The Vanderbilt Commodores announced a 20-player football recruiting class after a flurry of activity on National Signing Day.
That number is down from last year when the Commodores inked 21 players to the 2016 class.
Vanderbilt’s 2017 class is diverse in position, geography and age. Many players that were signed today could fill gaps left by prominent Commodores at the linebacker, defensive line and offensive line positions.
“This group was a great group for us, a great signing class for us,” head coach Derek Mason said. “It addressed some needs, offensively and defensively. We understood exactly what we wanted out of this class, which was size, length, athleticism and a group that’s going to hopefully move this program forward.”
Mason said the departure of key players like Zach Cunningham, Adam Butler, Barrett Gouger and Will Holden played a role in the kind of players he recruited.
“It plays into it dramatically,” he said. “Anytime you lose a Holden, you look up and you lose a Zach Cunningham, the production has to be replaced. With that, obviously, we needed to attack in those areas, and I think we’ve addressed it with guys who have size, who have athleticism, and now, what they have to do, like Zach did three years ago, is grow up.”
While most of Vanderbilt’s signees had made their commitments before Wednesday, a couple of players waited until Signing Day to make their choices. Defensive end Michael Owusu from Westlake Village, California, announced his decision on Wednesday, choosing the Commodores over schools like Boise State, Illinois and Hawaii.
Two Vanderbilt signees will be continuing family legacies with the Commodores. Defensive end Dayo Odeyingbo, brother of Commodore defensive lineman Dare Odeyingbo, officially signed on Wednesday, as did end Jalen Pinkney, brother of Vanderbilt tight end Jared Pinkney.
“I think it played a huge role,” Mason said on the role of the older Odeyingbo and Pinkney brothers in the recruiting process. “Anytime you have a sibling and you guys are close, that can happen. It happened with the Smith brothers [Emmanuel and Josh]. I think there’s a comfort in knowing that you’ve got a built-in system of accountability and comfort level as to what to expect.”
In addition, Vanderbilt snagged a couple of local players for the 2017 class. Running back Ke’Shawn Vaughn, who will transfer from Illinois to Vanderbilt, and linebacker Brayden DeVault-Smith both went to Pearl-Cohn High School in Nashville, just two miles from Vanderbilt Stadium. Vaughn was a Vanderbilt target in 2015 but chose the Illini instead.
Vaughn, in an exclusive interview Tuesday, said he is thrilled to get back home.
“I’m very excited,” he said. “I’m ready to get back just to put on for my city.”
He will have to sit out a season to meet NCAA eligibility requirements and won’t enroll until this summer, but Mason is already excited to have him on board.
“I like his ability as a running back to get yards after contact, to be a home-run player,” Mason said. “I know he’s going to have to sit a year, but he’s going to be tremendous in this program. It’s good to get the prodigal son back home, and he’ll do Nashville proud.”
The Commodores also maintained the so-called “Poly Pipeline” in 2017 by signing two players from Hawaii. Linebacker Feleti Afemui made his commitment official Wednesday. The Kahului native committed just days ago and had had 16 tackles for loss in 2016.
Defensive end Jonah Buchanan, who went to high school in Honolulu, Hawaii, was a late offer by the Commodores but chose Vanderbilt over his only other offer, San Diego. He had three sacks and three fumble recoveries in 2016.
Mason will look to continue Vanderbilt’s presence in Hawaii, attributing some of his success in Polynesia to Tennessee Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota.
“We’ve got a niche over there,” he said. “We’re going to try to continue to push the Poly Pipeline. It makes sense. With Marcus Mariota here, they truly understand the Polynesian culture, understand exactly what’s happening here in Nashville. They pay attention to Marcus and Vanderbilt just happens to be in the shadow of what’s going on with him.”
While Vanderbilt picked up a number of talented players, it missed out on a couple of players who waited until Signing Day to make their decisions. Hawaiian 4-star defensive end Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa committed to Notre Dame, and defensive end Miki Suguturata committed to Utah. Both had offers from Vanderbilt and were reportedly interested in the school.
The quarterback pipeline also got a boost with the addition of Jacob Free, the 24th-best pro style quarterback in the country, according to 247Sports. The Brantley, Alabama, native committed back in June and threw a whopping 35 touchdown passes in 2015. He’ll likely wait his turn behind Kyle Shurmur and Deuce Wallace for the starting job.
Mason stressed the importance of keeping the quarterback line of succession stocked.
“When I was talking to Free, we talked about that,” he said. “The development of players and development of quarterbacks are what programs have to do to be successful. It’s great that you can get everybody going, but unless you have a quarterback pipeline and a quarterback progression and really can develop that particular position, you’re going to struggle.”
Even though the program announced a 20-man class Wednesday, Mason said it might not be done recruiting for this 2017 class. Vanderbilt will continue to go after some players in the transfer market over the next few weeks.
Here is Vanderbilt’s 2017 recruiting class (so far), sent via press release:
NAME POSITION Ht. Wt. HOMETOWN HIGH SCHOOL
Feleti Afemui Linebacker 6-3 222 Kahului, Hawaii Maui HS
Colin Anderson Linebacker 6-2 212 Florence, Ala. Brooks HS
Bryce Bailey Offensive Line 6-5 305 Newburgh, Ind. Castle HS
James Bostic Wide Receiver 6-3 205 Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Cardinal Gibbons HS
Jonah Buchanan Defensive Line 6-4 270 Honolulu, Hawaii Iolani HS
Cole Clemens Offensive Line 6-6 305 South Jordan, Utah Bingham HS
Tae Daley ^ Defensive Back 6-0 185 Warner Robins, Ga. Northside HS
Stone Edwards Defensive Line 6-5 245 Hillsborough, N.C. Orange HS
Brayden DeVault-Smith Linebacker 6-3 208 Nashville, Tenn. Pearl-Cohn HS
Jacob Free Quarterback 6-4 212 Brantley, Ala. Brantley HS
Allan George Defensive Back 6-1 182 Andalusia, Ala. Andalusia HS
Randall Haynie Defensive Back 6-0 180 Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Cardinal Gibbons HS
Grant Miller Offensive Line 6-4 260 Fort Lauderdale, Fla. St. Thomas Aquinas HS
Dimitri Moore ^ Linebacker 6-3 208 Cedar Hill, Texas Cedar Hill HS
Dayo Odeyingbo Defensive Line 6-6 255 Irving, Texas Carrollton Ranchview HS
Michael Owusu Linebacker 6-5 210 Oxnard, Calif. Oaks Christian HS
Chris Pierce Wide Receiver 6-4 208 Smithfield, Va. Smithfield HS
Jalen Pinkney Defensive Line 6-4 230 Norcross, Ga. Norcross HS
Jonathan Stewart Offensive Line 6-8 305 Lawrenceville, Ga. Mountain View HS
Ke’Shawn Vaughn # Running Back 5-10 210 Nashville, Tenn. Illinois/Pearl-Cohn HS
^ Early enrollee