Johnson announces 19 signees

NASHVILLE-- National Signing Day at Vanderbilt went pretty much according to plan, head coach Bobby Johnson said Wednesday. At an afternoon press conference, Johnson announced the signing of 19 high school football players to letters-of-intent. <i>Includes full text of the signing day press conference.</i>

NASHVILLE-- National Signing Day at Vanderbilt went pretty much according to plan, head coach Bobby Johnson said Wednesday. At an afternoon press conference, Johnson announced the signing of 19 high school football players to letters-of-intent.

The only name missing from the list of announced signees was Daniel Lee, a placekicker from Riverside, Mo., who is believed to have signed but whose admissions paperwork was incomplete as of Wednesday. All other prospects known to be committed signed as scheduled.

The signing class helped shore up several areas of critical need for Vanderbilt, including defensive line, running back, quarterback and secondary.

"We outlined our needs at each position early on in the process and worked hard to fill those areas," Johnson said. "At the same time, we also wanted to attract the most talented players available, regardless of position. I think we succeeded on both fronts."

A whopping number of seven defensive linemen appeared on the list. The list also included six signees from within the state of Tennessee, including four from the Midstate area.

Perhaps the most recognizable names on the list were quarterback Chris Nickson, the much-decorated Mr. Football award winner from the state of Alabama, and Brad Allen, a high school All-American tight end from Venice, Fla.

Also included were two signees from the postgraduate team at Fork Union (Va.) Military Academy. Fork Union, a prep school where high school players are often sent for an additional year of schooling before college, is known as a place where players can grow and mature before playing on the college level. The two signees, David Carter and Gabe Hall, will each have four full years of eligibility at Vanderbilt.

The complete list of signees as released by Vanderbilt's media relations department was as follows:

Brad Allen TE 6-4 240 Venice, Fla. Venice HS
Josh Allen DB 5-9 170 Roswell, Ga. Roswell HS
Bryant Anderson WR 6-3 195 Roswell, Ga. Centennial HS
DeMarcus Bradley DL 6-2 280 Springfield, Tenn. Springfield HS
David Carter DL 6-5 245 Waynesboro, Pa. Fork Union Military
Lamar Divens DL 6-4 280 Fayetteville, Tenn. Lincoln County HS
Jared Fagan DB 5-10 180 Waldorf, Md. Westlake HS
Jeremy Gales DL 6-3 260 Columbia, Tenn. Spring Hill HS
Gabe Hall DL 6-2 300 Newport News, Va. Fork Union Military
Hamilton Holliday OL 6-4 285 Marietta, Ga. Walton HS
Brandon Holmes DL 6-3 250 Garland, Texas Garland HS
Theo Horrocks DL 6-3 260 Fayetteville, Tenn. Lincoln County HS
Cassen Jackson-Garrison RB 6-1 210 Knoxville, Tenn. Central HS
Jeff Jennings RB/LB 6-1 225 Dandridge, Tenn. Jefferson Co. HS
Reshard Langford DB/RB 6-1 205 Tanner, Ala. Tanner HS
Zach Logan LB/FB 6'1" 220 Wilson, Ark. Rivercrest HS
Chris Nickson QB 6-1 195 Brundidge, Ala. Pike County HS
Sean Walker WR 5-11 170 Louisville, Ga. Jefferson Co. HS
David Whittington FB 6-1 235 Lafayette, La. St. Thomas More HS


Coach Johnson: Well, like all head football coaches on signing day, we're extremely pleased with our recruiting class and glad that we were able to get them all signed up this morning. I'd like to thank publicly the hard work from my coaching staff. A lot of letter writing, phone calling, car driving, plane hopping, explaining, all kinds of things go into a recruiting class, and they have worked extremely hard, and I think as you look down at the class, the things that stand out to me are...

Number one, we did a pretty good job of addressing the needs that we have on our football team, specifically the defensive line. We had a very good year in signing defensive linemen.

The second thing is that we wanted to get a little bigger running backs, and I think we were able to do that and address certain needs at certain positions like a fullback, we got a true fullback, a tight end, and the help we needed at just about all positions.

The other thing, I think you look at it and say we did a pretty good job in the state of Tennessee, which we always want to start our recruiting base form the state of Tennessee, and we were able to get some local guys to sign up with us, and I think that helps us in a lot of areas, especially fan base and just general interest in our program in the Nashville area. And the third thing is, I think we did a good job of getting players who are capable of playing different positions, and I think several of these guys could play offense or defense and could help our football team in several different ways. So we're very pleased, we could still be in the process of looking for one more prospect in the kicking category, but we will probably not do anything with that in the next couple of days.

Q: Is kicker the one position you'd like to get someone else in the next few days? How high a priority is that?

Coach Johnson: Well, we think we're pretty close to getting that done, and it is a high priority. That's a situation we should get done in the next couple of days, and we're very excited about the opportunity we're going to have to bring a young man in to do our kicking. But obviously I can't comment on him right now because he hasn't signed.

Q: When you look at this list, who's explosie? Who's one you can't wait to see get in the black and gold pants?

Coach Johnson: All of them. You know, you never get all you want, but we wanted all we got, so we're excited about every one of these players coming in here, but if you look on the offensive side, I think Brad Allen was a tight end that was coveted by a lot of people, ranked very high. I think our running backs have the ability to work really well in our system, our program. We're a running backs team. I think running back thrive in our system, and of course, Chris Nickson is a quarterback who is really explosive and makes things happen and with the option available to us, and the fact that we do sometimes run our quarterback, he's going to be a very valuable addition to our offensive scheme.

Q: Is Nickson going to be used anywhwere else early? Or is he--

Coach Johnson: No, he's a quarterback. As most of you know, Lance Parker is going to transfer, and Chris is now our third team quarterback.

Q: Speaking of Chris, was that a positive in your category?

Coach Johnson: I think it was. A lot of people -- and I have to give a lot of schools credit -- most of the schools told him they would recruit him as a defensive back or wide receiver, and we told him he was going to play quarterback for us. I think that was a big advantage for us, and I think he could see where he could fit into our system quite early, and he's done some things that we do, and he would be a very good fit for our offense. I think that was a big factor, along with the fact that he was a 4.0 student and never made less than an A in high school.

Q: Coach, how much did Lamar Divens' frequent changes of mind affect your recruiting?

Coach Johnson: Well, it got us another defensive lineman. It got us an extra defensive lineman. When it looked like Lamar might go to Mississippi, we really got on the ball and tried to double our efforts to be sure we got some defensive linemen in here, and we were able to get to work and get some guys to sign on board with us. Then when Lamar came back, we're not going to turn down the chance to get a great athlete like that. That's what you've got to do. You've got to address your needs, but when the opportunity comes to get somebody who may not fit into those needs right now, you've got to take advantage of it and get him.

Q: Do you think the training table plays down there? Vanderbilt's known throughout the SEC for what they can do with young men's bodies and minds when they come here?

Coach Johnson: I think it's a big factor. We try to play it up along with the fact that you're going to working in one of the best weight rooms in these parts, and we think we have an excellent strength and conditioning program with Coach John Sisk, and he does a great job with those guys, and we have documented evidence that our guys come in here and gain weight and become better football players because of the weight room and the combination of our training table. And obviously, when they come here, we make it a point that they get to eat at least one meal with Magic (chef Majid Noori) down in the Hendrix Room, and he never has failed us yet to wow those guys with the meals. And they're meals that he makes for our players during the year. We probably eat all those things everyday, but we eat them sometimes during the week.

Q: Do you put much stock in how they rate classes, like Tennessee has the No. 8 or whatever it is, does that matter to you at all?

Coach Johnson: Well, you look at them and some of them have a pretty good handle on it. Some of them have not a clue. These guys are obviously good football players or they wouldn't be rated that high, but it doesn't mean that they're going to carry that same high school rating or superiority over the players he's playing against into college. So you've got to do a good job of looking at your needs, look at what's available in the high schools, and sometimes projecting what a guy's going to do, not next year but two year down the road. We think we've got some really good guys who are going to be some very good football players maybe in a year. DeMarcus Bradley is one of those guys. Right now he's big, he's strong, he's fast. Unfortunately he was on a team that didn't do very well and a lot of people overlooked him, so he wasn't highly rated but we think he's a very good player.

Q: In the process, did you find yourself having to explain to some of the kids about what was going on with the athletic department and was it being used against you?

Coach Johnson: Most definitely. Yes. That was the case in a lot of situations. Fortunately the guys that we recruit are pretty smart, and when you explain it to them, it's almost a casual "Oh, okay, I've got it, we can see what's going on." And I want to tell you, our administration and people all over the university were extremely helpful in helping us recruit this recruiting class. Any time we needed a professor to talk to anybody in academics, they were available. Admissions worked with us very closely. Chancellor Gee met with prospects whenever he could, David Williams whenever he could. We could not have gotten better cooperation from the administration, and I think that's an example of what happens when you are under the big umbrella and you can have access to those people. And I think the other thing, in some cases, and I think Brad Allen was one that was quoted in the paper somewhere, I forgot where I read it, but when people tried to use that against us after we had explained it to him, he could see that they weren't being on the up-and-up with him, and it was a turn-off against them. So I think it backfired on some people.

Q: How did you steal Cassen Jackson out of Knoxville?

Coach Johnson: I don't know if we stole him, but we really like him. He's a good back, he gained a whole bunch of yards while playing about half the games. He was out of the game about halftime every week because they were so far ahead. Cassen Jackson's a great story. He was a guy that was sort of languishing around in middle school and things like that and was brought in by Ron and Darla Garrison, and now has been adopted by them and really turned his life around and allowed him to succeed in high school and to excel in high school. We're thrilled to death that he's coming to Vanderbilt. He was a Mr. Football winner for his classification in Tennessee, and he's a fine young man.

Q: With so many of your 2-deep coming back, did you feel like you were restricted in the prospect of immediate playing time when you were on the trail?

Coach Johnson: I don't remember it being a big factor because I think we proved last year that if you're the best player at that position, you're going to play. We started two offensive linemen who were freshmen. We started some wide receivers who were freshmen, so we're not afraid to put freshmen in there. Our whole defense was sophomores, so we're not afraid to put those guys in there, and I think guys you're recruiting can see that and see that young guys play and that if they come here and they're ready, they can have that opportunity. If they're not, we explain the benefits of redshirting, not only football-wise, but academically. We sit down and talk to them about it. We just don't make it a surprise when they come in here and say, all right, you're redshirted. They know the situation when they come in.

Q: How much of this class would you like to redshirt ideally?

Coach Johnson: Ideally, all of them, but obviously we're going to have to have some depth at wide receiver, we're going to have some depth at quarterback. We're going to have to try to still redshirt Chris Nickson, but at the same time have him ready to play in case something happens to both our of other quarterbacks. Defensive line, I think we've got to supply us with some depth. So there are going to be some opportunity for guys to come in here and play for us early, but at the same time we're very confident about the people we have coming back on our team.

Q: You have a number of bigger backs. How will that affect your offensive philosophy, and would you take a redshirt off a kid or two like maybe David Whittington or Cassen Jackson to help you out on offense?

Coach Johnson: Like I said, whoever the better players are, we're going to be playing them. If we need them in certain situations, we haven't really gotten down to that fine a detail yet on it, we're not afraid to play them, and we tell every one of them they need to be ready to play when we line up against South Carolina here in our first game. So they need to be in shape in the summer and come in here expecting to play. What we use a redshirt for is to make sure we do not waste a year of eligibility on a guy just by giving him spot play here and there. If we were going to put Cassen Jackson in the game just for goal-line offense, we're not going to waste a redshirt for that. We'll put Matt Clay in there and let him carry it. (Laughter.) I shouldn't have said that, because now he'll try to hold me to it. (More laughter.)

Q: So in terms of the athletic restructuring, do you think it was an advantage with the involvement of Chancellor Gee?

Coach Johnson: In certain cases it was an advantage. I think our guys, the type of young man that we recruit, want to be involved with the entire university and want to take advantage of what the entire university has to offer. Other times we had to explain to people that what other people were telling them was not exactly true or accurate or explain exactly what happened here at Vanderbilt in terms of the reorganization. So I don't think it was a huge factor in recruiting this year.

Q: You picked up a lot of Mr. Football award winners.

Coach Johnson: Yeah, we did. And that's a good indication, obviously, when they win those kinds of awards, a lot of people who have seen them play and seen them excel, vote for them for those awards. Again, no high school award is ever going to guarantee success in college, and no coach has ever won a game the first Wednesday in February. These guys have got to come in here and get in our system, learn what to do, learn how to do it, and fit into our system and play and win. But it is a good indication that they certainly had great high school careers.

Q: Obviously you have had a chance to look at other SEC schools, who they got. Do you think any of them, like Tennessee or Florida, really stood out over all?

Coach Johnson: I was more concerned about ours and didn't study theirs too much unless we were recruiting the same guy. But we're in the SEC. We're going to be playing against some of the best players in the country, and they don't go out and recruit just anybody. They're going to recruit the very best players in the country and because of their success over the years, they're going to get them. And we're trying to upgrade our talent level. We're trying to get up to their level, and we're trying to catch up. Those people are going to continue to have great recruiting years every year unless they have a bump or probation or something like that that's going to put them in the hole.

Q: Throughout this recruiting process, did you ever find yourself in competition with other SEC schools for the same player?

Coach Johnson: Sure. A lot. And that's a good sign. If you're competing with other SEC schools, you're after the right kind of players and until you start trying to recruit those kind of people, you're not going to gain ground on them. So we've got to go after the very best players that we can find. Sometimes we don't win those battles, but sometimes we do, and we're going to get people in here who can compete in the SEC.

Q: Coach, when you went after Jared Fagan, how much did his special teams play factor into your offering him?

Coach Johnson: Well, I think it's just the talent that he has overall was the big factor. He's really a fast runner. He's won several indoor track meets already this winner in Maryland. He's demonstrated that he has the speed to compete in this league, but the fact that he can be extremely valuable on special teams is just an added bonus. He's a defensive back, and we plan to use him there.


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