Coach Derek Mason and the staff brought in a terrific group of players into the fold in this year's signing class. Fourteen of the signees were All-State players, and eight of them helped lead their respective teams to the state championship in their respective states. This class reminds me of the classes that Bobby Johnson signed in 2009 and 2010 that featured players like Wesley Johnson, Zac Stacy, JMatt, Andre Hal and Kenny Ladler, players that led us to three straight bowl games from 2011-2013. I get the same feel for this year's signing class along with last year's signing class. Coach Mason is establishing a presence throughout the country with the Vanderbilt brand and we've gotten some key in-state Tennessee guys led this year by four star cornerback Joejuan Williams and high three-star quarterback Deuce Wallace. We got an excellent four-star lineman out of Hawaii, a top flight running back out of Florida, three talented receivers, two other excellent, big offensive linemen, three very solid players on the defensive line, two diamond in the rough linebackers, and great help in the secondary to go along with Williams. We also landed one of the top punters in the country. The film on each player looks superb. Here's a look at each 2016 signee:
1. Joejuan Williams
Four-star cornerback, 6'3", 195, Father Ryan, Hendersonville, TN.
Joejuan did not play his senior year at Hendersonville because his appeal to transfer and play was denied. As a junior at Father Ryan High School in 2014, Joejuan registered 48 tackles, two interceptions and 11 pass breakups. Joejuan was highly recruited by Alabama, LSU, Tennessee, Georgia, Auburn, Ole Miss, MS. State and Michigan State. All of those schools offered him. Joejuan had decided on his official visit to VU that he was going to LSU until a Monday morning heart to heart with Coach Mason changed his mind. He signed with us and enrolled early in January. Joejuan will be competing in spring drills, which start Monday, February 22nd. The spring game will take place Friday, March 25th at 6:30 PM I'm pretty sure. Great things are expected out of Joejuan. We're really going to like him. Terrific young man, too. He will be in the mix with Torren McGaster, Tre Herndon, Taurean Ferguson, Emmanuel Smith and Donovan Sheffield for the starting cornerback position. We'll have excellent talent at that position. Emmanuel plays nickel back, but can also play corner. With the addition of Joejuan and our other cornerback signee, Elijah Hamilton, we will be loaded at that position. Joejuan will be a difference-maker/ game changer in our secondary.
2. "The Deuce"
Deuce Wallace is an 88, three-star quarterback by 247 Sports, Deuce is 6'2", 205 pounds and is out of Sevier County High School, in Sevierville, Tennessee. He was a multi-year captain and two year starting quarterback for the East Tennessee power. As a senior, Deuce passed for 3,505 yards and 37 TDs leading his Smoky Bears team to the 5A state title game. He was named two-time All-State by the Tennessee sportswriters. Deuce passed for 2,783 yards and 25 TDs his junior year. He started as a freshman and sophomore at Riverside Academy near New Orleans throwing for 4,508 yards and 35 TDs over a two year period. Deuce is already enrolled and will compete in the spring with Kyle Shurmur, Wade Freebeck, and Shawn Stankavage for the quarterback position. Deuce was a huge Vanderbilt proponent after he committed and lured some other key targets into the fold. He's a Vanderbilt man through and through. Deuce selected VU over offers from LSU, Northwestern, Maryland, Wake and Central Florida among others. LSU came in really hard at the end, but Deuce stuck with us. We're going to love the future at quarterback with Kyle, Wade, Stank and now Deuce. Like Kyle to be our guy next year if he stays healthy through the spring and summer, but really like Deuce to be the quarterback of the future once Kyle moves on to the next level. It may happen sooner than that depending on drills in the next two years. Deuce is accurate, as he completed 68% of his passes his senior year and threw only seven ints. Like what we're getting here from the Deuce.
3. Zaire Jones
Zaire is an 87 three-star safety from Meridian, Mississippi. Zaire was a huge get for the program. He is 6 feet, 195, and is already enrolled and ready to attack spring drills with our other safeties already on the team led by studs Oren Burks and Ryan White. Zaire was captain of his team his senior year. As a senior, Jones helped Meridian to an 8-6 record and a semifinal appearance in the Class 6A Mississippi playoffs. He posted 92 tackles, three interceptions and had one fumble recovery. He was a 6A All-State selection and played in the heralded Alabama-Mississippi All Star Classic in a game Mississippi won for the first time in a while. As a junior at Meridian, Zaire had 63 tackles and one int. And as a sophomore, Zaireposted three interceptions and 49 tackles. He's a high academic achiever as well like the rest of the class. Zaire selected VU over offers from Miss. State, Missouri, Cal, UVA and Indiana among others. Getting a really fine safety here in Zaire. He could be in line for some playing time this fall.
4. Sean Auwae
Sean is a four-star, 6'4", 295 pound offensive lineman who is highly versatile, meaning he can play center, guard or tackle. Sean is from Kapolei, Hawaii, as Coach Mason has asserted his presence in Hawaii and with Polynesian players particularly, as we already have high four-star Nifae Lealeo on the team at defensive tackle. Nifae will be a junior next year. Josiah Sa'o, another Poly player, is in this 2016 class and I will talk about Josiah in a minute.
Sean was a two year captain for his Kapolei High School team. Kapolei is just west of Honolulu. He was a three year starter and as a starting center and offensive tackle his senior year, he recorded 33 pancake blocks, the second highest total in school history. He earned first team All-State honors his senior season and played in the Semper Fi All-American game, a highly acclaimed national high school all-star game in Carson, California sponsored by the Marine Corps, which features some of the top high school seniors in the country. Sean benches 405 pounds already and starts out his warmup to the tune of 225 pounds, 28 times. I believe he'll be able to hold his own in the SEC. I watched Sean's film and he absolutely destroys defensive linemen. Linebackers and secondary guys have no chance against him. Superb football player. We're going to love Sean on the o line at Vanderbilt University. We've got good talent coming back on the line led by left tackle Andrew Jelks, who will be returning from a knee injury, but Sean could make his way onto the two deep this fall. Sean selected VU over offers from Mississippi State, UCLA, Arizona State, Washington, Utah, Louisville, BYU and Texas Tech among others.
5. Josiah Sa'o
A solid three star, 6'2", 290 pound defensive linemen, Josiah is from San Diego California, Kearney High School. Josiah was a late addition to the class and a big pickup for first year defensive line coach C.J. Ah You. Josiah was a two year captain for his team and started on both the offensive and defensive lines. As a senior defensive tackle, he recorded 102 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, seven sacks, four forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries. His team won the Central League title and reached the second round of the California Independent Football Division IV playoffs. There are so many football teams and classifications in California, that it's hard for to say how that quantifies, but I watched film on Josiah and loved it. He can really get people down. He's very strong. I almost liked him better on the offensive side of the ball as he absolutely buried defensive linemen and linebackers and looked like he loved doing it. But he's got great stats on the defensive side of the ball so if that's where Coach Mason wants Josiah, he'll excel there. Excellent player from San Diego in Josiah Sa'o. Josiah chose VU over offers from Arizona, Ole Miss, Hawaii, UNLV and Navy among others.
6. Drew Birchmeier
The solid three-star from Midlothian, Virginia is a 6'4", 280 pound defensive lineman. He was senior captain for Cosby High School and a four year starter for the public school just south of Richmond. Played defensive tackle and offensive tackle for Cosby, which started 0-3 this season, but finished the season with eight wins and a 6A state quarterfinal appearance. Drew is a strong, dominant kind of player on both sides of the ball. He's another guy like Josiah, who could play on either offense or defense, but I think Coach Mason likes Drew on defense. He's an honors student and his dad, Mark, played collegiately at Michigan State. Drew chose VU over offers from Virginia, Wake Forest, East Carolina, Temple, Harvard, Yale and Army among others.
7. Jackson Winrow
The three-star, 6'2", 180 pound wide receiver from Shawnee, Oklahoma was a three-year starter and senior captain for the 5A school located east of Oklahoma City. As a senior, Jackson hauled in 52 passes for 1,052 yards and 12 touchdowns in a nine game season. He was named Class 5A All-State by the state coaches association. As a junior, Jackson had 720 yards receiving and six TDs. As a sophomore, Jackson had 26 receptions for 500 yards. He was a multi-year standout in basketball, too. He is a National Honor Society member. I watched film on Jackson and loved it. He's a house call waiting to happen as his senior statistics for TDs would indicate. Jackson can catch the short ball and turn it into big yards, he has good hands for the intermediate pass, 15-20 yards, and is stellar catching the long ball. Jackson was a great late addition to this class. We are really going to like him. We have Trent Sherfield, Caleb Scott, Latevius Rayford and C.J. Duncan, who is returning from an Achilles injury, along with Ronald Monroe, who could be a stellar deep threat, and the awesome DeAndre Woods at tight end, who will be returning this season from injury after starting out the year in 2o15 on a tear. And Jackson will be an excellent player for us. He chose us over offers from Purdue and Tulsa. Love this pickup.
8. Elijah Hamilton
The three-star, 6'2", 190 pound cornerback from Blessed Trinity Catholic in Roswell, Georgia was a multi-year captain for the powerful north Atlanta private school. As a senior db, he helped lead Blessed Trinity to a 13-1 record and the Class AAA state title game. Elijah posted 81 tackles, four interceptions, six pass breakups and two fumble recoveries earning honorable mention All-State honors. His dad, Ruffin, had a six year career in the NFL playing for the Green Bay Packers and Atlanta Falcons. Elijah is an Honors student. Loved his film. Elijah is a ball hawk and made some beautiful interceptions on film. He's also an excellent tackler in the open field. Elijah chose VU over Air Force, Navy, Army and others.
9. Braden Kopp
The three-star, 6'5", 290 pound offensive tackle out of Houston Christian High School in Houston, TX, brings size and power to the VU offensive line. As a senior, Braden helped Houston Christian to a 6-4 overall mark and the Southwest Preparatory Conference playoffs. Braden was also a stellar basketball player before taking up football. He was the school's all time leading rebounder.He was relatively new to football this season, but I watched his film and with some work with Strength Coach James Dobson and new offensive line coach Cameron Norcross, Braden can develop into an elite lineman for Vanderbilt football. Braden chose VU over Central Florida, Tulane, Rice, Army and Harvard. Florida came in late. Braden is an honors student.
10. Kalija Lipscomb
The three-star, 6'1", 185 pound wide receiver our of Jesuit High School in N'awlins was a three-year starter for one of New Orleans' private school powers. As a senior, Kalija caught 56 passes for 1,038 yards and 11 TDs helping lead Jesuit to the 5A playoffs. As a junior, Kalija caught 64 passes for 989 yards and 14 TDs helping the Blue Jays to a 14-3 record and a 5A state title, the first by the team since 1960. Kalija registered both of Jesuit's TD catches in the championship game. He accumulated 130 receptions and 2,300 receiving yards in his three year career. I watched Kalija's film and he's another game changing player, who can make a house call and get massive yards after the catch. Another excellent receiving weapon for Offensive Coordinator Andy Ludwig and the offensive staff. Kalija picked VU over Nebraska, Arkansas, Northwestern and Louisiana Tech among others.
11. Donaven Tennyson
A three-star, 5'10", 170 pound wide receiver out of Benedictine College Prep in Richmond, VA., Donaven is another game breaker like Jackson and Kalija and was our first receiver commit and one of our first commits for the 2016 class. He was a two year starter and helped Benedictine to back to back state championships. As a senior, Donaven hauled in 38 passes for 698 yards and 11 TDs. As a junior, he posted 41 receptions for 836 yards and eight TDs. He also returned three kicks for TDs as a junior and will make an excellent kick and punt returner at VU. Donaven can really motor. He WILL be making house calls at Vanderbilt University. Donaven chose us over Tennessee, Michigan State, North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland and West Virginia among others. Really like these three guys in our receiving class.
12. Devin Cochran
The high three-star, 6'7", 310 pound offensive tackle from Greater Atlanta Christian in Norcross, Georgia brings more brute strength and power to our offensive line. As a senior, Devin registered more than 50 pancake blocks, leading GAC to the Class AA state semifinals. He did not allow a single sack for a team that threw it 288 times. He was selected first team All-State by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and state sportswriters. Helped GAC to a 14-1 mark and an AA state championship his junior year. He's a high academic achiever as well. Devin blasted opposing defensive players on film and enjoyed every second of it. He chose VU over Georgia, Florida, Tennessee, Miami (FL) and Duke among others. Devin rounds out a stellar o line group of three joining Sean and Braden.
13. Austin Quillen
Our first commit of 2016, Austin is a 5'11", 188 pound three-star safety from Oklahoma powerhouse Jenks High School. He won four varsity letters and was a three year starter for a program that captured four straight Class 6A state titles while Austin played there. As a senior linebacker-safety, Austin contributed seven quarterback sacks, five tackles for loss, and 93 tackles for the 11-1 Trojans. He missed some time due to injury his senior season, but was back for the state championship run at the end of the season. He was second team All-State his senior year. His junior year, on another state title team that went 11-2, he posted 103 tackles, seven sacks, three forced fumbles and an interception. As a sophomore, he helped Jenks to a 14-0 campaign registering 21 tackles and an interception. Austin selected VU over Iowa, Tulsa, Northwestern, Arizona, Texas Tech and Army among others. Stellar, tough safety added to the fold by Coach Mason, who loves his defensive backs.
14. Frank Coppet
Frank is a 5'11", 180 pound three star safety out of perennial Florida powerhouse St. Thomas Aquinas in Fort Lauderdale. Frank was the starting cornerback for the powerful South Florida school that won the 2015 Class 7A state championship in Florida. As a senior, Frank posted 96 total tackles and four interceptions taking one of those ints back to the house. Aquinas finished the season 13-1. He was named to the Class 7A first team All-State team. He was also an important player on the 2014 state championship team. Aquinas is not only a Florida powerhouse, it is a national powerhouse. Frank knows how to win. Frank is projected to be a safety at VU. His older brother, Fred Jr. was a standout running back at Bowling Green University, who just finished his Bowling Green career this past season. Frank selected VU over Illinois, Syracuse and Central Florida. Loved Frank's film. He's aggressive and a ball hawk. Excellent tackler as well.
15. Jamauri Wakefield
Jamauri is a 6'1", 215 pound three-star out of Providence High School in Jacksonville, Florida who is built like an M-4 Sherman Tank. He is a super hoss. Jamauri was a two time team captain for Providence and three year starting running back. He was a two time Class 3A All-State selection. He accumulated 5,112 yards and 67 total touchdowns as a three year starter. His senior year, Jamauri rushed for 1,885 yards and 23 TDs. As a junior, he rushed for 2,537 yards and 37 TDs, including a record setting 469 yard effort in a regular season game. He rain for 690 yards and seven TDs as a sophomore. His style is powerful and he has take it to the house speed. I saw quite a few of his power runs and house calls on film. He's outstanding. Jamauri is also a National Honor Society member. Jamauri selected us over Louisville, Georgia Tech, Oregon State, Wake Forest and Pitt among others. We're going to love Jamauri, who will work well with Ralph Webb, Dallas Rivers and Josh Crawford. We'll have quite a foursome in the backfield in 2016.
16. Cameron Tidd
Cameron is a 6'3", 270 pound three-star defensive tackle from Greenwood, Indiana, Center Grove High School. He was a senior captain and four year starter at defensive tackle for the Indiana powerhouse school that went 14-0 and won the Class 6A state title in 2015. Cameron posted eight quarterback sacks, 19 tackles for loss and 66 total tackles. He earned first team All-State honors. He also blocked four field goals. As a junior, Cameron registered six tackles for loss and 45 tackles on a 9-4 Trojans squad that made the state semifinals. As a junior, Cameron captured the state individual title in the discus throw with a winning toss of 190'4". Don't know my discus distances that well, but that's gotta be stellar. Cameron chose VU over Navy, Air Force and Bowling Green among others. Loved his film. Major disruptor on the defensive line. Coach Dobson will get a hold of Cameron in the weight room and get him built up for Coach Ah You to hone his power on the defensive front for years to come.
17. Turner Cockrell
Turner, a 6'5", 215 pound three-star tight end out of Acworth, Georgia, Allatoona High School, was a two year starter and lead blocker for a run oriented attack. As a senior, Turner helped lead Allatoona to a 14-1 mark and a Class 5A state championship. Turner caught 13 passes and averaged 25.3 yards per reception along with three TDs. He set a school record with a 93 yard TD reception in the state semifinals. As a senior, Turner was first team All-State as selected by the Georgia Sportswriters. As a junior, he played a big role on a 14-1 team that lost in the 5A state championship game. Excellent receiver and maybe even a better blocker. Outstanding toughness. His father, Randy, who is a federal criminal investigator, was a four year linebacker at Virginia Tech. Turner selected VU over Pittsburgh, East Carolina and Air Force. His film is impressive with his blocking and his excellent pass catching skills though he didn't get a ton of opportunities to catch the ball. But when he did, he made the most of those opportunities. Coach Ludwig will find a way to get him involved in the offense when he's indoctrinated into the system. Part of a state championship team, and that tells you we got another winner.
18. Kenny Hebert
Kenny is a 6'3", 21o pound linebacker out of New Orleans, Holy Cross High School. He's rated as a two star, but he's totally undervalued. Like Kenny's length, his athletic ability, his motor and his toughness. As a senior linebacker, Kenny posted 47 solo tackles, five quarterback sacks, 13 tackles for loss and two forced fumbles for a team that advanced to the private school Division 1 quarterfinals. Kenny earned All Metro, All-District, and honorable mention All-State honors as a senior. He was a hurdler-sprinter on the track and field team. He's a super athlete. Another young man Coach Dobson will get in the weight room and strengthen and new linebackers coach Chris Marve and Coach Mason will develop into a big time player for us. Kenny chose us over Memphis and Tulane. Kenny's last name is pronounced A-bear. He is an Honors student.
19. Andre Mintze
Andre is a 6'3", 225 pound linebacker out of Philly, PA, Imhotep Institute. Andre is another two-star, diamond in the rough. Sometimes these recruiting people don't watch film because Andre is a game changing, violent football player, who can win games for you. Another winner in the fold. As a senior linebacker/defensive end, Andre helped lead the Panthers to a 15-0 mark and the Pennsylvania private school Class 3A state championship. He posted 14 sacks and 23 tackles for loss among his 53 tackles. Andre earned 3A All-State honors. I watched Dre's film and he's a beast, who plays with great passion and relentlessness. He has a turbo motor, and he's extremely tough and will knock ball carriers or quarterbacks to the ground and enjoy every second of it. Andre is stellar in the classroom as well as he is a National Honor Society member. Dre chose VU over Pittsburgh, Duke and UConn among others.
20. Sam Loy
Sam is a 6'1", 185 pound three-star punter out of San Clemente, California, Santa Margarita Catholic High School. A kicking service, Komblue Kicking Service, rated Sam a five star. He averaged 42 yards per punt as a senior and landed 15 of 35 attempts inside the opponent's 20 yard line. I watched Sam's film. Excellent hang time and distance. He boomed punts of 69 and 75 yards as a senior. He allowed just one kick return in 51 kickoffs, so he can kickoff as well. We struggled with our punting and kicking in 2015, so Sam could win the job in August. Like this leg. He is another high academic achiever according to his bio. He hopes to pursue a degree in biomedical engineering. Wow. Sam chose Vanderbilt over Michigan, California, Army, Navy and Air Force. Jim Harbaugh came on strong after Sam late in the recruiting process, but Sam stuck with us.
We already have a commit for 2017 in solid three-star running back Lamont Atkins out of Lake Braddock High School in Burke, Virginia, just south of DC. I watched film on Lamont and loved it. He's super fast, tough, a winner. He's 5'11", 190 pounds.
We have a 2018 commitment as well in four-star athlete Alontae Taylor out of Coffee Country Central in Manchester, Tennessee. Alonte is a 95 four-star and will be fighting people off for his services in the next two years.
Love both of these guys in our future classes. Should be an exciting recruiting time in the next several years. Now it's time to get ready for spring ball and keep recruiting.