The Northeast has long been an overlooked recruiting ground for Vanderbilt. Though the region is rife with elite preparatory schools which produce high-caliber student-athletes, the Commodores have historically had little recruiting success in Yankee-land.
Vanderbilt has not signed a player from New England since Reggie Washington of Windsor, Conn. inked with the Commodores in 1997. Suddenly, however, Bobby Johnson has elicited commitments from two much-sought-after teammates from the top high school powerhouse in the entire region of New England.
Johnson picked up his sixth commitment for 2003 last week when Jonathan Goff, a 6-3, 215-pound all-purpose athlete from St. John's Preparatory School in Danvers, Mass., pledged to sign with the Commodores. Prep, currently 3-0 and ranked the No. 15 team in the entire country by USA Today, has used Goff at a plethora of positions on both offense and defense, Prep head coach Jim O'Leary told VandyMania.
What position does his high school coach see him playing in college? "I think he'd make a great outside linebacker at the next level," said O'Leary. "He's been timed at 11.0 in the 100-- electronic timing-- so you know he runs a good bit less than that if you timed him by hand."
It's become common for analysts to refer to players who play multiple positions as simply "Athletes", and Goff certainly fills that bill. On defense he's played both linebacker and defensive back; on offense, he's been used as a running back, wide receiver, and even quarterback at times.
Vanderbilt extended Goff an offer back in May after seeing film of him as a junior, according to O'Leary. "Wisconsin, Indiana, and Connecticut all offered him," said O'Leary. "But I think he just wanted to get the recruiting process out of the way, so he went ahead and committed."
Playing tailback on a team loaded with offensive weapons, Goff carried for 80 yards on eight carries and scored a two-point conversion in last week's 43-7 trouncing of Barnstable. He was ranked by Super Prep magazine the sixth best overall athlete in New England.
From that same St. John's Prep team comes Jonathan Loyte, who (provided he makes good on his pledge to Vanderbilt in February) will likely become the highest-profile player ever to sign with Vanderbilt. At 6-5, 245, Loyte received accolades over the summer from publications such as USA Today and Super Prep. He was named a high school All-American and one of the most highly-coveted prospects in the country.
Over the summer, along with his father Loyte took a trip south to visit a number of schools on his lengthy list. After meeting with Johnson and his staff in late June, Loyte was sold. He even made another trip to Nashville in August with his father to take in the start of fall practice and Dore Jam.
"It was kind of weird because all these people kept coming up to me asking for an autograph or to have my picture taken with them," Loyte later told the Gloucester (Mass.) Daily Times. "I was shocked because I didn't think people would even know about me.
"They've got a great freshman class this year, and I think things will be even better by the time I get there."
Loyte is currently playing center on offense and linebacker on defense, but he was recruited by Vanderbilt to play tight end. He turned down offers from Syracuse, Maryland, North Carolina, Boston College, Rutgers, Duke, Connecticut, Indiana and Michigan State to accept Johnson's offer. Some schools have sought to change his mind of late in spite of his verbal commitment.
"There are pros and cons about early decisions, but Jonathan had traveled around more than most youngsters and knew what he was looking for," said O'Leary. "There's no question he has a terrific future."
Loyte demonstrates a rare combination of size and quickness. He reportedly has been timed in the 40-yard dash at 4.6 seconds, and does a 9-foot-1-inch standing broad jump.
Besides currently being rated as the top football program in New England, "The Prep" is one of the top academic schools in the state. Loyte and Goff didn't know each other when they enrolled-- Goff lives in the Boston suburb of Stoneham, while Loyte commutes to school from Gloucester-- but they are now well acquainted.
"On defense they play linebacker right next to each other," said O'Leary. "And last year, when we had to put Goff at quarterback because of an injury to our starter, we had Loyte snapping the ball to him. So they know each other very well."
In rolling up a 3-0 record, St. John's Prep has defeated its first three opponents by a score of 105-28. The Eagles' next game is against Brockton this Friday evening at 7:00 p.m. Before the season Prep was rated No. 1 in the state by the Boston Globe, while Brockton was rated No. 3.
In addition to Loyte and Goff, a third member of the Prep team has already made his college choice. Linebacker Nick Borseti, who was also approached by Vanderbilt, made a commitment over the summer to Notre Dame. According to O'Leary, as many as five other members of his senior class will likely accept college scholarships. Matt Antonelli will likely accept a baseball scholarship to Wake Forest.
Verbal commitments are not binding.
According to insiders at McGugin Center, graduate assistant Ryan McSwain deserves much of the credit for landing the two Massachusetts standouts. The former walk-on defensive lineman under Woody Widenhofer has developed into an effective salesman for his alma mater.