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Commodores Welcome 26 in 2013 Class

By Matt Smith
SouthernPigskin.com
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While the class only ranks 12th in the SEC, the talent level coming to Nashville exceeds what many thought to be possible prior to James Franklin’s arrival.

When James Franklin was named the Vanderbilt head coach in December 2010, he vowed to build the Commodores into a team that could win an SEC East title. Going from 2-10 to 9-4 in just two seasons, the Commodores are getting ever closer to a bar that at that time seemed far too high for the perennial SEC doormat.

The upswing continued on Wednesday, as Vanderbilt welcomed 26 new players to the program (two of whom enrolled last month) on National Signing Day. The class ranks No. 30 according to 247Sports’ 247Composite, a rankings formula that factors in multiple recruiting services. Rivals.com ranked the class No. 19 in the nation, one spot ahead of SEC East foe Tennessee.

“I think we are raising the bar in recruiting,” Franklin said of his third signing class at Vanderbilt. “I feel really good about the class overall. “We haven't been able to fill all our needs, but we're building our depth.”

The class took a bit of a hit last week when four-star running back Jonathan Ford (New Hope, Ala.) decommitted after having been one of the first recruits in the class to commit to Vanderbilt. Ford signed with Auburn today. With Zac Stacy having graduated and Brian Kimbrow being the only running back from the 2012 class, the position was a major need this year. The Commodores were able to land a running back to replace Ford, Gainesville, Fla.’s Rapheal Webb, who was impressed enough by his visit to Nashville last weekend to sign with Vanderbilt.

Signing Day brought perhaps the top prospect in the class, as Fort Lauderdale, Fla., wide receiver Jordan Cunningham committed to Vanderbilt. Cunningham, a four-star prospect according to 247Composite, chose the Commodores over Miami (FL) and Stanford, igniting a roar throughout the team’s war room. The addition of Cunningham makes the ‘Dores wide receiver class one of the best in the SEC. Other signees at the position include Carlos Burse (Alpharetta, Ga.), Gerald Perry (Memphis, Tenn.), Latevius Rayford (Memphis, Tenn.) and DeAndre Woods (Pinson, Ala.).

"Being able to sign five of the best wide receivers in the country was big,” Franklin said. “It’s really exciting.”

A second Cunningham continued the “Happy Days” for Vanderbilt Wednesday afternoon, when Pinson, Ala., linebacker Zach Cunningham announced he too would sign with the Commodores. With Nigel Bowden (Macon, Ga.) also on board, Vanderbilt has two four-star linebackers among the 26 signees.

"Nigel Bowden was 247 [pounds] when he visited,” Franklin said. “His body is ridiculous - NFL body right now."

The class is also strong on the defensive line, the one position in which Franklin is still trying to catch up to the rest of the SEC. Both Landon Stokes (Orlando, Fla.) and Jay Woods (Jackson, Ga.) have at least one four-star designation, while Jonathan Wynn (Stone Mountain, Ga.) and Mack Weaver (Memphis, Tenn.) give the Commodores two additional SEC-caliber linemen. Ryan White, a cornerback from high school football power Trinity High in Louisville, Ky., will look to continue a line of successful Vanderbilt cornerbacks that includes Casey Hayward and Trey Wilson.

One of the two January enrollees was the Commodores’ first commitment in the class, quarterback Johnathon McCrary (Ellenwood, Ga.). A dual-threat quarterback with good size at 6’4”, McCrary is likely to redshirt in 2013 behind Austyn Carta-Samuels and redshirt freshman Patton Robinette. However, McCrary starting in 2014 would not be a shock. Chad Kanoff (Studio City, Calif.) gives the Vanderbilt two solid quarterbacks in this class.

“When [McCrary] committed to us, he was one of the top quarterbacks in the country and we still believe that,” Franklin said. “Chad Kanoff had a great senior year, has the whole package.”

Vanderbilt received little production from its tight ends last season, something Franklin would like to improve upon in future seasons. Three tight ends will join the program next season, including junior college transfer Brandon Vandenburg (College of the Desert). At 6’6” and 260 pounds, Vandenburg should provide instant help to a position that should be more involved in the passing game in 2013.

“[Vandenburg] is a big body kid that could likely make the most immediate impact from a maturity stand point," Franklin said.

The 26 commitments hail from 10 different states, with Georgia leading the way with seven, followed by Tennessee with four and California with three. Franklin has recruited nationally despite the school being located in the talent-rich South. Vanderbilt signed at least one recruit from each of the four major U.S. time zones, and 11 of the 26 signees hail from states that do not border Tennessee.

While the class only ranks 12th in the SEC, the talent level coming to Nashville continues to exceed what many thought to be possible prior to Franklin’s arrival. That SEC East title, which was also deemed impossible, became more realistic with Wednesday’s additions.      

Matt Smith - Matt is a 2007 graduate of Notre Dame and has spent most of his life pondering why most people in the Mid-Atlantic actually think there are more important things than college football. He has blogged for College Football News, covering both national news as well as Notre Dame and the service academies. He credits Steve Spurrier and Danny Wuerffel for his love of college football and tailgating at Florida, Tennessee, and Auburn for his love of sundresses. Matt covers the ACC as well as the national scene.