1. YOGI BERRA SHOULD BE PROUD: Yogi coined the phrase “It’ ain’t over ‘til it’s over” and nothing more appropriately describes Jim McElwain’s last 10 days on the recruiting trail than that statement. Just 10 or so days ago when the Gators had only eight commitments, Scout.com had the Gators ranked #72 nationally, dead last in the Southeastern Conference. Just last Friday, Scout ranked the Gators #65 and there was plenty of talk about a gloom and doom National Signing Day.
Let’s just say that was a bit premature.Instead of a bad day at Black Rock for the Florida staff on National Signing Day, it turned into a show of future strength. If this staff can land a 21-man class that includes two of the top 13 players in the country (#3 Martez Ivey and #13 CeCe Jefferson) on such short notice, you have to think the 2016 class could be off the charts. Recruiting is all about relationships and most of these assistants will do so much better with a full year to build the strong relationships it will take to bring in one of the top classes in the country. Thursday morning the Gators hold down the #29 position in the Scout rankings and the other three major recruit ranking services have the Gators in the top 25. That’s quite a comeback for a coach who had to overcome a slew of negatives that were being thrown out there by a couple of schools to the north and west. McElwain never panicked and his staff never stopped working. And when it was finally over, Florida had a 21-man recruiting class that was far better than what anyone imagined back on Sunday night.
2. Randy Shannon WAS LIGHTS OUT: Shannon is known as a high character, no-nonsense kind of coach who recruits gravitate towards. His personal story is compelling and lets recruits know that if he can make it through all the adversity he’s faced since growing up on the mean streets of Liberty City in Miami, they can certainly make it, too.
With Shannon taking the lead role in recruiting prospect heavy South Florida, the Gators landed seven kids from Dade/Broward/Palm Beach (running backs Jordan Scarlett and Jordan Cronkite, wide receiver Antonio Callaway, offensive linemen Richerd Desir-Jones and Fredrick Johnson, linebacker Rayshad Jackson and defensive end/outside linebacker Keivonnis Davis) and athlete Kylan Johnson from Dallas, who figures to grow into an outside linebacker.
Shannon will pay big dividends for McElwain and the Gators both on the recruiting trail and as a position coach. There aren’t many linebacker coaches in the country in his league. The difficult part is going to be keeping him on the staff. He should have never been fired at Miami (they know it … they’re stuck with Al Golden) and it’s just a matter of time before he’s given another shot at being a head coach at a top level Division I school.
3. SEC NETWORK BLEW IT WITH ITS COVERAGE OF CECE JEFFERSON: When they weren’t trying to fan the flames of intrigue about Byron Cowart waiting until 4 p.m. to fax in his LOI to Auburn, the SEC Network crew was gushing over their expectations for Auburn’s defense under Will Muschamp and telling us how Nick Saban’s assistants spent the day contacting recruits who might be part of Alabama’s 2016 and 2017 classes. Meanwhile, the Florida Gators landed CeCe Jefferson, the #13 player in the country, which is a very big deal although you wouldn’t know it by ESPN, which practically ignored Jefferson’s public decision. Like Cowart, Jefferson had a strong emotional attachment to Muschamp but when it came time to make his decision, he chose Florida instead of Auburn. That should have merited at least a couple of minutes of discussion.
4. BETTER BEWARE OF Tennessee: This was the second straight top five class landed by Butch Jones, whose #5 nationally ranked class (by Scout.com) will be added to a roster that returns 57 of last year’s top 65 players. The Vols 29-man class went heavy on linemen with five on both sides of the ball. It’s the defensive linemen that you should pay attention to. Led by monster nose tackle Kahlil McKenzie (6-4, 341) who is quick enough to control both the center and the gaps on either side, Tennessee landed the best D-line class in the country and second place isn’t even close.
There is a revival taking place in Knoxville. The Vols have been down and out for most of the last seven years, but things are changing in a hurry. It’s not a matter of if the Vols become a national power again, but simply a matter of when.
5. EVERYTHING BUT A QUARTERBACK: If there is one glaring hole in Florida’s recruiting class it is a quality quarterback. D’Anfernee McGriff played quarterback at Tallahassee Leon, but there is a lot of Trey Burton in him. Translation: he sure can run but it’s doubtful that he can throw the ball well enough to complete passes in the SEC. When Kai Locksley decommitted from FSU and went with Texas, that ended the notion that Deondre Francis might flip to Florida. The Gators were thought to have a chance with Boynton Beach dual threat Lamar Jackson, but he signed with Louisville. That leaves the Gators with three quarterbacks on the roster – Treon Harris, Will Grier and Skyler Mornhinweg. Harris is only 5-11 and doesn’t really fit the pro-style mold that McElwain prefers. Grier has the great arm and set high school records throwing and running the football, but he took a redshirt last year and is completely unproven. Mornhinweg got two or three starts in 2013 when injuries took out Jeff Driskel and Tyler Murphy.
Does McElwain elect to take his chances with the three guys he’s already got next year, or will Florida actively seek an experienced quarterback who has graduated with a year of eligibility remaining? The most prominent and eligible quarterback with a year of eligibility to go is Braxton Miller of Ohio State, but if he bolts, it’s expected he will head to Baton Rouge or Oregon where they are only a quarterback away from challenging for a national title.
The worst kept secret in the world is that Jon Hoke will be the new defensive coordinator at South Carolina. After three seasons of declining results under Lorenzo Ward including last season’s complete disaster, Spurrier had to make a change so he is going with Hoke, who was his defensive coordinator at Florida from 1999-01. Although widely criticized while at Florida, particularly after the Gators couldn’t stop Travis Stephens in the Tennessee game that cost UF a shot at the national championship, Hoke’s 2001 defense did rank #1 in the SEC and #9 nationally. Even though the Gators gave up what seemed like a bazillion yards to Stephens, they still ranked second in the SEC and 12th nationally against the run and fifth nationally in scoring defense. Considering the Gamecocks gave up 432.7 yards and 30.4 points per game in 2014, Hoke is a serious upgrade.
Here is a list of former Gators playing basketball overseas or in the NBA Developmental League.1. Taurean Green, Asvel Lyon (France): 10.1 points, 3.5 rebounds and 3.1.
2. Erving Walker, Dijon (France): 16.8 points, 2.8 rebounds, 5.4 assists.
3. Matt Walsh, Ekeshir Basket (Turkey): 19.8 points, 6.3 rebounds, 2.4 assists.
4. Patric Young, Galastary (Turkey): 13.2 points, 8.4 rebounds.
5. Scottie Wilbekin, Cairns Taipains (Australia): 14.8 points, 3.4 rebounds, 4.7 assists.
6. Casey Prather, Bakersfield (D-League): 11.0 points, 3.6 rebounds, 1.4 assists.
7. Erik Murphy, Austin (D-League): 8.9 points, 7.1 rebounds, 1.6 assists.
8. Will Yeguete, LeHavre (France): 4.2 points, 3.5 rebounds.
9. Bonell Colas, Randers (Denmark): 15.0 points, 9.0 rebounds, 1.4 assists
10. Walter Hodge Zenit St. Petersburg (Russia): 17.1 points, 2.4 rebounds, 7.4 assists.
11. Mike Rosario, King Wilikie Moskie (Poland): 10.1 points, 3.6 rebounds, 1.7 assists.
12. Kenny Boynton, So Maritime Boulogne (France): 14.4 points, 3.2 rebounds, 2.1 assists.
13. Antony Roberson, Apoel (Cyprus): 14.4 points, 3.2 rebounds, 0.8 assists.
14. Alex Tyus, Maccabi Tel Aviv (Israel): 10.9 points, 6.8 rebounds, 1.0 assists.
15. Mohamed Abukar, Shinsu Nagano (Japan): 16.2 points, 9.2 rebounds, 2.7 assists.
16. David Huertas, Halcones Rojas Veracruz (Mexico): 14.6 points, 4.9 rebounds, 2.7 assists.
17. Kenny Kadji, Trikalla (Greece): 12.2 points, 5.5 rebounds.
18. James White, Uncas Kazan (Russia): 10.9 points, 4.6 rebounds.
Are you surprised that McElwain was able to finish as strongly as he did on National Signing Day?
Jacksonville’s Abner Ramirez struck gold when he married Amanda Suano, whose mom is disco diva Donna Summer. As the singing duo Johnnyswim they’ve built a rather dedicated following. Today’s song is “Home” from their 2014 album “Diamonds.”