It speaks to the overall character of this class that they stuck to their word as some of them were committed for almost a year.
"It's a high-character class with toughness<' Florida head coach Will Muschamp told the media at his post-signing day press conference Wednesday. "All of the position criteria we looked for as far as size and speed and all the off-the-field things we're looking for. It's a very committed class. A lot of these guys were guys that have been committed to us a long time and never took other visits. There wasn't a lot of flash in their recruiting process, and that's the kind of guys you want."
"These guys have to go through a lot. You see guys going back and forth, a lot of pressure on these young men to make decisions and the different factions pulling different ways. You've got to respect that."
It isn't easy keeping kids committed for 10,11, maybe 12 months before getting them to sign on the dotted line in February.
"It says a lot about the young men, first of all," he said. Secondly, our staff staying on them and understanding that crazy things get said right before signing day. Sometimes you can sway somebody pretty easy. But you know a lot of times when you're recruiting a young man if it's a commitment or it's a reservation. You make reservations at a Marriott, but you change and go to the Hilton. Unfortunately some people make reservations, not commitments."
It is the second full year of recruiting for this Florida staff and they have been able to get on the ground floor in al lot of the recruiting areas and figure out these prospects, families, and high school coaches. They can learn from other people that they get to know just what type of character they are getting with the prospects they sign.
"I don't want to say I feel better about the class, because these guys haven't been on campus yet as a whole," Muschamp said in comparing it to his first two recruiting classes. "But the more you know somebody, the more time you spend with them, the more you know about them, the more you can expect. Maybe I wouldn't say feel better, comfort-level would probably be the best way to put it."
Muschamp has been very clear about trying to sign the right people. He has spent a lot of time cleaning out the riff-raff from a locker room that was all about ‘me'. The criteria used for his assistant coaches to recruit a prospect have to be about the person and not just the football player.
"It's important," he said. "I always tell our assistant coaches, don't fall in love with the film. You got to look at the transcript. They're going to be mainstreamed immediately into the University of Florida. Our academic people do an outstanding job of supporting all of our student athletes, but those guys have to be able to compete on and off the field at Florida. To be able to recruit the right kind of guy, we do pass on guys. They're really good players and can certainly play well for us here in the Swamp, but for certain guys who may not be a good fit in your locker room you just move on and recruit the right kind of guy. You got to see the character, and that's where we're headed. You look at a football team last year that came from behind eight times. That is a team with character. That's the kind of people you want. At the end of the day, you win with good people. Do you need to have some difference makers? Absolutely, but you also need to understand you can't compromise what you believe as a coach for the greatness of a good player."
The end result isn't always about championships either. The team goal is to win a championship, but Muschamp knows the personal goals of the individual need to also include the high quality education they will get at Florida. That is a reward he and his assistants relish as well.
"Seeing a guy come in here and graduate," he said. " Seeing a guy come in here and get a great education and winning a championship. That's one of the things I really enjoy about college football as opposed to professional football — to see the developmental stage of when a young man comes in and then you see him developing into who he really is as a man, and all you are is an extension of what's already happening at home. You certainly know that you've had a positive impact on a young man's life."
Muschamp believes his staff is fine-tuned now to bring in the best athletes as well as the best people to a program that relishes both.
"The coaching process is really about four things -- evaluation, recruiting, developing and coaching," he said. "I think in two years on the recruiting trail from an evaluation standpoint, a recruiting standpoint, we've got a staff that can do it all. Very proud of the staff and the job they did and all the support staff on campus. People have to be here over the weekend from starting in December until last weekend and be available for young men and their parents to come on campus. There is a true commitment level at this place for excellence and I appreciate all their support."
Touched in South Florida
Everyone knows that recruiting in south Florida is a must for in-state schools and big programs in the south. The hotbed of talent and speed in the Dade, Broward, Palm Beach, and a couple of counties north of there is annually the most talented hotbed in the nation. This year, the numbers didn't seem to be great, but Florida did well none the less landing three prospects that they really cherished.
Roderick Johnson was one that almost got away. The 6-5, 320 pound offensive tackle is a prospect the staff loves, with his huge body, long arms, and agility at the tackle position. Johnson is really the only Gator that signed that actually de-committed for a while looking at another possible destination. The Gators liked him enough to stay on him hard.
"Rod committed to us last spring, I believe," Muschamp said. "Then you go through the spring recruiting process, especially in South Florida. You've got over 100 schools probably coming by American Heritage Delray Beach and watching practice. You get exposed with, ‘OK, that's a nice school.' And then you research a little bit and you start looking into it, ‘Did I make a right decision?' Recruiting is so early now and they're exposed to so much earlier in the recruiting process. They really don't start their official visits until September of their senior year."
"Guys are exposed to so much more, they commit, think they made the right decision and like most situations they start having buyer's remorse a little bit on their decision. I understand all that. That's part of the process. You just continue to recruit the guy, and if he fits in your numbers and your scheme and certainly Rod does, Rod came to our camp and did a great job in camp. Most of the guys we have signed were in our camp. Rod did a great job again. Jay-nard was a young man that really came down to three schools and we were real pleased to get him here on the last visit. He had a great visit, and we felt very comfortable. Travaris Robinson did a great job recruiting him throughout the entire process."
Another big get for Florida in the southern part of the state is Port St. Lucie defensive tackle Jaynard Bostwick. At 6-4 and 270 pounds Bostwick has the room to put on more but the quickness to be an elite defensive lineman for the Gators. He was the big one that made national noise and the Gators landed on signing day.
And of course we can't forget about running back Kelvin Taylor. The son of Gator great Fred Taylor, Kelvin committed last February after a hard battle with Alabama. At 5-10 and 205 pounds, Kelvin is already enrolled at Florida and the consensus top-three running back in the country should see the field early in 2013.
"Well, I think a guy that's been there and done that can sometimes sift through all the stuff out there. That's what obviously Fred did for Kelvin as far as preparation is concerned. Worry about the important things. Kelvin never brought up star ratings or how many offers he had or wanted to take a bunch of different visits, wanted to talk to this coach or that coach. None of that stuff really impressed Kelvin very much. Kelvin's a very mature young man. He's here mid-year and he's done an outstanding job for us in the weight room."
Dominating the I-4 Corridor and Lakeland Areas (Again)
Florida understands the importance of the Tampa/ Orlando area and the surrounding communities as well. The Gators have cleaned house in the central Florida / west Florida areas with the recruiting prowess of assistant coaches Derek Lewis, Travaris Robinson, Brian White, and D.J. Durkin. This was a big year for Florida in that region of the state landing Vernon Hargreaves III (5-11, 181) from Tampa Wharton, Alvin Bailey (5-11, 175) from Seffner Armwood, Joey Ivie (6-4, 269) from Dade City Pasco, Jordan Sherit (6-3, 243) from Tampa Hillsborough, Travon Young (6-5, 265) from Bradenton Braden River, P Johnny Townsend (6-2, 200) from Orlando Boone, RB Adam Lane (5-8. 205) from Winter Haven, Saf Marcell Harris (6-2, 210) from Orlando Dr. Phillips, Saf Keanu Neal (6-0, 204) from Bushnell South Sumter, and OL Tyler Moore (6-5, 312) originally from Clearwater Countryside and a transfer from Nebraska.
Hargreaves is the biggest name in the class and for a team that is loaded with experience and quality depth at cornerback, landing the number one player in the country at the position is a testament to the staff.
"The guy has been around the game a lot and he really gets the game," Muschamp said of Hargreaves. He understands the game and is very mature. He's very driven. Works on the things that are important as far as his strength training and speed training is concerned. Raised in the game and understands it. I see a very mature young man that's very driven in what he wants to accomplish. That's what really jumps out at me. Highly intelligent. A guy that you would certainly point to that will have some opportunities as a freshman to contribute. Now how much will be up to him.
"(The coaches) have all done an outstanding job of mining through that area and finding the best fit for the University of Florida."
Importance of Early Enrollees
The importance in the recruiting class of the early enrollees cannot be overstated. Not only does it take the heat off of the coaching staff in terms of recruiting since the kids are enrolled and don't have to continue to be recruited, these kids also get a head start on their peers in the class.
Florida had more than a quarter of the class enroll early including Taylor, WR Demarcus Robinson (6-2, 200) , OL Tyler Moore (6-5, 300), DT Darious Cumming (6-2, 305), DT Joey Ivie (6-4, 265), LB Alex Anzalone (6-3, 220), LB Daniel McMillan (6-2, 220), and LB Matt Rolin (6-4, 205). All of these except for Rolin (ACL injury) will be competing for starting spots this spring and onto the Fall.
"We've got eight guys here on campus right now. Matt Rolin for his rehab and his knee, (he's) doing very well. He won't go through the spring, but all of those decisions will be made in August. When we get these guys on the field and we coach them and we see who can help us and who can develop and there's a lot of time from here till August as our team continues to develop in the offseason program."
Competing in SEC
More than ever the SEC is the toughest conference in America to recruit against. Alabama was the consensus number one class and the SEC has five of the top ten classes in the SEC and nine of the top 25. Teams like Vanderbilt, Kentucky, and Ole Miss stepped up their recruiting game big time in 2013. They are tough to recruit, but the players Florida recruits are the kind that also want to play against that competition.
"It's about competition," Muschamp said. "That's what people always asked me when I first got here the difference between Texas and here is the competition on the recruiting trail. Everybody's got great facilities and they're improving them every year, every single year you are going to walk around and see new things. Everybody understands the importance of what it takes to go out and recruit and evaluate and develop players. That's what it's all about. Hats off to James Franklin (Vanderbilt) and Hugh Freeze (Ole Miss) for the job they've done. They've done a good job recruiting. They understand the importance of getting out and evaluating guys and getting them on campus.
Florida feels like they cleaned house at defensive tackle. The top two at the position in the state were 4-star Caleb Brantley (6-3, 310) from Crescent City and the aforementioned Jaynard Bostwick and they are both Gators. Joey Ivie was the next guy on their list even if he may be a project type.
Florida needed a lot of numbers at defensive tackle after only retaining one from the previous two recruiting classes and losing three to graduation or the NFL draft. They signed five, including two junior college transfers in Darious Cummings (6-2, 305) and Jarran Reed (6-4, 305), both from East Mississippi Community College.
"First of all, you've got to talk about Leon Orr (current junior on the roster at the position)," Muschamp said. "You've got to talk about Darious Cummings, a young man that's on campus for us from East Mississippi. You've got to talk about Damien Jacobs (senior DT on the roster). You've got a possibility of Dominique Easley (senior on the roster), depending on where he fits for us, either on the inside or out at end. He was very productive player for us two years ago on the inside and in pass-rush situations for us last year. And then the mingle of guys coming in. We'll determine that. They'll get every opportunity, probably more than they want based on how they like to eat. So, we'll see how they pan out here in June, and then in work through the summer and into fall camp. And if they're guys that are the best at their position, they'll play. And if they're the best, they'll start. If they're not — we'll make all those decisions about how much they're going to play in August."
Loose Lips Sink Ships
One of the two ‘mistakes' in my opinion that happened this recruiting cycle involved defensive end Tashawn Bower. It has been talked about and hammered out for days now, so no need to rehash. But inevitably what happened his private commitment to Florida leaked out somehow and then it all changed within an hour or so before his public announcement and eventually he signed with LSU.
Some folks would throw daggers at quarterback Max Staver for suggesting via twitter that his teammate Jalen Ramsey was going to commit soon to the Gators in the middle of January. While I doubt that was enough to turn the second rated cornerback in the country, but I certainly could have enlightened the Florida State football staff to get on the stick with Jalen's recruitment. I actually think that wasn't the case either, but shortly after the tweet, Ramsey was looking seriously at the Seminoles and eventually signed with FSU
There are other examples of this mistake as well, nationally. The word on the street is that someone inside at Tennessee leaked a private commitment of 5-star safety Von Bell and it was enough to lose the trust in the Vol staff and sign with Ohio State.
Notre Dame also almost made a costly mistake. 5-star defensive tackle Eddie Vanderdoes evidently committed to Notre Dame before signing day and the Irish athletic department accidently ran his player bio with other signees before he made his announcement. Vanderdoes eventually announced and signed with the Fightin' Irish anyway.
This is why I continued to lay low on the Johnny Townsend news. I knew that Urban Meyer and Nick Saban both knew of Florida in the mix, but the last thing the Townsend family needed was the Gator media joining in the hunt for news from Townsend. The last thing I want to do is make myself a piece of the recruiting puzzle either good or bad for the Gators.
Myth #1: First Coast HS is not Gator friendly. When Jacksonville First Coast linebacker Daniel McMillan announced for Florida shortly after signing day a year ago, a lot of skeptical brows went up in recruiting circles because of the belief that the school is a pipeline to Florida State. Despite continually telling folks otherwise, the thought of McMillan switching his allegiance to Tallahassee was always there.
A quick history of recruiting at the school... the only player that Florida lost to FSU that the Gators wanted from the beginning of any particular recruiting cycle was linebacker Nigel Carr. Florida has also had its fair share of players from the school. In 2002 Florida signed receiver Kenneth Tookes and cornerback Reggie Lewis, both would go on to win a national championship in 2006. Receiver Mike McIntosh signed in 2004. Linebacker Ryan Stamper signed in 2005 and was a part of two national championships at Florida.
The closest that McMillan ever came to entertaining the noles was a visit for camp in the summer with the rest of his teammates.
Myth #2: Muschamp can't close. The whole closing thing is a little silly when you have a class of players that ranks as a consensus top three. You close a kid when he signs, no matter when he commits. But just for arguments sake, Muschamp went head to head with Nick Saban for defensive tackle Jarran Reed and Saban and Meyer for punter Johnny Townsend on signing day and the day after.