wins. Vanderbilt surpassed the win total of the two previous seasons (four wins), winning six games and besting teams like Ole Miss, Connecticut, Kentucky and Wake Forest along the way.
In four heartbreaking losses to Arkansas, Georgia, Florida and Tennessee by a total of 19 points, Franklin showed they are close to taking the next step. He just needs a few more talented players to round out his roster.
2012 is shaping up to be an even better year for the Commodores on the recruiting trail than 2011. Vandy is currently ranked No. 35 according to Scout.com, with 21 total recruits verbally committed.
Running back Brian Kimbrow (Memphis, Tenn.) and defensive end Josh Dawson (Tucker, Ga.) are two 4-star recruits highlighting the early recruiting season for Vanderbilt.
Another recruit Commodore fans will be happy to see on campus is kicker Colby Cooke (Goochland, Va.). Cooke is rated the 16th-best place-kicker in this year’s senior class. He was awarded spots on Parade Magazine and Sports Illustrated All-American teams after making 17-of-21 field goal attempts and helping his team advance to the state championship game.
If Vanderbilt’s pledges stay true, nine different states will be represented in this year’s haul.
As the final two weeks of the recruiting season heat up, all eyes will be on Franklin, hoping he can continue pulling top talent to Nashville.
The following is a complete list of all 21 current verbal commitments:
QB Patton Robinette, 6’5”, 200 pounds, 3-star, Maryville, Tenn.
RB Jaborian McKenzie, 5’9”, 180 pounds, 3-star, Natchez, Miss.
RB Brian Kimbrow, 5’9”, 165 pounds, 4-star, Memphis, Tenn.
WR Adre McDonald, 6’3”, 210 pounds, 3-star, Minnetonka, Minn.
WR Cory Batey, 5’11”, 180 pounds, 3-star, Nashville, Tenn.
OT Andrew Jelks, 6’6”, 260 pounds, 3-star, Paris, Tenn.
OT Will Holden, 6’6”, 271 pounds, 2-star, Green Cove Springs, Fla.
OT Blake Fromang, 6’8”, 280 pounds, 3-star, Orlando, Fla.
OT Barrett Gouger, 6’4”, 275 pounds, 3-star, Chattanooga, Tenn.
OG Adam Butler, 6’5”, 285 pounds, 3-star, Duncanville, Tex.
CB Torren McGaster, 6’0”, 180 pounds, 2-star, Daphne, Ala.
CB Brandon Banks, 5’11”. 170 pounds, 3-star, Brandywine, Md.
SS Paris Head, 5’10”, 170 pounds, 3-star, Buford, Ga.
DE Ladarius Banks, 6’2”, 263, 2-star, Dallas, Ga.
DE Stephen Weatherly, 6’4”, 190 pounds, 2-star, Atlanta, Ga.
DE Josh Dawson, 6’4”, 225 pounds, 4-star, Tucker, Ga.
DE Caleb Azubike, 6’5”, 240 pounds, 3-star, Nashville, Tenn.
DE Torey Agee, 6’4”, 250 pounds, 3-star, Opelika, Ala.
OLB Jacob Sealand, 6’1”, 220 pounds, 3-star, Tucker, Ga.
OLB Darreon Herring, 6’2”, 195 pounds, 3-star, Stone Mountain, Ga.
K Colby Cooke, 6’3”, 175 pounds, 2-star, Goochland, Ga.
If Franklin continues to open 4-star and 3-star doors, the Commodores will be a team to be reckoned with for years to come.
All commitments are verbal and non-binding.
National Signing Day is Feb. 1.