Recruiting report: Sizing up the state of Vanderbilt’s class with Christian D’Andrea
Vanderbilt enjoyed unprecedented recruiting success during James Franklin’s three-year tenure in Nashville. Once Franklin left for Penn State earlier this month, however, the Commodores’ 2014 class has taken a hit. Ten prospects have decommitted since he was introduced in Happy Valley. Former Stanford defensive coordinator Derek Mason was named Vandy’s new coach on Jan. 17, and he and his staff have been scrambling to keep the remainder of the program’s haul intact.
How has Mason fared so far? What’s next for the Commodores’ 2014 class? Will more prospects flip before National Signing Day on Feb. 5? SI.com caught up with Christian D’Andrea, author of SB Nation’s Anchor of Gold blog, to discuss the state of Vanderbilt recruiting.
SI: It’s been a whirlwind recruiting process for Vanderbilt since Derek Mason was hired to replace James Franklin. How would you assess the job Mason has done?
Christian D’Andrea: Mason’s done a patchwork job so far. Obviously, he was a week behind, so a lot of players had already decommitted from Vandy [when he took over]. But he’s worked hard. He got one guy back, Bailey Granier, a giant offensive lineman, and he’s pulled in a couple more guys. But right now, it looks like the background of guys being pulled to Vandy has gone down a little bit. They were going after high four-star guys, high three-star guys. But Mason’s first commitment was Rashad Canty, a big wide receiver who is only a two-star player. There’s not a lot of overlap between what [Mason] was doing at Stanford and what he’s doing at Vanderbilt.
I think Vandy fans understand there’s a learning curve there. But at the same time, there’s the precedent that Franklin set — he basically had two months to put together his first recruiting class [in 2011] and he was flipping guys from Virginia Tech and bringing in guys like Josh Grady. It’s encouraging what Mason is doing, but it’s a little bit frustrating as well.
SI: Once Mason has a full cycle under his belt, how do you think his staff will perform on the recruiting trail moving forward? Can they keep Franklin’s level of talent coming in?
CD: It’s tough for anyone to replicate the level at which Franklin recruited, because no one had ever seen anything like that at Vanderbilt. That said, I’m pretty confident in Mason and this great staff he’s brought in — a lot of NFL experience, a lot of guys that kids are going to want to play for, like [offensive coordinator] Karl Dorrell, guys with high-level experience and a proven track record of developing players. I think they’re going to be more successful relying on their credentials than Franklin and his staff were beforehand because they have a lot more proven success than Franklin and his staff had coming in.
One of the things I think is really going to be significant for Vanderbilt, even if it doesn’t get the four-star recruits it was getting with Franklin, is that it has a coach with a great track record of developing defensive players who were two- and three-star recruits. At Stanford, the vast majority of guys Mason put on those All-Pac-12 teams were two- and three-star prospects. The guys who are more in the Vandy wheelhouse are the two- and three-star guys, the ones who were coming here back when [former coach] Bobby Johnson was there.
SI: Who were the biggest losses among Vanderbilt’s decommitments?
CD: I think every Vandy fan thinks losing quarterback K.J. Carta-Samuels is going to be a huge blow. Vandy had his older brother, Austyn, who is a great kid and bled black and gold. The school had family bloodlines, with their grandfather playing baseball for the Commodores in the 1960s. Austyn came out, tore his ACL, came back and led the team to a win over Tennessee last season. They really thought they’d get K.J. Carta-Samuels back, but I think the real blow came when offensive line coach Herb Hand decided to join Franklin at Penn State. Those two had a big connection. I think that was the final blow that convinced K.J. to head to Washington and stay closer to home.
SI: Much has been made of Franklin flipping former Vandy commits and bringing them to Penn State. Did it surprise you just how many Vandy pledges ended up going to the Nittany Lions?
CD: I don’t think we understood the scope of how many players would go with Franklin. We knew a few guys would go, but I think right now it’s six players who have gone with Franklin. There’s always the possibility that more could go before National Signing Day. It’s definitely difficult to deal with, especially when you have a coach who — last year when Josh Dawson called and decommitted [to Georgia] — specifically said those players weren’t “men of honor.” It’s frustrating, but it’s understandable. He made a bond with these players, he gave them his word and now he’s honoring that commitment he made. There’s a little bitterness, but it’s all in the game. You can’t fault the players for that, and it’s even tough to fault the coach.
SI: Who are the most impressive names still on Vandy’s radar with only a few days left before Signing Day?
CD: The biggest guy right now is a quarterback out of North Carolina, Shawn Stankavage. He’s originally an Eastern Carolina recruit, but Vandy offered him recently and he’s a big pocket passer who could have an impact. The other guy, Ronald Monroe, is a Washington State decommit. You know he’s good if Mike Leach likes him. But Washington State wants him as a wide receiver out there, and he wants to play quarterback, so Vandy is interested. The Commodores had two quarterbacks in this class, but lost both of them when Franklin left, so they’re trying to restock the cupboard there. They only have three scholarships quarterbacks on the roster right now, and one of them, Grady, keeps flipping from receiver to quarterback. There’s also a defensive end, Nifae Lealao, who’s on Vandy’s radar, but Stankavage and Monroe are the two main names still in play for the Commodores.
SI: Vandy’s class currently sits at a mere nine players. How many do you think Mason will ultimately sign?
CD: I think the way the team has opened things up, there will be 13 or 14 players who sign. But at the same time, so many players redshirted last year who were highly rated recruits, like quarterback Jonathan McCrary and linebacker Zach Cunningham. Vanderbilt doesn’t necessarily need to stock its roster this year. It can afford to have a down year because last year it had so many seniors on the team. The Commodores have a lot of players this year who will make an impact coming out of the shadows. Even if the recruiting class is fewer than 15 players, I don’t think it’s going to have a significant impact in the short or long term. The big pressure is going to be on Mason to prove that he can go out and recruit as a head coach in 2015.