The Vanderbilt Commodores suffered a serious hit to their 2014 recruiting class when former head coach James Franklin left to become the new head coach of the Penn State Nittany Lions. Many of Franklin’s commits looked elsewhere once the coach had left town with several following Franklin north to Penn State. But new head coach Derek Mason has brought an elite talent with him from his time with the Stanford Cardinal and signed four-star defensive end Nifae Lealao to the Vandy 2014 recruiting class on National Signing Day.
Lealao comes to Vanderbilt as one of the highest rated prospects in the history of the program. He is rated as the No. 6 strongside defensive end in this recruiting cycle and the No. 9 overall player from the state of California. At one point, he was committed to Stanford but pulled away once Mason left to become the head coach of the Commodores. His relationship with Mason, along with former Stanford assistants Vavae Tata and Kevin Kotulski (now on the Vandy staff), helped to bring Lealao east as he chose the Commodores over an offer from the local Cal Bears.
Mason plans on bringing the Stanford blueprint with him to Vanderbilt and that starts with building an elite defense. Lealao could be the foundation for that defense and the key to Mason’s success in the SEC. Getting elite student-athletes who can compete on the football field as well as in the class room was a skill that Mason learned while recruiting for Stanford and it will serve him well at Vanderbilt. Lealao is the first of what should be many studly nerds to get recruited the Commodores.
While this isn’t the recruiting class that Vanderbilt thought they would be getting before Franklin’s defection, Lealao is a solid foundation for the new coaching staff to build this program on. Will he prove to be the key for Mason as he puts his stamp on the Vandy program in 2014?