Coach Franklin makes more history for Vanderbilt

James Franklin has been promising that he’s just getting started

at Vanderbilt. Now the coach has followed up the best season since

1915 by landing a recruiting class rated in the top 20 for the

first time in the program’s history.

Vanderbilt signed 26 players Wednesday, and a final commitment

from linebacker Zach Cunningham helped push the Commodores to No.

19 in the ratings by Rivals.com. Even with that success, Vanderbilt

still ranks seventh among Southeastern Conference teams and just

ahead of Tennessee. Still, Franklin and his coaches are bringing in

the type of talent that the Commodores hadn’t seen in, well, ever

to compete in the SEC.

”That’s going to be very important for us to do consistently

year in and year out,” Franklin said. ”We’re excited about it. We

still have a long way to go. This is two recruiting classes that

we’ve been able to put together that we feel good about. There’s

teams in this league been doing this for 80 years. So we still have

some progress that we have to make, and we’re making it. All you

can do is get better today.”

Vanderbilt went 9-4 last season for the program’s best record

since 1915, and the Commodores finished off by winning the Music

City Bowl for a seventh straight victory that is the longest

winning streak in the SEC. That success translated almost

immediately as Franklin topped a signing class rated 29th

nationally by Rivals a year ago with this class featuring 13

players on offense, 12 on defense and a kicking specialist.

Scout.com rated Vandy’s class 20th, while 247Sports.com had the

Commodores at No. 35. Barton Simmons, national recruiting

coordinator for 247Sports.com, said he still thinks Vandy’s class

is even better than a year ago as Franklin and his coaches keep

topping themselves.

”They missed on a couple of guys late, so they haven’t quite

gotten over the hump to be able to really compete for an SEC

championship on a recruiting level, but they definitely look like

they’re here to stay as far as contending for that Top 25 (in

recruiting rankings),” Simmons said. ”As soon as they land a Leon

McQuay, a Jalen Ramsey or someone like that, at that level in the

future, that could really get them to be in position to be able to

truly compete with anyone in the country.”

For Franklin, the recruiting rating matters only from a

perception standpoint. It helps signal that Vanderbilt is bringing

in players that fit not only academically at Vanderbilt but also

physically in the SEC where he said they look and perform like

everyone they’re playing against. He noted all the players in this

class had national offers and all had multiple SEC offers.

”Times have changed, and I think that’s a real positive for

us,” Franklin said.

Vanderbilt got plenty of attention Wednesday with Jordan

Cunningham, a 6-foot-1, 175-pound receiver from Fort Lauderdale,

Fla., announcing on national television that he chose Vanderbilt

over offers that included Alabama, Notre Dame, Florida State and

Stanford. The final commitment to announce was the other

Cunningham, the 10th-overall player in Alabama according to

247Sports.com, picked the Vandy hat instead of Auburn, Tennessee or

Oregon.

Even with receiver Jordan Matthews back for his senior season,

the Commodores signed five receivers and three tight ends,

including tight end Brandon Vandenburg from College of the Desert

Community College. He’s a rare junior college transfer to the SEC’s

lone private university, but Franklin expects the 6-foot-5,

255-pound tight end to compete immediately on the field as well as

the classroom with a ”perfect GPA.”

Vanderbilt also features five defensive backs and four defensive

linemen, including end Landon Stokes whose father Fred played 10

years in the NFL. With starting quarterback having used up all his

eligibility, the class includes two quarterbacks in Chad Kanoff of

Pacific Palisades, Calif., and Johnny McCrary from Decatur, Ga.

McCrary enrolled in January after choosing from offers including

Tennessee, Georgia, Ohio State and Mississippi State.

This is Franklin’s third recruiting class overall since he was

hired in December 2010. He said they’re still trying to fill some

holes but he feels confident they’re improving their size and

depth. He pointed to the offensive line where they had seven

players on scholarship last spring and will have 15 this

spring.

”We keep raising the bar,” Franklin said.

AP Sports Writer Steve Megargee in Knoxville, Tenn., contributed

to this report.

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