Vanderbilt head coach Mason and his staff decided not to take a running back in the 2017 recruiting class, technically, even though some people are counting Illinois transfer and Nashville native Ke’Shawn Vaughn as a part of the class.
The staff will be looking to add some much-needed depth to that position in the 2018 class. Vanderbilt and Mclane Mannix, the only recruit who was slated to play a running back type role, decided to part ways just a few days before signing day a few weeks ago. The Commodores seemed to switch their approach and offensive scheme for Mannix, which led to the separation. Running back will be a need and a priority in the 2018 class, and by the offers the staff has made and even the players they have talked to and not offered yet, they are making that evident. Vanderbilt goes into the 2017 season looking pretty set at running back with senior Ralph Webb returning, and backup redshirt junior Khari Blasingame looking to build on an outstanding season. Even though the staff decided to only take the transfer Vaughn at running back, they shouldn’t be lacking in depth for now.
Late last week, I caught up with one of the staff’s running back targets, and a guy still looking for that Vanderbilt offer, Anthony Ballard Jr., who is out of Milan High School in Milan, Tennessee. Ballard, Jr. led his high school to a 9-3 record last year as a junior before being knocked out of the second round of the state playoffs. He rushed for 1,360 yards on 150 carries and scored 16 touchdowns. Anthony went into his junior season only playing running back, but early in the season his coaches decided to play him on both sides of the ball to fill a need on defense. The extra workload of playing a hybrid linebacker/defensive end position on defense didn’t seem to affect him too much on the offensive side of the ball.
Right now, Ballard Jr. holds just one offer from Tennessee Tech but he told me he has been receiving a lot of interest from a handful of different schools. I asked him which schools were showing the most interest.
“Right now Duke, Memphis, Auburn, and Miami of Ohio have all been showing heavy interest,” Ballard Jr. told VandyMania. He has a couple of different visits planned right now, including heading up to the University of Tennessee on the February 18 for one of their junior days, going to Louisville on March 4, and visiting Memphis sometime in April. After asking about Vanderbilt, Ballard Jr. told me that he has been in some contact with Coach Norcross and Coach Genyk. He is a player that is hoping for that Vanderbilt offer, and after asking him what kind of impact a Vanderbilt offer would have on his recruiting he replied, “I feel like it would make a huge impact! A SEC team near home would be an amazing offer. It’s still very early but receiving that offer would definitely push Vandy towards the top of my list.”
Even though Anthony doesn’t have an offer from the staff yet, he is definitely someone to watch as the recruiting process progresses. Ballard Jr. is a big back, standing at 6-foot-2, 200 pounds, who has very good instincts and hits the hole incredibly hard. Anthony is hoping to have a stellar senior season to really jumpstart his recruiting.