NASHVILLE, Tenn. — It was the refrain echoing from Vanderbilt head coach Clark Lea and virtually every member of his coaching staff Wednesday morning.
“This is just the beginning.”
On video calls with each member of Vanderbilt’s newest signing class, Lea told every addition to Vandy football: Now that their recruiting processes have come to a head with the official signing of a letter of intent, it’s time to get to work.
“I think it’s easy to look at this day from a signee’s perspective and feel like it’s the finish line,” Lea said. “But it’s the starting line.
“I think it’s important to communicate that to them so that they create that vision for themself. We want to mark this as a beginning point for them and the start of a journey as members of the Vanderbilt football family.”
Vanderbilt officially signed 21 student-athletes on Wednesday’s National Signing Day, student-athletes who will join the program at various points in 2023. All 21 of those players put pen to paper between 6 a.m. and 9:30 a.m.
“The tenor changes, the relationship changes—not in its authenticity, but in the urgency in which we move forward,” Lea added. “This date marks the point at which we’re able to get them information that will help them set a course for their early success here.”
Lea and nearly everyone involved with the Vanderbilt football program gathered inside the McGugin Center to eagerly await the official word from each signee. Vanderbilt Athletic Director Candice Lee was there, as were former Commodoress Jordan Matthews and Ken Hammond, fans, friends of the program and National Commodore Club members.
“This a class that the starting point was off a 2-10 season (in 2021). The early parts of our efforts here was finding guys that were tough enough to help us build this program, that were inspired by what we’re doing here and that have a belief in what we’re building,” Lea said. “For them, it was belief in something before there was evidence. I think the characteristics of this group, the starting point for this class, the foundation of this class was in that toughness. They came in contact with people in this building, men and women that they believe in, and they believe in the vision of what we’re building and were excited to be a part of it.”
Vandy’s coaching staff begin dialing the phone shortly after 7 a.m. First on the line was Ted Gregoire, a 6-foot-4, 300-pound defensive lineman from New Jersey.
Next was defensive back Martel Hight from Rome, Georgia, who was about to head out to his high school’s basketball practice. Offensive lineman Barrett Maddox from Clinton, Tennessee, was about to head to his 10:30 a.m. basketball game.
Lea donned a black cowboy hat while speaking with Benson.
De’Marion Thomas, a 6-foot-3, 330-pound defensive lineman from Oklahoma decided not to wake his sleeping father for the celebratory phone call—his father came wandering into the room anyway.
Matthews, an Alabama native, excitedly announced the addition of tight end Kamrean Johnson, of Theodore, Alabama, while Lea and the staff threw on “Throw it to Kam” T-shirts. Ethan Crisp, from Mount Juliet High School, answered the phone wearing a Vanderbilt bucket hat.
Another Texas running back, AJ Newberry, said he planned to celebrate his big day by taking the night off of work. Defensive back Jalen Gilbert (Round Rock, Texas) answered the phone surrounded by his entire family.
Anthony Miles, a 6-foot-5, 290-pound offensive lineman from Alabama, said his plans today included celebrating beginning his journey as a Commodore while helping to set up for a family holiday party. Linebacker Dante Kelly, from Itta Bena, Mississippi, had his call somewhat hijacked by his grandmother.
Decked out in Vanderbilt gear when he answered the phone, defensive lineman Evan Herrmann of Wisconsin said he “hit the bookstore hard” before he left Nashville recently. Lipscomb Academy wide receiver Junior Sherrill was getting his hair done when he picked up.
Keegan Wechsler, an offensive lineman out of Texas, checked in from a family skiing trip.
Before California offensive lineman Misael Sandoval was dialed up, Lea grabbed the attention of the room and thanked everyone for their efforts throughout the year and for being part of Wednesday’s festivities. Sandoval then answered the phone flanked by his mother and father, and his mother kindly asked for Lea to repeat his initial greeting because she missed it the first time.
Vanderbilt can sign high school seniors and college transfers through Friday, as well as from Feb. 1 through April 1. Texas running back Sedrick Alexander, Crisp and Ruth are all expected to enroll at Vanderbilt in January.
“I think we’ll learn more about this team through the winter and spring and be able to address those areas of need very specifically. That said, we’ll pay attention to the high school market as well and make sure we’re turning over stones to see if there is a player or two that fits us as well,” Lea said. “We’re going to take a moment here to breathe and celebrate the class that is. I think that’s important. But certainly our eyes are fixed on the goal—which is to build a roster that allows us to get into the postseason. That’s going to take effort, certainly through February, but even through the spring and through that second transfer window.”
— Chad Bishop covers Vanderbilt for VUCommodores.com.
Follow him @MrChadBishop.