It was early in the morning on February 3, 1999. Gator fans were already packing the chat rooms and websites in anticipation of a blockbuster recruiting class that was going to be headlined by tailback Nick Maddox from North Carolina and quarterback/athlete Anquan Boldin from Pahokee. Sources in the Florida football office leaked that both Maddox and Boldin had assured Steve Spurrier they were going to be Gators so expectations were soaring by the minute.
Boldin was the first one to announce and instead of telling everyone at the Pahokee High School gym that he was coming to Gainesville, he announced for Florida State.
A couple hours later, Maddox did the same thing.
The combination of anger and disappointment in Gator Nation was overwhelming. The message boards and chat rooms exploded and the general consensus was Steve Spurrier had totally blown it with a recruiting class that was mediocre at best. There were folks on the message boards claiming that Spurrier had outlived his usefulness and needed to go ahead and take one of those NFL offers because he sure couldn’t recruit a lick.
Let’s just say first impressions aren’t always the greatest. FSU homers bragged that its 13-man class that also included Darnell Dockett, widely regarded as the best prep defensive tackle in the country, would keep the dynasty going. They laughed at Florida’s “pathetic” class and while Gator fans wouldn’t go so far as to call the class pathetic, the word mediocre was bandied about plenty.
Well, a funny thing happened on the way to mediocre. FSU’s highly regarded class was the one that was only slightly better than mediocre. Maddox earned the nickname “Nick the Not So Quick.” He wasn’t fast enough to get to the edge and never made an impact. Dockett and Boldin were good college players who have proven to be far better pros than they ever were collegians. The rest of the class was about evenly split between busts and average players.
As for the Gators, the folks who resisted the urge to leap off a tall building on National Signing Day 1999 are probably happy they were either chicken to leap or thought better of their decision. The 1999 class turned out to be one of the most productive in school history.
Here’s a look at the class of 1999, a class that turned out rather nicely.
Class MVPs (3): Rex Grossman, Jabar Gaffney, Lito Sheppard
Impact freshmen (2): Mike Nattiel; Lito Sheppard
Starters within two years (5): Jabar Gaffney; Rex Grossman; Clint Mitchell; Mike Nattiel; Lito Sheppard
Started two or more seasons (9): Daryl Dixon; Jabar Gaffney; Rex Grossman; Bam Hardmon; Taylor Jacobs; Bobby McCray; Clint Mitchell; Mike Nattiel; Lito Sheppard;
First or second team All-SEC (6): Daryl Dixon; Jabar Gaffney; Rex Grossman; Taylor Jacobs; Bobby McCray; Lito Sheppard
First or second team All-America (3): Jabar Gaffney; Rex Grossman; Lito Sheppard
Left early for the NFL Draft (3): Jabar Gaffney; Rex Grossman; Lito Sheppard
NFL Draft picks or free agents (11): Ran Carthon; Daryl Dixon; Matt Farrior; Rex Grossman; Bam Hardmon; Taylor Jacobs; Tron LaFavor; Bobby McCray; Clint Mitchell; Mike Nattiel; Lito Sheppard
Did not qualify (2): * Keiwan Ratliff; Roy Williams
* Ratliff signed again in 2000, went on to make All-SEC and All-America, plus played in the NFL.
Ran Carthon, tailback: The son of former NFL star Maurice Carthon produced 1,353 rushing yards (5.0 per carry) and 11 touchdowns; 56 catches for 511 yards and one touchdown. Signed a free agent contract with the Indianapolis Colts in 2004.
Tony Charles, defensive tackle: Charles was listed in the 260-270 range by all the scouting sevices. Either they got it all wrong or he joined Jenny Craig. Charles reported to UF at 237. Transferred during freshman year.
Daryl Dixon, safety: Dixon was never spectacular but very steady. He played in 49 games with 25 starts, racking up 218 tackles, seven interceptions, three fumble recoveries and 15 pass deflections. He made second team All-SEC in 2003. Signed a free agent contract with the Indianapolis Colts in 2004.
Matt Farrior, linebacker: The brother of NFL star James Farrior, Matt never lived up to the hype coming out of high school in Virginia. He took a redshirt in 1999 then played in 39 games with 15 starts. His career numbers were 117 tackles with two forced fumbles and two interceptions. He signed as a free agent with the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2004.
Jabar Gaffney, wide receiver: Gaffney was thought to be a courtesy signing because of his legacy status (his dad and two uncles played for the Gators during the Doug Dickey era). He was almost kicked off the team during his redshirt year in 1999 and had to earn his way back into Spurrier’s good graces. When he finally saw the playing field in 2000, he was an instant go-to guy for Rex Grossman. He caught 138 passes for 2,375 yards and 27 touchdowns in two seasons. He made first team. All-SEC 2000 and 2001, Sporting News National Freshman of the Year in 2000; first team All-American in 2001 and was a second round draft pick of the Houston Texans in 2002.
Rex Grossman, quarterback: Because he played up north in Indiana, nobody really knew that much about Grossman even though he was a Parade All-American. He actually recruited Florida, not the other way around. After taking a redshirt in 1999, Grossman made first team All-SEC in 2000. He was second in the Heisman Trophy balloting in 2001 when he threw for 34 touchdowns and 3,896 yards. In Ron Zook’s first year on the job in 2002, Grossman made second team All-SEC. In his three years, Grossman threw for 9,164 yards and 77 touchdown passes. He was a first round draft pick of the Chicago Bears in 2003.
Bam Hardmon, linebacker: Hardmon’s career could be described as steady but not spectacular. He played in 48 games in his career with 25 starts and made second team All-SEC in 2002. He put up career numbers of 257 tackles, 11 pass deflections, three interceptions and two sacks. Hardmon signed a free agent contract with the Miami Dolphins in 2004.
Elgin Hicks, wide receiver: Hicks was thought to be a much better prospect than Gaffney. He redshirted in 1999, then transferred out.
Dwright Jackson, linebacker: Knee and ankle injuries were a problem throughout Jackson’s career, spent mostly on special teams. He played in 25 games and made 32 tackles.
Taylor Jacobs, wide receiver: Jacobs emerged as the #3 receiver in 2000 and 2001 then had a great season (first team All-SEC) in 2002 when he caught 71 passes for 1,088 yards and eight touchdowns. Jacobs career numbers were 133 catches, 2,097 yards and 16 touchdowns. He was a second round draft pick of the Washington Redskins in 2003.
Tron LaFavor, defensive lineman: LaFavor was relatively unknown outside of Broward County coming out of high school but he was in the defensive end rotation as a true freshman before growing into a defensive tackle as a sophomore in 2000. LaFavor played in 45 games with 13 starts, racking up 112 tackles, three quarterback sacks and one interception. He was drafted in the fifth round by the Chicago Bears in 2003.
Bobby McCray, defensive end: McCray was thought to be too skinny and somewhat of a project coming out of high school. After a redshirt year in 1999, he played in 36 games with 15 career starts, making second team All-SEC in 2003 when he tied for the league lead with with 9.5 sacks. In his Florida career, McCray was in on 107 tackles and had 14.3 sacks. He was drafted in the seventh round by the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2004.
Clint Mitchell, defensive end: The younger brother of former Florida center Jeff Mitchell, Clint played in 26 games with 20 starts in his Gator career with 121 tackles, 5.8 sacks, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. After taking a redshirt in 1999, McCray was named second team Freshman All-America by The Sporting News in 2000. He was drafted in the seventh round by the Denver Broncos in 2003.
Mike Nattiel, linebacker: Gator great Ricky Nattiel’s cousin, Mike played in all 12 games as a true freshman with one start. He finished his Florida career with 29 starts in 48 games, racking up 310 tackles with two sacks and two interceptions. Drafted in the sixth round by the Minnesota Vikings in 2003.
Keiwan Ratliff, cornerback: Signed with the Gators in 1999 but didn’t qualify academically. Re-signed in 2000 and eventually made All-SEC and All-America.
Arpedge Rolle, defensive tackle: Rolle never weighed more than 275 but played in the interior defensive line. A career backup, Rolle was in on 38 tackles with one sack.
Roderick Royal, linebacker: Redshirted in 1999, didn’t play in 2000, then transferred out.
Marshall Schaap, tight end: Redshirted in 1999, then transferred to Wyoming.
Lito Sheppard: Sheppard was considered the only real stud in the 1999 class. He made an immediate impact, earning frreshman All-America honors in 1999, and followed that up by making first team All-America in 2000 and second team All-America in 2001. He was in on 87 tackles in his career and picked off eight passes with six in 2000. He returned two punts for touchdowns in 2000. Sheppard was a first round draft pick of the Philadelphia Eagles in 2002.
Chris Stephens, quarterback: Redshirted in 1999, didn’t play in 2000, transferred to North Carolina after 2000 season.
Roy Williams, defensive tackle: Never qualified academically.
In your opinion, what is the greatest recruiting class ever at the University of Florida?
Since it’s National Signing Day, this song goes out to all the guys who won’t get scholarship offers to the power schools because they don’t have the measurable but will somehow end up making critical interceptions at the goal line to win Super Bowls later on. Today’s song is “Short People” by Randy Newman.