James Franklin has been coaching college football for more than 15 years. But he can’t recall having a better recruiting class than this one.
Neither can Vanderbilt.
On Wednesday, the Commodores’ second-year head coach announced a 21-member signing class — one that Rivals.com ranks 28th in the country, although the consensus was that it was 12th (and as high as ninth) among the 14 SEC schools. Headlined by three four-star recruits and six in-state prospects, the 2012 class is believed to be the school’s highest rated class since 1993 — long before the emergence of recruiting websites.
Rivals.com also has every signee as a three-star recruit or better, marking the first time the Commodores have achieved the feat.
“We put together the best class I have ever really been associated with,” Franklin said. “It is just one step in the right direction. But I think there is a buzz right now about Vanderbilt football that I don’t think there has ever been before. We were able to do some real positive things on the field this year and we were able to follow it up with a real solid class. A class that solves a lot of issues for us.”
Vanderbilt targeted offensive linemen (six), defensive lineman (four) and linebackers (four) the most.
“I don’t think we are at a point where we have been able to fill all of our needs in one year,” Franklin said. “It is probably going to take another year or two to fill all of our needs.”
The offensive line was a huge position of need for a unit that has been depleted the last couple years. The Commodores also graduated right tackle Kyle Fischer and dismissed center Logan Stewart.
At the top of the pack is Kevin McCoy, a 6-foot-5, 285-pounder, who was ranked as the 37th best offensive tackle in the nation. The Brandon, Fla. product played both tackle positions and chose Vanderbilt over Auburn, Florida and Louisville.
“Though we do have some guys who are pretty college ready, it still takes offensive linemen some time,” Franklin said. “It is hard to fix it fast. If you are a corner or you are wide receiver or running back, you can make an impact in the game a lot earlier the further you are way from the ball because it is more skillful and it’s not the size and strength. If we are going to over-sign, we are going to over-sign on the O-line, the D-line and the quarterback position. Because in this league you better have those spots.”
The six recruits from Tennessee are tied for the most in-state players since 1985.
Brian Kimbrow is easily the highest touted among them — and the entire class. The four-star running back from Memphis chose Vanderbilt over Alabama, Tennessee, USC and Notre Dame among others. McGavock High’s Caleb Azubike (defensive line) and Ensworth’s Cory Batey (wide receiver) also signed with the Commodores.
“I hope and think you're always going to do your best job recruiting in a three or four hour radius of your campus because you have an opportunity to evaluate those prospects,” Franklin said. “You have an opportunity to get to know them as people better, and they have an opportunity to evaluate us. So we're always going to try take a lot of pride and do a good job of recruiting locally and securing those types of kids, but we're going to go wherever we have to, to find players.”
Franklin and the Vanderbilt coaching staff planned on renting several limousines to celebrate and “get after it.”
“Put your camera phones away,” Franklin joked.
While the Commodores had to scramble in less than two months to put together its signing class — ranked 53rd — last year, Franklin had to fend off the competition this time. In the last two weeks, according to Rivals.com’s Jesse Johnson, at least 11 of Vanderbilt’s signees turned down opposing offers.
Some did get away. Defensive lineman Josh Dawson, who committed last June and would have been a headliner for this class, backed out in the final days of recruiting and signed with Georgia. Wide receiver Andre McDonald, the top recruit in Minnesota, backed out of his commitment and signed with Minnesota.
“I have described it like we have been in a heavyweight championship fight for the last 365 days and each one of those was a round,” Franklin said. “This coaching staff fought and competed and sold all the wonderful things that Vanderbilt has to sell and it has gone over extremely well.”