NASHVILLE, Tenn. — In some respects, the new era of Vanderbilt football under head coach Clark Lea truly began to take more of its shape Wednesday.
On National Signing Day, Lea and his staff compiled one of the strongest signing classes in the history of the program. The group of new Commodores is ranked inside the top 35 by both 247Sports and Rivals – and could climb up those rankings in February by signing a few more prospects.
Vanderbilt signed 21 student-athletes as part of the 2022 class, incoming freshman who will join the program for the start of the 2022 season.
Here’s a look behind the scenes of how it all came together Wednesday from inside the McGugin Center:
5:38 a.m. — Before the sun had risen, the entire Vanderbilt football staff was milling about the building waiting for the excitement to begin. Assistant coaches A.J. Blazek, Justin Lustig, Norval McKenzie, Jovan Haye, Jesse Minter, David Raih and LaMar Morgan were among those to duck their heads into the official command center – the team staff room – to check the setup.
6:03 a.m. — The command center room gets more crowded with the anticipation of the first official signing being confirmed.
6:05 a.m. — Levi Harber, an offensive lineman from Michigan, becomes the first prospect to deliver his National Letter of Intent. Blazek and the offensive staff boast that one of their recruits was the first to make it official.
6:11 a.m. — Quarterback AJ Swann and tight end Cole Spence, both from Georgia, officially become Commodores.
6:19 a.m. — Down the hall from the command center, Vandy’s coaching staff cheers loudly when David Siegel, an offensive lineman from The Hun School in New Jersey, officially signs.
6:29 a.m. — Vanderbilt’s coaching staff assembles to get Spence on the telephone and congratulate him on his signing.
6:36 a.m. — Steven Sannieniola, a defensive back from Maryland, is reached via video call where he tells the staff, “It hasn’t really hit me yet. I’m fired up.”
6:38 a.m. — Moments later the staff connects with Harber via video call and informs him he was the first prospect to officially sign earlier in the morning. “I heard it was a competition,” Harber says, “so I had to win.”
6:42 a.m. — Jayden McGowan, an versatile playmaker from South Carolina, is reached via video chat and Lea tells the wide receiver that the program will be celebrating his signing all day. “I’m going to be celebrating, too,” McGowan says.
6:45 a.m. — Defensive line coach Inoke Breckterfield video calls Bryce Cowan, a linebacker from Florida, moments before Cowan is to take a final exam at Godby High School.
7 a.m. — Minutes after video chatting Linus Zunk, the staff connects with Savion Riley, a defensive back from Georgia. “Welcome to the family officially,” Lea says. “Thanks for believing in us.”
7:01 a.m. — Vanderbilt athletic director Candice Lee stops by to be a part of the action and show her support.
7:13 a.m. — “Dude. We made it.” Lea’s words to offensive lineman Grayson Morgan, a soon-to-be graduate of Lea’s alma mater Montgomery Bell Academy, during a video chat. McKenzie chimes in with the question, “What makes a great running backs coach?” Morgan quickly responds, “A great O-line.”
7:21 a.m. — The staff gets Siegel on the line for a video call. He notes his family just left to go purchase celebratory pancakes.
7:24 a.m. — On a video call with quarterback Drew Dickey, from Texas, general manager Barton Simmons recounts Dickey’s commitment moment and expresses how much the Texan’s pledge then – and now – means to the program.
7:29 a.m. — From Florida, defensive lineman Bradley Mann is dialed up and connected with – his mom pops on screen to flash the Star V hand signal.
7:32 a.m. — Raih leads a call to Georgia’s Daveon Walker and recounts how he knew after watching Walker for a few reps during a recruiting visit that the wide receiver was right for the Vanderbilt program. “Let’s hear it for Daveon,” Raih exclaims to the room which erupts in applause.
7:35 a.m. — From Christ Presbyterian Academy, Lea welcomes linebacker Langston Patterson to Vanderbilt football by letting him know, “This is about the Patterson family takeover.” Vandy linebackers coach John Egorugwu challenges Patterson to a table tennis rematch.
7:38 a.m. — On a video call with Darren Agu, Lea grins at the linebacker from Georgia and says, “You knew Vanderbilt was it the first time you were on campus didn’t you?”
7:42 a.m. — One of two quarterbacks signed Wednesday, Swann is reached via video call. Says Lea, “You’re a leader. And we’re going to get you up here so you can start being a leader here.”
8:35 a.m. — When the staff checks in to congratulate BJ Diakite, the linebacker from Alabama is in the middle of getting a haircut.
8:45 a .m. — Among the first of many radio interviews lined up for the day, Lea steps aside to guest on SiriusXM.
8:54 a.m. — Running back Maurice Edwards is sincerely thankfully that that the Vanderbilt coaching staff has checked in with him via video call, but his signing ceremony at Warren Township (Illinois) High School is about to begin and he has to run.
10:52 a.m. — After a lengthy delay in the action, members of the staff scramble back in to the command center for a video call with running back Chase Gillespie.
11:03 a.m. — Trudell Berry, a cornerback from Texas, shows off his Vanderbilt-centric outfit to the staff. Minter reminds him that “Trudell Island” is part of his future as a Commodore.
11:59 a.m. — Just before noon, Vandy’s final two signees officially submit paperwork to become Commodores.
12:21 p.m. — The staff video calls Ja’Dais Richard, a defensive back from Louisiana, who is eating lunch with family and also mentally preparing for a basketball game later in the day. “Tell your crew I can’t wait to see them next time I’m in Louisiana,” Lea says.
12:40 p.m. — Nicknamed, “Gumbo,” Quantaves Gaskins answers a video call with an ear-to-ear smile. Lea congratulates the defensive back from Atlanta and says, “You should be so excited about what awaits you here.”
1:02 p.m. — Lea moves to the football team room to hold a news conference with members of the media to discuss the day’s signees. The second-year head coach speaks for nearly 30 minutes about what Wednesday means for the future of the Vanderbilt program.
“We have the makings of something special here. It’s just not going to be for everybody – and that’s OK,” Lea said. “You have to be a visionary. You have to be a builder. We want competitive people that understand that the work ahead is critical. We have a lot of ground to cover yet.
“Today is certainly a day of celebration and it’s a great day for the future of our program, and yet it’s about our effort in getting the guys in this class ready to play next fall and growing them through the course of their career here.”
— Chad Bishop covers Vanderbilt for VUCommodores.com.
Follow him @MrChadBishop.
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— Vanderbilt Football (@VandyFootball) December 15, 2021