As he hits the dusty trail, trying to reel in a solid first recruiting class, Jim McElwain is playing one serious game of catch up. As Florida’s new head coach, he knows he only gets one chance to make a first impression and it better be a good one. The same kids McElwain is trying to lure to the University of Florida have been worked over for months by the likes of Nick Saban, Jimbo Fisher, Al Golden, Mark Richt, Steve Spurrier and just about every notable coach in the country. They all understand that you want speed and serious skill position talent, you better come to the Sunshine State.
Because he was hired early in December, McElwain will have nearly two full months to make himself and his plans for the Gators moving forward known. It’s a monumental task. Two of the previous three head coaches at UF didn’t exactly come up with the kind of first recruiting class that you would want to etch in stone.
Remember Urban Meyer’s first recruiting class? Of course you don’t. Of the 18 he signed, only six were still around and playing when they ran out of eligibility. Remember Will Muschamp’s first recruiting class in 2011? There were 18 in that class. The only two who will still be around to play for McElwain are Valdez Showers and Trip Thurman. Jeff Driskel could hang around one more year but he could play baseball or transfer to another school (he’s graduated) where he will have instant eligibility.
Although he coached the bowl game with Utah, Meyer had most of December and January to recruit but his first class resulted in more misses than hits. Muschamp had about a month and a half to recruit but his first class was depleted by transfers, some before they ever suited up once in a Florida football uniform.
And then there was Ron Zook. He had only three full weeks to hire a staff and put together a recruiting class. He signed 20 and 12 of them became either starters or serious contributors despite the lack of time.
Here is a look at the first-year recruiting classes of Zook, Meyer and Muschamp.
Dallas Baker, WR: He signed to play for Florida in 2001, then had to spend a year at prep school. He was ineligible to play in 2002, contributed in 2003 and 2004 and then blossomed under Meyer in 2005-06. He was the leading receiver on the 2006 national championship team and finished his career with X.
Nick Brooks, DB: Career backup who played in all 14 games on the 2006 national championship team, mostly on special teams.
Ryan Carter, OG: Played in one game in 2003. Degenerative back problem forced him to take a medical hardship.
Taurean Charles, DE: Redshirted in 2002, played in 11 games in 2003, suspended from the team in 2004 for an off the field incident.
Jemalle Cornelius, WR: Played in 50 games, started 32 in his career. Caught 82 passes for 1,165 yards and seven touchdowns including 34 catches for 523 yards and three touchdowns for the 2006 national champions.
Channing Crowder, LB: Defensive Freshman of the Year in the SEC in 2003, All-America and first team All-SEC in 2004. Had 179 tackles in his career. Left early for the NFL after the 2004 season.
Brian Crum, LB: Played in 37 games and had 11 starts, all in 2006 when the Gators won the national title. He had 30 tackles in 2006. Valuable special teams player.
Gavin Dickey, QB: Backup quarterback who gave up football for professional baseball. Now a MLB scout.
Ciatrick Fason, RB: Gained 1,783 yards and scored 14 rushing touchdowns in his career. All-SEC in 2004 when he gained 1,267 yards and scored 10 touchdowns. Left early for the NFL.
Randy Hand, OL: Played in 47 games, started 41 including the last 34 in a row. Second team All-SEC in 2005.
Steven Harris, DL: Played in 47 games in his career but blossomed in 2006 after Marcus Thomas was dismissed from the team. Taking over at nose tackle, he started the last six games of the season and had a big play in the national championship game win over Ohio State.
Terrence Holmes, S: Played in 31 games from 2002-05 and started three times. Scored a special teams touchdown in 2005.
Reggie Lewis, WR/CB: Spent redshirt season and two others as a wide receiver before switching to corner for 2005-06. Started in the national championship game at corner and picked off an Ohio State pass, one of four interceptions in his career.
Jermaine McCollumn, CB: Played in all 50 games of his Florida career and was an outstanding contributor on special teams. Blocked two kicks and recorded a safety.
Tremaine McCollum, CB: Played in 36 games as a backup corner and a valuable coverage guy on special teams. Intercepted one pass in his career against FSU.
Ray McDonald, DL: Started 36 games and played in 45 in his career. First team All-SEC in 2006. Still in the NFL with the 49ers.
Kenneth Tookes, WR: Backup wide receiver who caught 13 passes for 139 yards in his career.
Jimtavis Walker, RB: Redshirt in 2002, 105 yards and one touchdown in 2003, transferred out in 2004.
DeShawn Wynn, RB: Gained 2,077 yards and scored 28 touchdowns in his career. Leading rusher on 2006 national championship team.
Avery Atkins, CB: Played as a true freshman in 2005. Transferred out in the spring of 2005. Died in 2006.
Kalvin Baker, LB: Redshirted in 2005 and then transferred out.
Nyan Boateng, WR: US Army All-American who caught four passes for 77 yards as a freshman then transferred to California.
Simon Codrington, OL: Played in six games in his career. Took a medical hardship after the 2007 season.
Jon Demps, LB: Played in four games in 2005, tore his ACL and then ran into off the field problems and never played again.
Brian Ellis, TE: Never qualified academically.
Daryl Gresham Jr., LB: Redshirt in 2005, played in one game in 2006. Transferred out.
Eddie Haupt, C: Spent most of his career injured. Took a medical hardship after the 2007 season.
Kestahn Moore, RB: Played in 53 games with 21 starts. Team captain in 2008 whose career stats were 1,281 rushing yards for 13 touchdowns and 38 cathces for 231 yards and three TDs.
Dorian Munroe, S: Okayed in 26 games, started two. Special teams demon in 2006 for the national champs. Tore his ACL and missed the entire 2008 season.
Louis Murphy, WR: Caught 77 passes in his career for 1,245 yards and 13 touchdowns. In Florida’s 2008 national championship season, Murphy caught 38 passes for 655 yards and seven touchdowns.
David Nelson, WR: Played in 44 games with 14 starts. Superb special teams player who caught the game clinching touchdown pass against Oklahoma in the 2008 national championship game. Career stats were 46 catches for 630 yards and seven touchdowns.
Reggie Nelson, S: Won the Jack Tatum Award as the nation’s best DB in 2006 when he was a first team All-America selection. Also first team All-SEC in 2006 when he picked off six passes.
Jonathan Phillips, PK: Scored 133 points in his Florida career, 114 in the 2008 national championship season in which he was 78-79 on extra points and 12-13 on field goals.
Josh Portis, QB: Backup quarterback as a true freshman in 2005. Transferred out in the spring of 2006.
Eric Sledge, LB: Redshirt in 2005, played one game in 2006. Transferred out.
Ryan Stamper, LB: Played in 41 games, started 26 and was a team captain in both 2008-09. Second team All-SEC in 2009. Had 149 tackles and two interceptions in his career.
Ronnie Wilson, OG: SEC All-Freshman team in 2006. Ran into off the field problems in 2007 and never played again.
Mike Blakely, RB: Transferred out. Never played a down at UF.
Clay Burton, TE: Caught 17 passes for 138 yards and a touchdown in 2014. Had three catches for 24 yards from 2011-13. Graduated.
Kyle Christy, P: Averaged 44.4 yards per punt in 2014 and 43.8 for his career. Ray Guy finalist in 2012. All-America and first team All-SEC in 2012. Graduated.
Jeff Driskel, QB: Played in five games as a freshman, started 12 as a sophomore when he led the Gators to an 11-2 record with 12 touchdown passes and 1,646 yards. Was 106-195 for 1,092 yards, 9 touchdowns and 10 picks in 2014; 320-535 for 3,363 yards, 23 touchdowns and 20 interceptions in his career.
A.C. Leonard, TE: Caught eight passes for 99 yards as a freshman. Transferred to Tennessee State before the 2012 season.
Javares McCroy, WR: Transferred to Texas Tech before he ever played a down at UF.
De’Ante Saunders, S: Played in 20 games with 16 starts in 2011-12. Three career interceptions. Transferred to Tennessee State after 2012.
Jabari Gorman, S: Has 113 tackles and three interceptions in his career and 55 tackles and an interception in 2014. Graduated.
Chris Johnson, RB/DB: Played safety and linebacker, then running back in 2012 when he gained 35 yards on five carries. Transferred to Duquesne.
Tommy Jordan, OL: Redshirt 2011. Transferred to UConn.
Hunter Joyer, FB: Worked exclusively as a blocking fullback in 2014. Prior to 2014 23 carries for 101 yards and two touchdowns, 6 catches for 29 yards and 1 touchdown. Graduated.
Loucheiz Purifoy, CB: Had 102 tackles and two interceptions in three seasons. Left early for the NFL after 2013.
Marcus Roberson, CB: Second team All-SEC in 2012. Had 56 tackles and three interceptions from 2011-13. Left early for the NFL after 2013.
Valdez Showers, DB/WR: Has 13 carries for 98 yards and 20 catches for 133 yards and two touchdowns in his career. Will be a fifth year senior in 2015.
Graham Stewart, LB: Transferred to UConn after 2011.
Ja’Juan Story, WR: Redshirted in 2011. Transferred to TCU.
Trip Thurman, OL: Became a solid starter at left guard in 2014. Key backup in 2013 and played mostly special teams in 2012.
Tevin Westbrook, DE/TE: Eight catches for 81 yards and two touchdowns in 2014; 11 catches for 111 yards in his career. Graduated.
The spin when Bret Bielema left Wisconsin for Arkansas after three consecutive Rose Bowls was Bielema wanted the challenge of the SEC. It will be interesting to see how Wisconsin spins Gary Anderson leaving after two years and 19 wins for Oregon State. The reality is Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez is what the Chinese merchants out at Stanley Village in Hong Kong would call a Cheap Charley. Even though Wisconsin is annually one of the three or four best teams in the Big Ten and has one of the largest athletic budgets in all of college sports, Anderson was making only $2,200,000 which ranked him among the lowest paid head football coaches in the Big Ten. His assistant coach pool of $2,368,600 ranked 10th out of 14 league teams. Oregon State paid even less in 2014 which had everything to do with Mike Riley leaving for Nebraska, but that was OSU’s wakeup call. They ponied up for Anderson.
Do you believe Jim McElwain will be able to salvage a top ten recruiting class for the Gators even though he has gotten a late start?
Whether he’s playing with the Allman Brothers, Govt. Mule or his own Warren Haynes Band, Warren Haynes carries on the tradition of great southern rock and roll. You have to see an entire concert to really appreciate how good he is with the guitar. This is “Fire in the Kitchen” from his “Live at the Moody Theater” CD.