Let the quarterback controversy officially begin.
After landing three quarterbacks on National Signing Day on Wednesday, Vanderbilt and first-year head coach James Franklin now have seven players on the roster who can play behind center.
Four-star recruit Lafonte Thourogood, along with Josh Grady and Kris Kentera, all signed national letters of intent to play for the Commodores. They were a part of a 21-member signing class, which was ranked 45th in the country by Scout.com.
Quarterback was already a position filled with competition as two-year starter Larry Smith figured to get a challenge from Jordan Rodgers, a junior college transfer who sat out last season due to shoulder surgery.
But Franklin, who had less than seven weeks after he was hired to put together his first signing class, made it clear that all three incoming freshmen will have a chance to compete for a starting job next fall.
“I don’t believe in the redshirt deal. Redshirting is a defeatist mentality,” Franklin, who turned 39 on Wednesday, said. “Every single one of these guys that we’ve recruited they have been told they are coming in here to play. Once they get here, if they are not ready, then we’ll deal with redshirting at that time. I want every single one of these guys to feel like they are coming to make an impact right away.”
Thourogood might have been Vanderbilt’s biggest pickup, considering that on Tuesday he was still verbally committed to going to Virginia Tech. The 6-foot-3 225 pounder out of Ocean Lakes High School in Virginia Beach, Va., however, changed his mind on Wednesday morning and signed instead with the Commodores, whom he visited last weekend.
He was recruited heavily by Chris Beatty, Vanderbilt’s wide receivers coach and offensive recruiting coordinator. In fact, before serving the last three seasons as an assistant at West Virginia, Beatty had spent eight years as a head coach at three different high schools in Virginia.
“I have known him for a long time. It was one of those things where he was like ‘Hey, if you get another job, I would be glad to go where you go,’” Beatty, who added that education was a key factor in swaying Thourogood, said. “Went through a process, he was committed to a great place but this is a great place, too. ... I think, no disrespect to where he came from or where he was committed to — they have an extraordinary program — but we feel like we have some building blocks in place to try to build on what we have too.”
Thourogood accounted for nearly 2,000 total yards and 27 touchdowns last year and fits the dual-threat bill — he was also a sprinter for Ocean Lakes’ state championship team.
“He is 6-foot-3, 225 pounds. He benches 410 [pounds]. He runs 10.8 [seconds] in the 100 meters. We are going to do everything in our power to get him on the field,” Franklin said. “Like I told them, I am not promising anybody anything. They are going to have to come in and earn it. But you are talking about a really, talented smart kid that can bring something to the table for us.”
Grady, a three-star athlete out of Armwood High school in Tampa, also decided to go with Vanderbilt within just 48 hours of signing day. He chose the Commodores over Iowa State, South Florida and Wake Forest. The 6-foot, 185-pounder accounted for nearly 3,000 yards of offense last year, including 2,109 threw the air for 24 touchdowns.
The 18-year-old plans to pursue a pre-health degree, with the hopes of being a heart surgeon.
Kentera, a 6-foot-4, 195-pounder, also accounted for more than 2,000 yards through the air and on the ground but is just a two-star athlete out of Colorado Springs, Co. Franklin, who said the coaching staff got wind of him late, thought his play in a Wing-T offense at Pine Creek High School “that really didn’t allow him to show his skills.”
“The more research we did on this young man, the more we kind of fell in love with him,” Franklin said. “We thought he is a guy we want to bring here and have a chance to develop and we think the sky is the limit for him.”
Obviously, with three incoming quarterbacks and four already on the roster, someone might not get that shot to compete on the Southeastern Conference stage. But Franklin said that is the sort of environment he wants to create, especially at the quarterback position. He doesn’t want it to be easy.
“If you don’t want to be a competitor, this isn’t the place for you. We are going to have the most competitive environment on this campus — academically and athletically. If you’re afraid of competition, don’t come to Vanderbilt,” Franklin said. “They understand that. Just like I told them next year I am going to recruit somebody to beat them out.”
• Vandy snags MTSU commitment: Franklin said Hendersonville senior Joe Townsend called him early Wednesday morning shortly after midnight to let him know he was signing with the Commodores. Townsend, a 6-foot-4, 280-pound offensive/defensive lineman, had verbally committed to Middle Tennessee State in December but was persuaded by Franklin and assistant director of operations Andy Frank to come to Vanderbilt.
“He always wanted to be here from the beginning. Obviously us getting in late caused some complications with that,” Franklin said. “This kid wants to play in that stadium. He is a Vanderbilt guy. He is going to bring a toughness to us. ... I’m really, really happy that we were able to make that work in, really, the 11th hour.”
• Commodores land Brentwood Academy standout: Brentwood Academy defensive back Derek King was the first recruit who met with Franklin shortly after he was hired in mid-December. It didn’t take Franklin long to realize he had a future Commodore in his office.
The 5-foot-11, 195-pounder chose Vanderbilt over Arkansas, Auburn and Tennessee, among others, and is one of five Tennessee products to sign with the Commodores.
“There is nothing better than keeping our local kids home. He is a kid that is the total package,” Franklin said. “This kid can run. This kid is physical. I was just extremely impressed with him. We’ll sign 10 of these young men a year if we can find them.”
• Vanderbilt gets four-star pair: Along with Thourogood, the Commodores also grabbed four-star recruit Dillon van der Wal out of Oaks Christian High School in Woodland Hills, Calif. The 6-foot-7, 235 pound tight end/defensive end de-committed from Arizona State late in the process. As a senior, he recorded 22 sacks and forced six fumbles in helping Oaks Christian to a state title.
“You are talking about a kid who can play a number of positions for us,” Franklin said. “I think he has a chance to be a 6-foot-7, 275-pound guy who is still thin. [Strength] Coach [Dwight] Galt and his staff are just so excited to work with this young man.”
• Class heavy on linemen: Defensive recruiting coordinator and secondary coach Wes McGriff said there was an emphasis on recruiting prospective linemen. It showed — on both sides of the ball.
The Commodores landed four offensive linemen, four defensive linemen and one (Townsend) who could play both.
“I think we answered two areas of concern with interior linemen on both sides of the ball,” McGriff said. “I think we did an outstanding job as a staff of identifying guys that satisfied the needs. I think the SEC and college football now is a line of scrimmage league. If you don’t win at the line of scrimmage, if you don’t win in the box, it doesn’t matter how talented your skill guys are, you don’t give yourself an opportunity to win a ballgame, or have a winning season or build a winning program.”
• Signees come from all over: Vanderbilt’s 21 signees came from 13 states, including five each from Tennessee and Florida. The Commodores also drew players from Georgia, Michigan, Mississippi, Illinois, Colorado, California and Indiana, among others.
• TSU, MTSU land big classes: Middle Tennessee State and Tennessee State each received 22 national letters of intent on Wednesday. For Middle Tennessee State, coach Rick Stockstill, the issue of defense was addressed. The Blue Raiders lost eight starters on that side of the ball but landed 13 defensive players in this year’s class.
“We lost a lot of guys on our defensive front so that was a critical position for us to fill,” Stockstill, who picked up 11 from the state of Georgia, said. “I thought we did a great job in that area. We added good size and athletic ability with the four inside guys while the ends are athletic, tall and have good growth potential.”
More than half of Tennessee State’s class was also defensive (12 players) and five hail from Tennessee.