The Commercial Appeal

Vandy is big winner locally on National Signing Day

- By John Varlas varlas@commercial­ 901-529-2350

Darrius Sims always brings excitement to the football field — and he did his best to add some excitement to an otherwise very predictabl­e National Signing Day on Wednesday.

Sims, a defensive back from Whitehaven who doubles as a dangerous return man, had long been committed to Vanderbilt, but when it came time to officially announce his choice he playfully put on a University of Memphis hat — just for a second or two — before donning the Commodores’ black and gold.

“That’s just something me and (teammate and fellow Vandy signee Gerald) G (Perry) worked out,” said Sims. “I was always solid with (Vanderbilt). I’m the kind of guy that once I make up my mind, I stick to it.

“Coach (James) Franklin is full of energy and they’re an up and coming program. Today is just like a big sigh of relief.”

Sims and Perry, a wide receiver, were just part of an impressive local haul for the Commodores. Vandy landed East star running back Brian Kimbrow last season and built on that this time by bringing in the Whitehaven tandem, along with Central wide receiver Latevius Rayford and Harding defensive end Mack Weaver. had the Commodores’ class ranked 19th nationally, ahead of such traditiona­l powers as Oregon, Texas, Penn State and Miami.

So what makes Vandy such an attractive choice for so many?

“A lot of it has to do with the academics,” said Perry. “And it’s SEC football.”

Added Harding’s Weaver, “The coaching staff there really relates to us as players. It feels good to know that I made the right choice.”

Fittingly for a team that went 15-0 and captured the Class 6A state championsh­ip, Whitehaven was the busiest place in town Wednesday. In addition to Sims and Perry, three other players signed with Football Bowl Subdivisio­n schools: wide receiver Justin Hunt (Marshall) and offensive lineman Vincent Hunter and defensive lineman Andra Smith (both UAB).

In all, 13 of coach Rodney Saulsberry’s players signed.

“We always say, you don’t have to start all four years,” he said. “It just takes one year and one school.”

The Tigers’ District 16-AAA rival, White Station, also had a big day, with four players signing with FBS schools. Wide receiver Donald Gray Jr. signed with Mississipp­i State, defensive back Anthony Young picked Memphis and athlete Jerry Thompson chose Navy.

Star defensive end Jason Carr followed through on his long-standing commitment to Tennessee, despite some late pressure.

“Alabama is a great school and so is Ole Miss, but Tennessee just felt like a family,” said Carr, decked out in an orange-and-white checked shirt and orange bow tie.

East had three major signees: offensive lineman Christian Morris (UCLA) and defensive tackle Herbert Moore and linebacker Marcus Robinson (both Ole Miss). Robinson, who had originally committed to Arkansas, will play for Northeast Mississipp­i Community College if he can’t qualify academical­ly.

But regardless of where he — or any of the other players — signed, Wednesday was, first and foremost, a day of celebratio­n. That spirit was best summed up by Harding offensive lineman Zach Collins, who signed with Memphis.

“It’s exciting; it’s a dream come true,” he said. “I knew I wanted to play Division 1 football since I was in the seventh grade and this day signifies that’s now a reality.”

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