January proved to be one of the most impressive periods in recent Vanderbilt football recruiting history. A program coming off back-to-back 2-10 seasons with a brand new, first-time head coach in the 39-year old James Franklin would typically make little noise during college football's national signing period.
However, the energetic and confident Franklin and his staff of aggressive assistant coaches worked their fingers to the bone during the final month of recruiting and closed like no other year in the program's history. The staff accumulated 14 new commitments by signing day, including five that were originally committed to other BCS conference schools and the majority of the 14 having little-to-no contact with the former Vanderbilt staff in the months prior to Franklin's arrival.
One of the biggest named prospects Franklin closed with was Seffner (Fla.) quarterback Josh Grady. A decorated standout at state powerhouse Armwood High, Grady had received only minimal contact during the fall from the previous Commodore staff under Robbie Caldwell, but he ultimately committed to Vanderbilt the night before national signing day after about a month of serious interest from Franklin and new quarterback coach Ricky Rahne.
"Honestly, before coach Franklin came in, VU really wasn't in the picture, but actually the first coach I met was Coach Rahne," said Grady. "He came to my house the day after I took my official to USF. My parents really loved him, so that was a huge plus and the Bears playoff game was on, with Jay Cutler, so that helped (laughs). Coach Franklin was definitely the most aggressive coach I ever met. He came to my house before I took my visit, and pretty much said "were not taking no for an answer". I laughed, but it was true. I loved his swag, reminded me of a Florida boy."
Rated as a Top 100 player in the state of Florida, Grady had his pick of over 20 FBS scholarship offers. He had narrowed things down to schools that had been involved for a while like South Florida, Wake Forest and Iowa State, but his official visit to Vanderbilt the weekend before national signing day put the Commodores over the top.
Grady made a return trip to Nashville in April to get a look at his future team in the Black and Gold spring game. The visit was the first live look at the Commodores new offense, and he came away impressed with what he saw.
"As far as the game goes, the team showed a lot of potential," Grady said. "I think the biggest thing that stood out to me was the offensive playbook. There's a lot of open receivers and holes in the offense, I just think that if Vanderbilt can get the right guys, in the right situations, we can be deadly. The coaching is top notch, just need the guys, but overall as a visit it was pretty great, it definitely confirmed my decision. The atmosphere was incredible and I'm really looking forward to coming up in the summer."
While there, Grady was also able to talk some basics with the coaches. He feels his conversation with Ricky Rahne could be very helpful in grasping the offense quickly.
"I was able to talk with Coach Rahne the next day and go over some concepts. I'm really excited about the offense, its really similar to what we ran at Armwood. As long as I can grasp the concepts, I think I can take over this offense."
Vanderbilt is expected to head into August preseason camp with six scholarship quarterbacks on the roster. Senior Larry Smith, a two-year starter, was praised for having a productive spring but Franklin was adamant about wanting a competition at the position this summer since redshirt junior Jordan Rodgers was unavailable for live action in the spring and the Commodores three quarterback signees, Grady, Lafonte Thourogood and Kris Kentera were not going to be on campus until June.
According to Grady, Franklin plans to go with whoever the best signal caller on Saturday's, regardless of experience.
"Basically, he just told me that whoever is the best quarterback to get the job done, that's who will get on the field. I'm just going to work my tail off, put in all the work, and then God will take care of everything."
Franklin's had a history of using multiple quarterbacks during stints as the offensive coordinator at Maryland and Kansas State, so regardless of who wins the starting role, tendencies would suggest that others could see time under center this fall.
Rated as the nation's 45th best "Athlete" by Rivals.com, Grady has had a stigma attached to him as a future collegiate passer due to his lack of ideal size. Standing slightly over 6-foot and weighting at 195-pounds, some analysts tabbed Grady as possibly being more ideal as a receiver or defensive back at the next level, despite the all-state quarterback possessing a strong and accurate arm and the ability to process defensive coverages rather quickly and react while under pressure. Put on his senior game tape and you will see a real difference maker similar to former Georgia Tech great Joe Hamilton.
Grady indicated he rarely paid attention to analysts projections or their rankings and believe his strengths as a quarterback as well as his intangibles can help him be a successful field general at the next level.
"First off, I'd like to say that a lot of these recruiting sites are popularity contest," Grady said. "Whoever is most familiar to the analysts, are who they're going to say is better. Personally, I think I can compete with anyone out there. Despite my height, I don't think there's anyone that can make a play as well as I can.
"I'd have to say that's my biggest strength, the ability to face adverse situations, and still find a solution to it. Other than that, I'd say my top trait is my leadership. A lot of guys are bigger, faster, and stronger than me, but no one will ever work harder, or be a better leader than me. It's something that I just won't let happen."
Grady was a two-year captain at Armwood, leading the Hawks to the Class 4A state semifinals in 2009 and the state championship as a senior in 2010. Originally a transfer from Freedom High, Grady was the Suncoast co-Player of the Year with U.S. Army All-American James Wilder Jr. last fall and was recently named first team Class 4A All-State.
With his high school career now over, he looks back at a eventful four years that included over 44 starts at quarterback between two schools and a competition level that could match that of what he'll see on Saturdays in the Southeastern Conference.
"Honestly, I couldn't have asked for a better high school experience. I started out at Freedom High School, and my old coach Marquel Blackwell, who started at USF a couple years back, really molded me from an athlete to a quarterback. Once I transferred to Armwood, I hit the ground running. Coach Callahan is the best coach I've ever been associated with. At Armwood, I went 27-3, and loved every moment. I'm not much for individual awards, but as far as a team goes, we accomplished a lot! This season was crazy. Overall I think we faced 20 plus BCS signees, and dominated them all. I think Armwood has molded me to be ready for the SEC.
"The top three players that I've ever played against are Matt Elam from Dwyer High School and now plays safety for Florida, Ryne Giddins, who I played against him when he was at Armwood during my freshmen and sophomore years, he now plays defensive end for South Florida, and Demonte McAllister from Alfonso who now plays defensive end at Florida State," said Grady. "James Wilder, who's at FSU and Jarvis Giles, now at Louisville, are up there as well."
As a senior, Grady completed nearly 73-percent of his passes for 2,109 yards and 24 touchdowns against just five interceptions. He also rushed for 865 yards and 14 more touchdowns while leading the Hawks to a 14-1 record. As a junior, he threw for 3,130 yards and 28 touchdowns against while committing just three interceptions and rushed for 586 yards and eight touchdowns as well.
Grady became the starting quarterback at Freedom High midway through his freshman season in 2007 and never looked back. In total, Grady completed 527-of-860 pass attempts during his four years of high school football for 7,686 yards 69 touchdowns while throwing just 18 interceptions. He also rushed for 1,913 yards and 28 scores while his teams went a combined 32-12 with him as a starter.
Grady believes all of his experience and success could help him as he transitions to the next level, though there are still areas in his game he wants to improve on this summer.
"One thing I think that I benefited from by playing really early, is that by the time I was "of age", as a junior and senior, everything just moved so slow to me," he said. "Once the lights came on, it was like I already knew what was going to happen. In playing early, I really had to learn the game, as everyone else had greater physical traits than me. I was able to dig deep into the concepts of the game and learn on the fly. By the time I was a senior, everything just flowed to me. I'm used to playing against older guys, so I think that me being a freshmen now, I won't have any of those "freshmen jitters" that people talk about.
"Every aspect of my game needs to become a hundred times better though. From the weight room, to the practice field, everything must increase ten fold. If there's one specific thing that I want to improve on, it's my mechanics. If your mechanics are flawed, everything else becomes flawed. I want to tune up my motion, my footwork, and the other basics, then everything else will take care of itself."
Though Grady's recruitment and signing with Vanderbilt may have been a sudden development over the winter, he hasn't wasted a moments time in embracing the program and his future home. Considered by many in the Tampa area to be one of high school's brightest and most outgoing players, one that others gravitate to, Grady regularly seeks out other members of Vanderbilt's incoming class and has become a active recruiter to prospects in the 2012 class. Recent verbal commitment Tre Griffin even referenced Grady as a contributing factor in getting him to choose Vanderbilt. He's sought out other targets for the Commodores this spring as well.
Grady feels its not only a desire to get more talented prospects to join him at Vanderbilt going forward, but a responsibility if he wants to be a part of one of the last potential turnarounds in college football.
"In being a quarterback, I'm measured by one thing, wins and losses. I can throw for 4,000 yards and 30 touchdowns, but if we're not winning, I'm not getting my job done," he said. "I take responsibility for getting the right guys here because without the right talent, coaching can only take us so far."
"Every player on our football team looks up to Josh Grady," Armwood coach Sean Callahan said on signing day. "The way his teammates talk about him, you just know they hold Josh in very high regard. He's one of those rare guys that makes everybody around him better.
"I've been doing this for three decades and Josh is the best football player I have ever had. From academics and competitiveness to being a great teammate, he is it," said Callahan. "Besides being a great football player, Josh has great balance in his life. The young man is simply one of the most special people I have been associated with."
Grady plans to move to Nashville on June 7th for Vanderbilt's first summer workout session and begin summer classes. An excellent student who has the ambition of one day being a heart surgeon, Grady says he can't wait to get started on not only his academic career but get back to work on the football field.
"I'm just really excited to finally get back into the flow of things. In graduating this year, I don't get to play spring ball, so it's virtually been half a year off since I've put on pads. I'm really looking forward to just getting back into the rhythm of things.
"Football is my sanctuary, and I'm just ready to get back into the swing of things."