Three weeks ago, East Hamilton cornerback Tre Herndon was among 20 Vanderbilt commitments in a Commodores class expected to rank among the top 25 nationally.
Then Vanderbilt coach James Franklin left, as did nearly everybody else. Since Franklin was introduced as Penn State's new coach on Jan. 11, the Commodores have lost a staggering 11 former commitments.
Herndon is among the nine who have remained for successor Derek Mason, the former Stanford defensive coordinator who replaced Franklin last weekend.
"It seems like this recruiting class is going downhill, but that's going to happen when you have a major change like a head-coaching job," Herndon said. "You can't be mad at the players who have left, because maybe there was a better fit for their family or their situation."
The better fit for most of the former Commodores commitments apparently has been Franklin himself, with six jumping from Vanderbilt's commitment list to that of Penn State. Tight end Chance Sorrell of Ohio and defensive end Lloyd Tubman of Kentucky told Rivals.com that they received calls from Franklin just hours after he took over the Nittany Lions.
Those calls contained scholarship offers.
"He didn't push me or anything," Tubman told Rivals.com. "I told him that I was with him 100 percent. He was a major reason I committed to Vanderbilt."
Tubman added that after he committed to the Nittany Lions, Franklin asked him to shut down his recruitment.
The former Vanderbilt commitments have enabled Penn State to move up to 24th in Rivals' team rankings, with the Nittany Lions ranked 25th by ESPN and 28th by 247Sports.com. It's obviously been a different story for the Commodores, whose class was ranked 26th by Rivals before the defections and entered this weekend ranked 77th, wedged between Florida International and Middle Tennessee State.
"It's a little unprecedented," said J.C. Shurburtt, the national recruiting analyst for 247Sports. "Louisville has had some attrition with Charlie Strong leaving, and Clemson had some after Tommy Bowden was fired midway through the 2008 season. But that was a small Clemson class anyway, and it wound up having Tajh Boyd in it.
"I haven't seen anything like this, especially the high number of players flipping to Penn State, the new destination. It's unprecedented for sure."
Herndon did not have scholarship offers from other BCS conference schools, choosing the Commodores over the likes of Middle Tennessee State, Memphis and UAB. He was contacted this past Monday by Mason, who asked him to stay in touch with the remaining Commodores commitments.
Vanderbilt offensive linemen Barrett Gouger and Andrew Jelks, as well as backup quarterback Josh Grady, have been among the current players to send Herndon "thanks for your loyalty" messages.
"I've had coaches and players texting me and thanking me for staying, but I see this as an honor," Herndon said. "I wouldn't want to leave Vanderbilt for anything."
Vanderbilt posted consecutive nine-win seasons for the first time in program history under Franklin, capping a second straight 9-4 finish earlier this month with a 41-24 win over Houston in the BBVA Compass Bowl. In between those seasons, Franklin led the compilation of a 2013 signing class that was ranked 19th by Rivals.com and Scout.com.
That class had 26 signees, but this year's class entered the weekend with just 10 commitments after Mason collected his first pledge from Rashad Canty, a two-star receiver from the Atlanta suburb of Riverdale.
"It's hard to put a number on how many they will wind up with, because what you want to avoid is a situation where you're just bringing in warm bodies," Shurburtt said. "It's a different kind of school from the rest of the SEC, yet it competes in the SEC, so you don't want a lot of dead weight coming in. What Derek Mason is doing, and I think it's smart, is trying to find those late risers out of Atlanta, which is a spot where you can find some low-hanging fruit -- guys who don't have an extensive offer list but are probably just as good as some guys who have 10 to 15 offers.
"In 2015, the state of Tennessee is deep with players, and I think it's probably one of the deepest years on record. There are probably 25 to 30 high-level FBS prospects that we've identified already, and maybe Vanderbilt will be very competitive for a lot of those guys. Tennessee's numbers will be smaller next year, so they can't take everybody that they probably could take under normal circumstances."
The past couple of weeks have been anything but normal for Herndon, who is just 17, and his fellow Vanderbilt commitments. All 10 were scheduled to be in Nashville this weekend on their official visits, but it's a visit list that is noticeably smaller now that Franklin is gone.
"I've learned that college football is a business," Herndon said. "Changes might happen, and you have to be prepared for them. I'm glad coming in as a freshman that it's happening now, so I can get a look and a feel of what it's like in case it happens in the future. So in that sense, it's kind of good that it happened now.
"I think everything has started to calm down a little, and I'm good right now."
Contact David Paschall at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6524.
David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...