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June 23, 2012
ATLANTA -- Ellenwood (Ga.) Cedar Grove quarterback Johnathon McCrary clearly remembers the details of the conversation that solidified his decision to make one of the most intriguing selections of the 2013 recruiting season.
McCrary received plenty of peaches-and-cream descriptions of football life from various other coaches trying to persuade him to pick their school. Vanderbilt coach James Franklin took an entirely different approach.
"He's the only coach who looked in my eyes and told me exactly what I didn't want to hear," McCrary recalled Friday from the Rivals100 Five-Star Challenge, where he's competing alongside many of the nation's other top recruits.
Franklin asked his prize target a question.
What does the NFL stand for? Not For Long.
"That means you have to get a job, you still have to support for your family after (football)," McCrary said. "No other coach brought that to my attention."
That's not the typical sales pitch a coach gives a recruit. Then again, McCrary isn't a typical player.
As the No. 3 dual-threat quarterback and No. 100 overall prospect in the 2013 recruiting class, McCrary received offers from such big-name programs as Florida State, Georgia, Ohio State and Tennessee. He instead opted to play for a team that has posted just one winning record over the past 29 seasons.
If McCrary maintains his current ranking and sticks to his commitment, he would become the highest-rated prospect to sign with Vanderbilt since the current form of Rivals.com launched in 2002. Vanderbilt's status as a perennial SEC also-ran made the school appeal to McCrary even more.
"I wanted to do something different," McCrary said. "I wanted to try something I could be proud of and write my own legacy rather than being a part of someone else's legacy."
Of course, nothing's a given in recruiting until National Signing Day. And ever since McCrary announced his commitment on Feb. 16, he's heard all the rumors that he'll eventually sign with a different school that has more of a winning history.
The same sort of skepticism surrounded Memphis (Tenn.) East running back Brian Kimbrow and Tucker (Ga.) defensive end Josh Dawson when the two four-star recruits committed to Vanderbilt last summer. Dawson did indeed make a Signing Day switch to Georgia, but Kimbrow stayed true to his commitment and headlined the most heralded recruiting class in Vanderbilt history.
McCrary intends to follow Kimbrow's lead.
"Honestly, I'm really, really, really solid to Vanderbilt," McCrary said.
McCrary is the featured attraction in a Vanderbilt class that also includes two other four-star prospects: Macon (Ga.) Central linebacker Nigel Bowden and Alpharetta (Ga.) wide receiver Carlos Burse. Vanderbilt currently is 16th in the Rivals 2013 recruiting rankings.
Kimbrow should give Vanderbilt's offense an instant shot of adrenaline. Burse offers a playmaking threat on the outside. Bowden and 2012 four-star prospect Caleb Azubike can help upgrade the Vanderbilt defense. But McCrary's signature would represent the greatest catch yet for Franklin.
Franklin arrived at Vanderbilt in January 2011 with a reputation as an exceptional quarterback tutor because of his work with Josh Freeman and Danny O'Brien as an assistant at Kansas State and Maryland. He has since established himself as one of the nation's most tenacious recruiters.
McCrary gives Franklin a chance to combine his two greatest strengths.
"James Franklin is a great quarterback coach and developer of quarterbacks," Rivals.com national recruiting analyst Mike Farrell said. "He did it at Maryland. He did it at Kansas State. He's got an NFL pedigree. He's taken that recruiting (at Vanderbilt) to the next level, but it all starts with the quarterback. The quarterback is the leader of the team. When kids start to see a four-star quarterback go to Vanderbilt, they start to believe in the program."
Rival schools continue to believe they can steer McCrary away from Vanderbilt, even though he hasn't shown any signs of backing away from his commitment.
McCrary is an academic-minded prospect who plans to pursue a career as an anesthesiologist when he's done playing football. McCrary determined Vanderbilt offered the unique opportunity to compete in the nation's toughest conference while receiving a world-class education.
Those priorities don't fit the sales pitch he often receives from other coaches.
"They really don't speak about education or about the players who don't perform or get hurt and don't have a chance to go on in football," McCrary said. "They don't tell you about that side. They only tell you about winning championships -- and that's pretty much it."
McCrary said he was encouraged by Vanderbilt's 6-7 record and Liberty Bowl appearance last year in Franklin's first season on the job because it offered a glimpse of the program's potential.
But he won't base his decision on whether the Commodores continue to make strides this fall.
In fact, McCrary said he would remain true to his commitment even if Vanderbilt slips to 2-10, its record in 2010 and 2011. His choice is about more than wins and losses.
"They believe in things that other colleges don't offer," McCrary said. In a certain respect, a breakthrough season by Vanderbilt actually could leave McCrary facing a major dilemma.
After all, Vanderbilt's surprising 2011 performance and its promising 2012 recruiting class have made Franklin one of the nation's hottest coaching commodities. Franklin signed a contract extension in December, but that won't stop other schools from trying to lure him away.
If that happens, McCrary could have to choose between the school he favors and the coach he respects. Of course, that's also imagining a scenario that hasn't unfolded yet.
At this point, McCrary simply is looking forward to teaming up with Franklin and helping Vanderbilt emerge as an SEC contender.
Sure, plenty of other programs also have offered him the chance to contend for SEC titles, but Vanderbilt provided a unique opportunity to assure McCrary would be remembered long after he earns his degree.
If he goes to Georgia or Tennessee, McCrary probably would have an easier time succeeding in the classroom and on the field. But he wouldn't be achieving anything that other quarterbacks at those places hadn't done before.
Leading one of those teams to SEC contention would be nice. Helping Vanderbilt reach those heights would be magical. "That's a legacy," McCrary said. "That would be writing history instead of just being part of it."