Bobby Johnson’s final Vanderbilt recruiting class is not phased by his sudden departure. The group is united in a commitment to play for Robbie Caldwell, who was promoted from assistant head coach following Johnson's sudden retirement last month.
“It hasn’t really made a big impact at all, I just came here to play football,” defensive linemen Thomas Ryan said. “He’s [Johnson] a great person and all but I just came here to play football and get a great education.”
Ryan was one of 27 freshmen and new arrivals who checked in to Vanderbilt’s Ingram Hall to get their room assignments Wednesday afternoon.
In the middle of a hectic day which included unpacking, getting physicals and attending team meetings, VU's freshmen football players sounded a unanimous vote of confidence in this summer’s head coaching transition. Though Johnson tracked down the young men, he was only one of the things that attracted them.
In Ryan's case, he already had an affinity for the new head coach.
“The first time I came up here he [Caldwell] was actually the first coach I met,” Ryan said. “I know him really well, he’s a great guy and I felt really comfortable. That’s why it really doesn’t make a difference. I think everyone feels the same. The older guys rubbed it off on us.”
For some freshmen the abrupt head-coaching switch isn’t an issue due to familiarity with the positions coaches that helped lure them to Vanderbilt. Defensive backs Karl Butler and Andre Hal are among that camp.
“I still got the same DB coach [Jamie Bryant] as I came in with, so it’s all good to me,” Hal said. “Coach Johnson, he was a good coach, but I think Coach Caldwell is going to take us even farther.”
“I’m rolling with the punches so Coach Johnson leaving really didn’t have that big of an effect on me,” said Butler. “The DB’s coach is still here and it’s really about what we do on the field.”
Freshmen wideout Jonathon Krause, who is expected to compete for playing time immediately, admits that he is still getting to know Caldwell. The vibrant sense of humor that was on display at SEC Media Days has helped players come to love the head coach. Krause notes that he is “really cool.” Defensive back Steven Clarke said of Caldwell: “He likes to have fun but still get the job done and that’s a good thing.”
Caldwell said that he has enjoyed the excitement that came with his appointment as head coach—media days, television spots, player move-ins—but he is ready to get on the field and work. Krause and Clarke are behind the new coach in that regard as well; the two changed demeanor and faces lit up when discussing the start of fall practice.
“That’s what I’ve been waiting for so I can actually start competing for a position,” Krause explained. “I’ve got to slide in there somehow. I want to show the coaches what I can do on and off the field. They say this is the best Vanderbilt class, so we are trying to live up to that.”
“I’ve been taking on like a learning role from (junior cornerback) Casey Hayward, so I’m just real excited to get out there and show what I can do,” Clarke said. “We [freshmen] are really just trying to help the team anyway possible. We’re not really trying to get redshirted, we just come in here like we have a spot and we’re trying to keep it.”
Thursday the upperclassmen check in to their rooms for fall practice. As a chemistry-building exercise they will be sharing rooms with players from a different position for the week.
Vanderbilt’s first practice, sans pads, is on Friday. Sunday and Monday’s practices will be open to the public.