Davis Winkie didn’t know what he would find when he visited Vanderbilt this weekend with a group of prospective recruits. The Commodores had hired a new head football coach and watched the old one poach former recruits to his new school since the last time Winkie had communicated with the program.
Meanwhile, the recruiting window was closing with Signing Day on Wednesday. The South Forsyth senior long snapper had one scholarship offer but was starting to think about back-up scenarios.
On Sunday, Winkie threw those back-up plans out the window. New Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason offered Winkie a scholarship and the 6-foot-6, 250-pounder accepted it seconds later.
“Going into the weekend, I wasn’t quite sure,” Winkie said. “But when I saw that Vanderbilt was still Vanderbilt – I’d been recruited by the old staff – but the Vanderbilt I fell in love with was still there. The group of guys I was with was great. We all meshed. The new staff was fantastic, and I was just like, ‘Wow.’ They’ve still got it rolling here.”
Winkie becomes the seventh Division I football commitment from Forsyth County and the fourth from South, joining teammates Kyle Watford (Air Force), Sam Walker (Army) and Isaiah Williams (Army).
Ranked as one of the top long snappers in the country, Winkie joins an exclusive group to get a full scholarship offer from an elite college football program at a special teams position.
“I just feel honored that there was a coaching staff that felt I belonged in that tier of long snappers,” Winkie said.
Winkie’s trepidation over Vanderbilt stemmed from the departure of former head coach James Franklin who left to take the same position at Penn State.
Franklin’s national reputation ascended after invigorating the Southeastern Conference’s worst program. Vanderbilt is 24-16 the past three seasons, has won consecutive bowl games and built Top 25 recruiting classes thanks to Franklin’s charisma and résumé.
Franklin’s departure opened questions as to whether Vanderbilt’s recent success could be sustained. He brought seven Commodores assistants with him to Penn State and over the course of the past few weeks flipped five recruits to the Nittany Lions.
But the coaching carousel opened the door for Winkie. Another long snapper, Ike Powell, had committed to Vanderbilt while Franklin was coach. When Franklin left, Powell flipped his commitment to Auburn.
Vanderbilt found a suitable replacement for Franklin in Stanford defensive coordinator Derek Mason, who wasted no time in courting Winkie.
“At Vanderbilt you’ve got the opportunity for a world class education while playing in the best football conference in the world,” Winkie said.
Winkie has the rest planned out. Vanderbilt’s Peabody College has been ranked as the top graduate school of education in the country, so Winkie wants to double major in history and education and perhaps become a high school football coach one day.
For Winkie, Plan A finally came together with three days to spare.
“The sense of relief is overwhelming,” Winkie said.