Derek Mason secured one of the nation's top defensive linemen on National Signing Day when Sacramento (Calif.) four-star defensive end Nifae Lealao committed and signed with Vanderbilt on Wednesday afternoon.
He made his decision during a signing day ceremony at his school, Capital Christian.
The 6-foot-6, 310-pound Rivals250 prospect becomes the highest ranked prospect to sign with Vanderbilt during the Rivals.com era, ranking 130th overall. Lealao also ranks 10th among weakside defensive ends and 12th among prospects from the state of California overall.
A big, yet agile prospect, Lealao posted 229 total tackles with 18 sacks during his career at Capital. He also blocked an impressive 17 punts or field goals during his career.
Lealao originally committed to Stanford while Mason was the team's defensive coordinator, but he re-opened his recruitment in January. He visited Vanderbilt over the weekend and came away impressed with the campus, the education, community feel and city of Nashville.
Lealao was down to VU, Cal, Stanford, Hawaii and Utah, but he also picked up offers from across the country including Arizona, Arizona State, BYU, Colorado, Ole Miss, Oregon, Oregon State, UCLA, USC, Washington, Washington State, Wisconsin and several other schools.
"Nifae has a skill set that is absolutely rare. You just don't see the kind of athletic ability he possesses on guys Nifae's size," Capital Christian head coach Phil Grams stated on signing day. "He's quick as a cat and has a big, powerful frame. He's also an intelligent guy who can diagnosis what offenses are trying to do to handle him."
"Finally, Nifae is just a great human being, everybody's best friend here. He's been a super, upstanding guy in this community."
A U.S. Army All-American, Lealao proved himself to analysts during the week of practices in early January and excelled during the actual game against some of the nation's very best players.
A versatile athlete, Lealao also excelled on the basketball court, volleyball court and in track and field during his high school career.
Lealao rounds out a impressive haul for Mason, considering the new head coach had less than three weeks to prepare a class. Lealao is the fourth prospect from the state of California to sign with VU, joining corner LaDarius Wiley and linebackers Hawkins Mann and Charles Wright.
Vanderbilt currently ranks 47th in the Rivals.com team rankings, following Lealao's signing. That would mark the third straight year in which Vanderbilt has finished with a Top 50 class after finishing outside the Top 50 during the first nine years of the Rivals.com era.