Vanderbilt won enough football games in 2008 that — finally — it did not have to play the guessing game in its pursuit of players.
Born largely of a 7-6 record and Music City Bowl victory two seasons ago, the Commodores’ 24-member 2010 recruiting class announced Wednesday widely was recognized as the best ever signed by coach Bobby Johnson and his staff.
For his part, Johnson declared it the most SEC-ready they have secured. In their previous eight years, they often targeted undersized players with the idea that they would grow and develop, which they occasionally did.
“We got a lot of these guys committed last spring and over the summer,” Johnson said. “Our coaches did a great job keeping in touch with those guys and cultivating their interest in Vanderbilt. They came through with a great class.
“The interest that we got right off the bat from playing in the bowl and winning it was a huge help.”
It was enough to convince many — the overwhelming majority of the signees were rated as three-star prospects — to honor their commitments even as Vanderbilt went 2-10 overall and winless in the Southeastern Conference last fall.
Some even held on despite what Johnson said was an unusual number of battles with other conference schools.
“We’re not going to hide the fact that our season didn’t turn out like we all anticipated and wanted,” recruiting coordinator Warren Belin said. “… It was a challenge each and every week, but because of the pride and integrity a lot of these guys have … these guys wanted to come to Vanderbilt for all the right reasons.”
The Commodores’ class included four offensive linemen, all of whom are 6-foot-5 or taller. Only one, Andrew Bridges (235 pounds) needs to add significant bulk. Five defensive linemen included a pair of 6-foot-2 tackles in the neighborhood of 270 pounds. Two of the four wide receivers checked in at 6-foot-4.
“We’re getting to where we can recruit the big guys too,” Johnson said. “(This is) probably the most ready-to-go defensive line we’ve ever recruited. Those guys usually have to redshirt, but I think these guys are going to push some people and be a force on our team next year.”
One player, quarterback Jordan Rodgers, spent two years in junior college where he developed into a player who might compete for a starting job. The younger brother of Green Bay Packers’ quarterback Aaron Rodgers said that in the last two years he grew from 5-foot-11, 160 pounds to the 6-2, 210-pounder he is currently.
Rodgers already is enrolled in school after having signed following the fall semester. He has two years of remaining eligibility with the possibility of a redshirt year as well, if needed.
“I felt like I had a lot of the tools to be a quarterback at the next level, but I also felt like I had a lot of maturing to do physically,” Rodgers said. “I just felt like I needed a couple more years before I stepped on a four-year campus.”
Not so for many of his newest teammates.
“We’re not afraid to take chances like we have and develop players,” Johnson said. “But we had some more success (this year) going with some guys who are already established size-wise, reputation-wise and production-wise. So we feel good about those guys.
“They’ve proven they’re good players and a lot of people agreed with us. We had to fight for those guys and we had to fight to keep them.”