There is a lot of optimism these days in Nashville, Tenn., mainly because of new Vanderbilt coach James Franklin, who understands that if the Commodores are going to make noise in the SEC, recruiting has to be the first priority.
On March 12, he proposed a question to future recruits on his Twitter account: "Why should u have 2 settle when choosing a school, why can't u get a Great Education, play BIG time FB & Live in a Great Town, why not VANDY?"
For Franklin to make his mark, he knows he has to recruit at a much higher level. The former Maryland offensive coordinator was always regarded as one of the top recruiters in the ACC and already has some ideas how to turn Vanderbilt's program around.
"We are going to go national in recruiting. There is a special population of kids and families that don't settle in terms of education," Franklin said. "We play in the greatest league in college football, the SEC, and Nashville is such a great town. Very few schools out there can offer those three things. That limits competition to a few select schools. We are going to compete and beat people. In today's society, a degree from Vanderbilt is huge. If we can get the kids on campus we will be very successful."
We have to have a different approach at Vanderbilt and we have to be aggressive with all the recruits, families and coaches. It's all about relationships. We are going to find the kids and recruit hard. We have to build those relationships now and that will get kids on our campus.
”-- Vanderbilt coach James Franklin
While Franklin has yet to land anyone in the 2012 class, his strong finish to Vandy's 2011 class should be a good sign. It's always tough to put together that very first recruiting class, no matter what school you are at, especially when you are in the middle of a coaching change. Nonetheless, Franklin and his new staff closed exceptionally well in the days leading up to signing day by landing quarterback Josh Grady (Seffner, Fla./Armwood), wide receiver Lafonte Thourogood (Virginia Beach, Va./Ocean Lakes), defensive end Barron Dixon (Alpharetta, Ga./Chattahoochee), safety Larry Franklin (Vero Beach, Fla./Vero Beach) and tight end Dillon van der Wal (Westlake Village, Calif./Oaks Christian).
"The way we closed with our first class was really encouraging. I thought we had a well laid-out plan in place," Franklin said. "We decided to go after kids where our coaches already had existing relationships with [them]. We closed well and are pleased."
Grady was a late find, but nonetheless the Commodores landed the talented athlete from the Tampa area. Franklin's attitude and vision are what separated Vandy from his other suitors.
"Personally he impressed me from the beginning," Grady said. "From the time I first met him at my house, he told me I won't take no for an answer. And he didn't. He gave me the feeling that they were on the verge of greatness and either I was going to be a part of it or just watch. He told me I could go anywhere and be a renter or come here and be a builder. So I joined the crew."
At this point, Franklin finds himself and his program at an interesting time under his watch. With spring practice just around the corner, he's not officially carrying a true depth chart. Rather, the depth chart is based simply on seniority. He and his staff haven't watched very much film of what they have on campus and can't wait to see what they have once they hit the practice field. That will determine a lot, including the depth chart, schemes and whom they target in recruiting.
"I will have a better idea after the spring. We have coaches that have all coached in different systems and we will not force our personnel into schemes," Franklin said. "We will adapt to what we do best. I do know that we will be very aggressive in all these phases of the game and we will put kids in position to be successful."
While there is still a lot of uncertainty with the Commodores, he does know some positions he will look to add in this class, including cornerbacks and linebackers because they didn't sign any in 2011, defensive linemen that can rush the pass and push the pocket, a quarterback to build the offense around and perimeter players.
"We have to have a different approach at Vanderbilt and we have to be aggressive with all the recruits, families and coaches," he said. "It's all about relationships. We are going to find the kids and recruit hard. We have to build those relationships now and that will get kids on our campus."
Vanderbilt has some work to do, but it seems to have the right man for the job.
Mississippi DL coveted
When Quay Evans was 10 years old, Morton coach Miles Porter knew he was going to be a special player. Now Evans is an Under Armour All-American defensive lineman with numerous offers including Alabama, FSU, LSU, Ole Miss, Mississippi State and many others.
The 6-2, 320-pounder, who has been clocked at 4.9 in the 40 by Porter, is a monster in the middle of Morton's defense.
"There's really not a whole lot he can't do," Porter said. "When his mind is set on something, he will do it. Quay can do it all. He's ungodly strong and in a small town like Morton he's the type that comes along once in a lifetime."
As a sophomore, Evans bench-pressed 225 pounds 28 times.
"Quay has that rare combination of size, strength and speed. He's a freak for his stature," said Porter. "He can play over the center, three-technique, and I bet if he got down to 295 [pounds] Quay could play defensive end. He has NFL strength right now."
Terps add another lineman
New Maryland coach Randy Edsall has had a busy week, picking up three commitments in the trenches. The Terps' latest came Tuesday from offensive lineman Nick Brigham (Atlanta/The Marist School), who has the potential to be a guard at the next level.
"Maryland is getting a real good, solid player," Marist coach Allen Chadwick said. "He's a powerful and strong kid, especially in the lower body. He has a real nastiness to him."
The 6-4, 275-pounder, who will be a three-year starter for Marist, visited the Terrapins recently and he got his wish with a Maryland scholarship offer.
"He's originally from Connecticut and he's a big Edsall fan," Chadwick said.
Hardin still waiting
The Marist School also has a big-time kicker in Austin Hardin and last season he even hit a 59-yarder as time expired to beat Southwest Dekalb.
"He's got great leg strength," Chadwick said. "Austin doesn't have any offers yet but he's getting a lot of interest from schools Tennessee, Florida, Georgia, Georgia Tech, and many others. I mean all big-time schools."
Jamie Newberg has been covering recruiting in the Southeast and nationally for 19 years. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.