The stars next to the names don’t matter to James Franklin.
It is their potential to become stars in the Southeastern Conference that excites the Vanderbilt football coach when he looks at his 2013 signing class.
“We’re recruiting guys that look and act and perform like everybody else [in the SEC] is playing with,” Franklin said. “You look at this entire class — all of them had national offers, all of them had multiple SEC offers. That is going to be very, very important for us to do consistently year in and year out. We’re excited about it. We still have a long ways to go.”
Coming off their best season in 97 years, the Commodores took another step Wednesday with arguably the most highly regarded signing class in program history. The 26 players who signed national letters-of-intent earned the school’s highest ranking ever from Rivals.com, 19th — 10 spots up from last year. Scout.com also ranked the Commodores 19th; ESPN.com had them 22nd and 247Sports rated them 30th.
Fifteen of the incoming freshmen were considered four-star prospects by the four recruiting services. For the first time in the history of Rivals.com, Vanderbilt has signed five four-star athletes.
“I think it is important from a perception standpoint,” Franklin said. “The ratings aren’t really that important. There are some guys that Rivals and 247 and ESPN has ranked as two-stars that we think are four-star and five-star guys. I ask every kid when they commit to us who is the best running back, or whatever position they play, in the country? The answer should be them. They have to believe that in themselves just like we do as coaches.”
Franklin’s third signing class at Vanderbilt features 13 offensive players, 12 defensive players and one specialist. The Commodores reeled in a handful of wide receivers (five), defensive backs (five) and defensive linemen (four).
After addressing offensive line issues the last two years just two signed this year. Commodores coaches wanted to focus on skill positions and pass catchers.
Wide receivers coach and offensive recruiting coordinator Josh Gattis believes the additions will fill a void and offer more options behind wide receivers Jordan Matthews and Chris Boyd.
“This year we wanted to focus a little more on playmakers,” Gattis said. “We felt like we needed to create some depth and get some skill positions into our program. Each and every one of those guys brings a different trait to the table that they are going to be able to use to help us.”
Four-star prospect Jordan Cunningham (6-foot-3, 175 pounds) highlighted the wideouts. Vanderbilt received letters of intent from two highly touted tight ends — four-star recruit Mitchell Parsons (6-5, 230) and junior college transfer Brandon Vandenburg (6-6, 270).
Four-star quarterback Johnathon McCrary, Vanderbilt’s first commit of the 2013 class, and offensive lineman Sean Dowling are already on campus after enrolling for the spring semester in January. Both players joined Franklin on stage at the Student Life Center on Wednesday night as more than 500 fans gathered for a signing day celebration.
Perhaps the biggest thrill of the day for the coaching staff came in the morning when Cunningham announced his decision on ESPNU. Surrounded by friends and family at University School in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., he explained that he had a 50-year plan which included college and NFL careers and becoming an engineer. He then chose Vanderbilt over Miami and Florida State, among others, to set off a raucous celebration among the Commodore coaches in the “war room” at the McGugin Center.
“There is a relief when [the fax] actually comes through,” Franklin said. “It was a really good opportunity for the world and country to see what Vanderbilt is doing and what Vanderbilt is recruiting — that caliber of kid. I couldn’t have scripted it out any better for him, if I would have written his speech for him. I couldn’t have done it any better. That is exciting because people see you can be one of the top players in the country and choose a place like Vanderbilt.”