Six-foot-4, 205 pounds may sound a bit undersized for a defensive end in the Southeastern Conference. Not to worry, however. As Vandy recruiting coordinator David Turner stressed to VandyMania a couple of signing days ago, the staff doesn't concern itself overly with a prospect's size, provided other tools-- most notably speed-- are in place.
That is certainly the case with Austin Newton, who will make his official visit to campus this weekend along with several other committed and uncommitted prospects. Newton, who also represents Union Grove High School in the 110m and 300m hurdles (how many college defensive linemen do you know of who did that?), claims to have run the 40-yard dash as fast as 4.6, and the low hurdles in 44 seconds.
"For a guy his size, he can flat-out run," said Scott Mason, Athletic Director at Union Grove. "He was a great defensive end for us, and he ought to be a great rush defensive end in college, with the techniques they use."
"One thing [Vanderbilt] is going to love about him is that he gets off the ball quick," said Joe McCollum, Newton's position coach. "He has great off-the-ball quickness, great downhill speed, and great lateral speed. He even has the speed to run a lot of plays down from the backside."
Vanderbilt only discovered Newton a few weeks ago, and moved quickly on him in an attempt to get a commitment before others found out about him, according to McCollum.
"He is definitely a pass rusher from the defensive end position," McCollum said. "He improved so much between his junior and senior years in getting the fundamentals down. He also got a lot stronger and quicker in the offseason, which is sometimes tough for kids who play all sports to do.
"His junior year, which was his first year playing varsity, he kind of relied on his athletic ability, which still allowed him to play at a high level. But his senior year, once he got those techniques and fundamentals down, he had a monster season."
For a Union Grove team that made the 5A playoffs and finished 9-3, Newton finished with 55 total tackles, 7 sacks, 10 quarterback pressures and 5 tackles for loss. His season highlight was an interception return for a touchdown.
"One of the things we ask our defensive ends to do is to read screens," said McCollum. "If they see they're getting fake pressure from the offensive linemen, we ask them to fall back into the screen lanes.
"Austin made a great one-handed catch of a screen pass-- almost like he was going up for a rebound in basketball-- and he took it about 55 yards for a touchdown."
Newton registered a 1644 on the new SAT, McCollum said, so academics at Vandy should pose little problem.
How much does Newton weigh, exactly? Mason estimated 255, while McCollum said 205. I went to the horse's mouth.
"I'm actually about 202 right now," Newton said. He went on to explain that he is in the middle of basketball season (he plays power forward and center for the Wolverines), but once on an offseason conditioning program, he would start packing on the weight. Both Mason and McCollum remarked on his dedication to offseason workouts in the weight room.
Newton's first impressions of Vanderbilt were formed Nov. 12, when he and his family visited unofficially for the Kentucky game. The Newtons received primo seats on the 50-yard-line, as well as special attention after the game from Turner and the Commodore staff.
"After I went up there [for the UK game], Coach Turner kept in touch with me," said Newton, who also had an offer on the table from Western Kentucky. "I liked the campus and the team. It just seemed like a good fit. I had heard a lot of good things about Nashville.
"Vanderbilt is big, but it's not too big. Instead of having 200 people in a class, you might have 20 or 30. I think you could learn a lot more that way."
The offer came shortly afterwards. Vanderbilt's upset win over Tennessee the following week helped seal his decision.
"When I heard Vanderbilt beat Tennessee, I got even more excited about going to Vanderbilt," Newton said. He thought it over the Thanksgiving break, and by midweek of the following week he was ready to make his intentions known.
"He felt like he had the opportunity to play at an SEC school, where he could play at a high level and still have great academics," McCollum said. "He was just proud that someone like Vanderbilt from the SEC was interested in him.
"When they decided that he was what they wanted, it didn't take him long at all to decided that's what he wanted. It was a pretty good match."