Vanderbilt will kickoff its preparation for the 2013 season on Thursday but the program could take another step forward for the future this weekend with a trio of expected unofficial visitors.
Each prospect is not only among VU's top overall targets, but all three could have the potential of making an immediate impact on the roster in 2014 should they sign with the Commodores on National Signing Day in February.
VandySports.com takes a look at the three major recruits and what they could mean for Vanderbilt.
School: Mountain Pointe HS, Phoenix (Ariz.)
Position: Wide Receiver
Rating: 6.0 (Four-Star), Rivals100
Bio: Brown is one of the nation's top over receiver prospects, ranking 4th at the position according to Rivals.com. The 6-foot-2, 183-pound target was named the Gatorade Player of the Year in Arizona as a junior after hauling in 67 receptions for 1,235 yards and 18 touchdowns. The versatile player also picked off five passes on defense. The long, lanky wide out plays with superior balance and ball skill and is an exceptional route runner. Brown has idea feet with sharp breaking ability and adequate quickness. Ranked as the nation's 50th overall prospect, what separates Brown from other receivers might be his tremendous hands, advanced intelligence against pressure and body control. He also possesses the ability to not only get open, but turn small receptions into big ones with his "football speed" that isn't measured in a 40-time.
VU need: Vanderbilt wants to sign some play-making receivers this year and Brown is by far one of the nation's best at making plays and turning catches into touchdowns. Brown is also a solid student athlete, something else that Vanderbilt is always looking for due to its rigorous and competitive campus. A very early target for the Commodores, Brown has kept VU in the loop throughout his recruitment and placed the SEC program within his top five a few months ago. Now he appears to be narrowing things down even further. This could be a very significant for both Brown and VU as the two parties appear to be on the same page going in. A good trip could do wonders for Vanderbilt's chances at landing its first-ever Top 50 player.
School: Armwood HS, Seffner (Fla.)
Position: Defensive back
Rating: 5.8 (4-star), Rivals250
Bio: Gibson is one of the nation's top and most versatile defensive backs, ranking 13th among corners by Rivals.com. The 6-foot, 180-pound prospect was part of a strong defensive backfield at Armwood High in the Tampa area last fall, recording 74 tackles with four interceptions. The long, athletic prospect plays with great range, closing speed and intelligence as a safety but also has the ability to cover as a zone corner on the next level as well. Gibson diagnosis plays very quickly and explodes into a target with ideal physicality. He will also read and break on the ball quickly, often stepping in front of the receiver for a pick or disrupting the targets concentration with his quick hands. Gibson is also attacks ball carriers, often tackling through the opponent rather than dive for ankles. He's a player that could fit into most systems and likely flourish.
VU need: Vanderbilt has placed a premium need on defensive backs and Gibson has been a premium target for the Commodores since before his junior season. VU offered last spring and has been involved in his process throughout as Gibson has made several trips up to Nashville. This trip may be a bit different as Gibson's parents are expected to attend with him. Ranked 196th nationally, Gibson would not only be the highest rated DB prospect to commit to Vanderbilt in its recent history, he is also a prospect that would give Defensive Coordinator Bob Shoop ideal versatility in his secondary. Gibson could play free safety, nickel or even boundary corner within VU's "RedTails" multiple schemes. Gibson has not set out a specific time table to make a decision, but some believe this visit could be huge for the Commodores.
School: St. Peter's Prep, Jersey City (N.J.)
Position: Running back
Rating: 5.7 (Three-star)
Bio: Hilliman is one of the top power backs in the nation, ranking 42nd overall by Rivals.com. The 6-foot-1, 210-pound prospect earned first team all-state honors as a junior last season after rushing for 1,408 yards and 21 touchdowns on 123 carries for St. Peter's Prep. The strong, agile prospect has all the tools to be a every-down back at the next level. Hilliman runs with power downhill, breaking tackles and tacking hits as they come, but he makes elusive cuts just a look a smaller back would. He can make people miss in traffic and in the open field. Hilliman also plays with good vision as he reads a lane and quickly darts through or wait for it to set up and adjust accordingly. Hilliman also plays with good pad level and has enough speed to breakaway for long runs down the sideline. Hilliman also versatile enough to be a factor in the passing game as he does well on screens and flat routes. He looks like one of the better prototypical running backs in the class.
VU need: Vanderbilt has a pair of running backs already committed but the Commodores are still in the market for a potential third back, that is, if it's Hilliman. Vanderbilt targeted the former prep teammate of Commodore freshman Tre Bell last fall and have remained in the "Thrilliman's" top list of schools throughout the process. Hilliman cut down his list of schools to a final five a while back and is in the process of making his final visits before making a decision. Some believe that Rutgers is in the driver's seat after a recent trip to Piscataway, but VU hopes to make a strong impression with his first trip to Nashville. With the graduation of Wesley Tate next season, the Commodores will need a back of Hilliman's size and skill, and he would likely step right into the mix of things as VU has shown its willing to use multiple backs in its multiple pro-style offense.