Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Vanderbilt grabs another recruit flying under the radar

We've been away for a while celebrating our nation's independence, but now we're back to do some more celebrating of what's shaping up to be a stellar Vanderbilt recruiting class.

Over the weekend, the Commodores got a verbal commitment from Karl Butler, a defensive back from Louisiana. Sure, it's not the kind of commitment that'll send Vandy fans out dancing in the streets. That would be OT James Stone of Nashville or OT Max Garcia of Atlanta or RB Cory Grant of Opelika, Ala., or DE Carlos Thompson of some little town in Mississippi, all four-star guys still contemplating Vanderbilt offers.

Butler doesn't have any stars or ratings yet from the likes of, and, but he did have offers from Virginia, Louisiana-Lafayette, SMU, Tulsa, Colorado and Tulane.

He's 6-2, 185 pounds, towering for a guy listed as a cornerback, and brings to mind Sean Richardson and Casey Hayward, two guys who played right away last season as true freshmen. Both are over 6 feet and were listed at 185 in high school. Neither was what you'd call a high-profile recruit. Richardson had offers from Troy, Duke and Miss State, but from neither Bama or Auburn in his home state of Alabama. Hayward had offers from Troy, MTSU and Southern Miss, but from nobody in his home state of Georgia.

But as soon as these guys got on campus and put on pads, the coaches took the redshirts off them. Richardson, a special teams demon, scored the Commodores' only touchdown in the Music City Bowl, on the punt coverage team. In that same game, Hayward stepped in for the injured D.J. Moore and was a key to victory. Now Richardson should step in for the departed Reshard Langford at strong safety and Hayward should replace D.J. at cornerback.

Bobby Johnson and company know how to pick DBs, and lately they've been landing rangy athletes like Richardson, Hayward and Eric Samuels. Like Butler, Samuels was flying way under the radar this time last summer and jumped at an offer from the Commodores, which was his first. Then everybody started noticing him and now he's widely regarded as Vanderbilt's top recruit of the ground-breaking 2009 class.

Of course, the poster boy for flying under the radar is D.J. Moore, who was sitting in Steve Spurrier's backyard in South Carolina, also a place where guys like Mark Richt sneak in and steal recruits. He didn't have any offers to speak of, so he made a verbal commitment to the Commodores. And like Samuels last year, when the big boys took notice in his senior year and started suggesting he jump ship, he stuck to his word and signed with the Commodores.

That's another facet of Bobby Johnson's strategy: Get guys under the radar, but make sure they've got what it takes not only to play in the SEC but also to thrive academically and socially at Vanderbilt, and make sure they've got the character to stick to their word when they start ascending to new heights.

It'll be interesting to hear what people will be saying about Butler when he signs with VU in February. He's got a lot of high school football to play between now and then.

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