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The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
Since 1888
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.

Vanderbilt Football Early Signing Day: Lea reels in Top-50 recruiting class

The Commodores signed 20 recruits on Wednesday, Dec. 21, en route to another successful class.
Vanderbilt Athletics
Vanderbilt head coach Clark Lea and position coaches celebrate Early Signing Day on Dec. 21, 2022.

After bringing in the No. 32 recruiting class in the nation last year, football head coach Clark Lea and Co. continued their success into Early Signing Day for the 2023 class. As of Dec. 21, the class—ranked No. 54 in the country according to 247Sports—features 20 student-athletes who have signed their letter of intent to Vanderbilt.  

Lea held a press conference on Dec. 21 to discuss this second recruiting class as head coach.

“We’re proud of this class. We think this class is a group that is going to continue to move our program forward. That enhances us in areas that we need to build our depth and talent, and we’re excited about them becoming a part of the family.” Lea said. “They were inspired by what we’re doing here and have a belief in what we’re building. The foundation of this class was in that toughness.”

The Commodores are coming off a successful five-win second season under Lea. They snapped their 26-game SEC losing streak after a road victory against Kentucky and followed it up with a home win versus Florida. Several recruits from the 2022 class—including quarterback AJ Swann, wide receiver Jayden McGowan, defensive back Ja’Dais Richard and defensive end Darren Agu—played key roles for Vanderbilt. To replicate this momentum, the Commodores will need to lean on the incoming freshmen again. Let’s take a look at some of the recruits in this year’s early signing day class. 

Immediate impact

The highlight player of the 2023 class is four-star cornerback Martel Hight, out of Rome, Georgia. Hight checks in at 5’11”, 161 lbs. Initially committed to Louisville, Hight flipped to Vanderbilt after an official visit over the summer. As a senior, Hight played all over the field, on offense, defense and special teams. He recorded 3 interceptions on defense, 548 yards and 10 touchdowns as a wide receiver and added two touchdowns as a punt returner. Hight’s blazing speed—along with impressive physicality for his size—has him poised to play early on in his Vanderbilt career. 

After losing Ray Davis to Kentucky and Rocko Griffin Jr. to UTSA, the Vanderbilt running back room was left thin. That hole didn’t last for long, however, as Lea managed to sign three rushers—Deago Benson, AJ Newberry and Sedrick Alexander—in the 2023 class. 

Newberry, the No. 50-ranked tailback in the nation, rushed for 1,736 yards and 23 touchdowns during his senior season at South Grand Prairie High School in Texas. He was initially a Colorado commit before flipping to Vanderbilt earlier this month. Alexander produced over 2,000 scrimmage yards and 29 total touchdowns as a senior at LBJ High School in Texas, while Benson posted 1,282 scrimmage yards and 19 total touchdowns in his senior season at Midlothian High School in Texas.

Alexander’s prolific production puts him in a position to make an immediate impact, but Lea outlined that all three runners will have a chance to play in Davis’s absence.

“We wanted to add a group of guys who would help enhance our product on the field immediately. We’re gonna have to count on one or two of these guys to play next fall,” Lea said. “We also wanted to see players that have the physical presence and durability to run the ball in the SEC but also the ability to accelerate and get past the second and third levels to score touchdowns.” 

The trenches

Despite Vanderbilt’s running back room’s potential, they remain inexperienced as a whole. Hence, the importance of the offensive line cannot be overstated. While the Commodores are returning most of their starters from last season, the offensive line is a physically taxing position at which a team can never have too much depth. 

With this situation in mind, Vanderbilt will welcome four new recruits up front in 2023. Barrett Maddox, Anthony Miles, Cooper Starks and Misael Sandoval are all three-star recruits who will have an opportunity to work behind some of the program’s veterans—and likely see some playing time as reserves—before stepping into larger roles in the future. 

Catching passes 

After losing wide receivers Chris Pierce Jr. and Cam Johnson before last season, the Vanderbilt receiving room was left seemingly empty. Will Sheppard’s blossoming into an elite wide receiver and McGowan and Quincy Skinner showing promising flashes proved that fear to be untrue. Lea said he feels like the 2023 class has an opportunity to do more of the same, as well as to bolster the depth of the receiving corps. The 2023 class included three wide receivers: London Humphreys, Junior Sherill and Duran Parish. 

Humphreys is the second-highest-rated recruit in Vanderbilt’s class. He is originally from Nashville, Tennessee, and chose Vanderbilt over Auburn, South Carolina, Virginia and others.

“Yeah, we’re excited about [the wide receivers],” Lea said. “You’re talking about three guys that have proven skill sets. London Humphreys, he’s fast. If we know nothing else, we know that he can blow the top off the coverage, and to do that in our league adds value to the position. Junior Sherill was a do-it-all guy for Lipscomb Academy, and we’ll want to put him in a similar position here. He’s a guy that you can move around. Duran Parish is a kid who has so much upside. [He’s] a multisport athlete who has a knack for making plays. He came to camp, and all he does is complete. We had to force him out of the drill at times.”  

Vanderbilt also lost its top two tight ends, Ben Bresnahan and Gavin Schoenwald. Four-star tight end Ka’Morreun Pimpton was the Commodore’s highest-rated recruit—and the apparent heir to Bresnahan and Schoenwald—before he flipped his commitment to LSU on Wednesday afternoon. Kamrean Johnson is the No. 38-ranked tight end in the 2023 class and has the chance to make an immediate splash at the position, along with returners Justin Ball and Cole Spence. 

Applying pressure

After posting just nine sacks in the first season under Lea, the Vanderbilt defense stepped it up in 2022, getting to the quarterback 17 times. That said, the Commodores still ranked last in the SEC in that metric, making it an “area of concern,” according to Lea.

“We’ve added length and athleticism, and we also feel like we have young, talented players in the program that will develop these skills,” Lea said. “We need to shorten the down, and rushing the passer with four is a part of that. You add [another] rusher, and you lose a coverage player. That’s not always a luxury that we have.”

Vanderbilt added several key pieces to the defensive line in this class. Ted Gregoire played all over the defensive line as a senior, both on the interior and the edge. While he projects as more of a defensive tackle for the Commodores, Gregoire still recorded six sacks in his senior season at Hudson Catholic high school in New Jersey.

Edge rusher Evan Herrmann recently committed to Vanderbilt after previously committing to Wyoming. The 6’6”, 210-pounder out of Wisconsin, while fairly new to football, was an All-State hurdler. Herrmann is more of a project but fits the athletic mold that is characteristic of a Lea recruit. If developed properly, he could be a difference-maker in a couple of years.

Perhaps the most exciting of the defensive linemen is De’Marion Thomas. Thomas checks in at 6’3″, 330 lbs and can plug up the middle of the defensive line nicely. He will be a key factor in helping a Vanderbilt run defense that allowed the most rush yards per game (290.5) in the SEC last season. 

The Commodores also brought in senior Aeneas Dicosmo via the transfer portal. The former Stanford linebacker posted 26 tackles and 1.5 sacks for the Cardinals in 2022. 

Vanderbilt Football will likely hit the transfer portal for some more experienced depth as they continue to round out their 2023 class before National Signing Day on Feb. 1. The Commodores will begin the 2023 season on Aug. 26 at home in FirstBank Stadium against the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors. 

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About the Contributor
Aiden Rutman
Aiden Rutman, Sports Editor
Aiden Rutman (‘25) is a student in Peabody College majoring in human and organizational development and minoring in communication studies. He formerly produced The Hustler’s sports podcast, Live from West End. In addition to writing and podcasting, Aiden is an avid New York sports fan, and he loves playing sports, spending time outdoors and trying new foods. You can reach him at [email protected].
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1 year ago

Great article!