Franklin wraps up perhaps best class ever at Vandy
By TERESA M. WALKER
AP Sports Writer
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -- James Franklin has been telling people for months the same old Vanderbilt is no more.
Wednesday he did more than just talk about it.
The coach inked a recruiting class expected not only to be the best the Commodores have signed in the modern era but among the nation's best.
Vanderbilt had 21 players committed by midday Wednesday led by Tennessee's top running back in Brian Kimbrow from Memphis who committed last summer and never wavered. Rivals.com projected Vanderbilt's class as the only group from the Southeastern Conference's Eastern Division featuring all players rated three stars or higher.
"It's just one step in the right direction, but I think there's a buzz right now about Vanderbilt football I don't think there's ever been before," Franklin said at a news conference. "We were able to do some real positive things on the field this year and were able to follow it up with a really solid class, a class that solves a lot of issues for us."
Vanderbilt is coming off a 6-7 record in Franklin's first season and the program's fifth bowl berth in school history. Franklin and his assistants spent plenty of time holding onto recruits like Kimbrow and defensive end Caleb Azubike of Nashville who are among six Tennesseans signing with Vandy, tying the most in-state players since 1985.
Vanderbilt did lose defensive end Josh Dawson of Tucker, Ga., to Georgia on Wednesday. Franklin refused to talk about players he didn't sign.
"Because we haven't had the tradition and the history and the things like that people just negative recruit like crazy against us," Franklin said. "We spend so much time fighting every single battle that so many other schools don't have to fight it makes it that much more rewarding when you're able to have success."
And the Commodores enjoyed some Wednesday.
Rivals.com rated Vanderbilt's class at No. 28 nationally by Wednesday afternoon, a big leap from 53rd a year ago for what had been a class ranked as high as any during the start of recruiting websites. Scout.com ranked Vanderbilt 43rd a year after grading Franklin's first haul at 45.
Keith Niebuhr, Rivals.com's southeast regional recruiting analyst, called Vanderbilt's class the best in his lifetime and said he can't recall any buzz ever about a Commodores' recruiting class. He pointed to the offensive line as a big key in a class with talent across the board.
"There's no real glaring weakness in this class ...," Niebuhr said. "This class seems to fill everything that they need."
The class also includes Patton Robinette, a quarterback who went 29-1 in winning two Tennessee state championships at Maryville High the past two seasons. He enrolled at Vanderbilt this January after changing his mind about North Carolina. Vanderbilt also loaded up with six offensive linemen and four linebackers including Jake Sealand and Darreon Herring.
A big cheer went up when the signed letter came in from 6-foot-6 offensive tackle Andrew Jelks from Henry County High, and the Commodores also have more size in 6-6, 280-pound Will Holden from Florida.
"They know you've got to play physical and run the ball to win in the SEC," Niebuhr said. "And I think they added that big time with what they're bringing in on the offensive line."
Vanderbilt alum Will Wolford, who played 13 seasons in the NFL as an offensive lineman, joined Franklin in the office Wednesday watching the letters roll in. He said he was glad Vanderbilt locked Franklin up to a contract extension and impressed by the recruiting haul.
"It's fantastic. There's no other way to put it," Wolford said.
"It's something that as an alum I always believed could happen, that Vanderbilt could compete on any level in any league. And granted, they're in the best one, but a lot like what Stanford's been able to do ... I think we're in the midst of that at Vanderbilt. It's really nice to see, and it's excitement that in the modern times of Twitter and Facebook and the internet we certainly have never seen before."
Franklin also made another pitch for fans to join in, saying he wants every home game sold out this fall. He said administrators, coaches and players are all on board.
"We need the fans as well," Franklin said. "It takes all of our of us pulling the rope in the same direction for us all to go where we want to gok, and if we do that, I truly think the sky's the limit."
Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.