By Zac Ellis
NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Vanderbilt head coach Derek Mason knew his exact strategy in approaching college football's first-ever early signing period.
"It was about upgrading all the way across the board," Vanderbilt head coach Derek Mason said. "We wanted length, we wanted speed, we wanted athleticism to bolster this roster."
On Wednesday, the Dores accomplished their mission. Vanderbilt signed 17 new Commodores is one of the highest-rated signing classes in recent history. Vanderbilt's class checked in at No. 30 nationally in 247Sports.com's Composite Rankings on Wednesday afternoon, its highest ranking since 2013 and highest under Mason.
The Dores latest class is not short on impact prospects. Seven signees rank as four-star recruits by at least one recruiting service, the most at Vanderbilt under Mason. Three signees are consensus four-star signees: defensive back Brendon Harris, wide receiver Cam Johnson and linebacker Alston Orji.
"Every year, you're trying to recruit guys better than the guys you have," Mason said. "You want guys to push the envelope a little bit... That's why you came to college. That's why you come to play in the SEC."
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Vanderbilt's newcomers expect to provide an immediate spark on defense, where Orji and Harris are among the headliners on that side of the ball. Orji is a 6-2, 225-pound product of Rockwall, Texas who hauled in offers from the likes of Georgia, Florida, LSU, Notre Dame and Oklahoma. Harris is another four-star signee who chose the Dores over Clemson, LSU, Ohio State and Tennessee, among others.
Vanderbilt also landed four-star defensive lineman Rutger Reitmaier, a Nashville product who signed with Oregon in 2016 but opted to transfer back home. He will be eligible in 2018.
But the Commodore offense also got better on National Signing Day. Four-star quarterback Allan Walters (Hightstown, N.J.) chose Vanderbilt after throwing for more than 2,200 yards and 31 touchdowns as a prep senior in 2017. He signed with the Dores over Alabama, Michigan and Texas A&M, among others. ESPN rated Walters' high-school teammate and fellow Commodores signee Dan Dawkins, Jr. (6-3, 300 pounds) as a top-10 center in the nation.
The Dores likewise inked a pair of Brentwood Academy signees in tight end Gavin Schoenwald, a three-star prospect who fielded multiple SEC offers, and the four-star receiver Johnson, a top-10 recruit in Tennessee. Speedy running back Ja'Veon Marlow and Mississippi receiver CJ Bolar also joined the fold on offense.
"This recruiting class encompasses great offensive talent all the way around, from front to back," Mason said.
Doing it big on West End⚓️⬇️ 💫💫💫💫💫💫💫💫💫💫💫💫💫💫💫💫 have made their way to the 🎶 City. The SEC...The City , The Degree! Come and get it. You can have it all 💯 Sprinting to the end of the early signing period. pic.twitter.com/i23qaHgyFJ
While Vanderbilt has often kept a footprint on the West Coast, 16 of its 17 early signees hail from east of the Mississippi. Mason said his staff made it a point to hone in on more localized prospects. That includes four Tennesseans in Nashville products Johnson, Reitmaier and Schoenwald and Chattanooga native Harris.
Securing Tennessee's best in-state players has become a priority for Mason and the Commodores.
"There's been a concentrated effort to look at the state of Tennessee and keep some home-grown talent home," Mason said.
Mason said the Dores plan to add address more needs ahead of February's National Signing Day. But the coach praised his staff's work in navigating the uncharted waters of an early signing period. The early results, Mason said, make for a bright future on West End, one that stands to get even brighter in February and beyond.
"This 2018 roster, when it's all said and done, will be as competitive a group as I've had since I've been here," Mason said.
Zac Ellis is the Writer and Digital Media Editor for Vanderbilt Athletics.