When Clark Lea took over as the head football coach at Vanderbilt, he stated a personal mission of his was to keep the top Middle Tennessee recruits from going elsewhere.
Lea is making good on that promise in his first recruiting class with the Commodores, signing four three-star Nashville-area recruits and landing four-star linebacker transfer Kane Patterson, another Middle Tennessee alum.
Prior to Wednesday’s signing day, Vanderbilt had commitments from CPA linebacker Langston Patterson and MBA offensive lineman Grayson Morgan. Then on Tuesday morning, the ‘Dores landed a pair of Sumner County prep standouts — three-star Hendersonville cornerback Jameson Wharton and three-star Beech receiver Andrew Paige.
Wharton, the No. 22-ranked player in Tennessee and the No. 65 cornerback in the country according to 247Sports composite rankings, chose Vanderbilt over offers from Ole Miss, Austin Peay, Chattanooga and East Tennessee State.
"Obviously we love the speed and it's a measurable trait,” Lea said of Wharton. “We know he can run. We think he has the length, and you also see someone who has just got an underdeveloped frame. We want to go to work immediately in trying to build that out.”
The 6-foot-3 cornerback was initially going to reclassify to the class of 2023 — which likely would have led to more Power 5 offers — but he decided against it once he got an offer from Vanderbilt.
An official visit to West End in late January, along with a friendly push from Hendersonville head coach James Beasley, who happens to be Lea’s cousin, probably didn’t hurt either.
“[Beasley] kind of kept Jameson on my radar, and as we reached this second portion of recruiting, we felt strongly that he has what it takes to be an SEC corner,” Lea added. “We know and Jameson knows that he's got, again, some room to grow and some things that need to happen for him to position himself to be effective on Saturdays, but when you spend time with him and you're around him and his family, he's a go-getter.
“He has got a sense of urgency about going after what he wants, and like I said, we want to we want to fill the roster with guys that can run, with length and range and we know he can do that. So, we were excited to add him to the class here late."
Paige, the No. 55-ranked player in Tennessee and the 215th-ranked receiver in the 2022 class according to 247Sportscomposite rankings, chose Vandy over offers from Akron, Arkansas State, Austin Peay, Central Michigan and Middle Tennessee State.
In fact, Vanderbilt flipped Paige from MTSU after his official visit in late January. Paige was set to sign with the Blue Raiders prior to that visit.
"We see not just the talent that he is, but we really project him to grow,” Lea said. “He's a guy that's early on in his football career, so still learning the game and has the ability to be electric. … With a local player that we feel like has a huge upside that was looking for what Vanderbilt has to offer, it made a lot of sense for us.”
A 6-foot-4 wideout, Paige had 35 receptions, 639 yards and nine touchdowns during his senior season with the Buccaneers. A dual-sport athlete, Paige is also a standout on the Buccaneers’ basketball team, which is currently 26-0.
The current plan is to move him to tight end with the hope that he continues to grow into and fill out his large frame even more.
“We’ve got to build out his frame,” Lea continued. “We have to give him some time to really form the niche that he'll be on the team, but we think that we have a guy that has got skill to be a great receiver, that has got a frame that can be a blocker and can be disruptive on the edge that way.
“… I think what you're seeing now is kind of those hybrid body types and those hybrid positions, it's a way to create matchups. It's a way to create advantage for the offense, and we think Andrew will grow into that for us too. He'll need some time to develop, but we're excited about what the future holds for him."
Follow Michael Gallagher on Twitter @MGsports_