First class builds momentum, opens doors

Transition classes are always difficult to put together, but for the new Florida staff, the past few months have been about more than just the players signed in the 2015 class. It’s about starting or renewing relationships with high school coaches and programs around the state.

In Jim McElwain’s mind, there are three areas to the state of Florida.

There’s South Florida, the middle part of the state and then the panhandle. The new Florida coach thought it was important for him or an assistant to reach as many high schools in each region as possible during the periods they were allowed to travel over the last two months.

“For our first signing class, first and foremost, the momentum that we gained has been fantastic,” McElwain said. “The doors that we opened in this short period of time, back in the places that we need to be successful at when we go out and recruit and obviously that’s in the state of Florida first.”

In south Florida, the Gators dug into powerhouse programs in this class. Florida signed receiver Antonio Callaway from Booker T. Washington High School, defensive end Keivonnis Davis from Miami Central High School and offensive lineman Richerd Desir-Jones and running back Jordan Scarlett from St. Thomas Aquinas.

Randy Shannon was an important hire for the Gators to begin making inroads in south Florida, but McElwain made a point that the entire staff continued to recruit the area, and it will be important moving forward.

“I felt we did a great job down there,” McElwain said. “It’s an area when Florida was really rolling, they were getting guys from, and they were getting the right kind of guys from. That’s an area that we’re going to continue to go back to.”

Fifteen of Florida’s 21 members in the 2015 signing class come from inside the state. The coaches watched other national programs come into the state and sign talented players, further cementing in their minds how much talent is actually in Florida.

The focus for the next signing class and for the future of the program under McElwain is to make sure the best of the instate group plays its college football in Gainesville.

“Sitting here in the state of Florida, I’m not sure that there’s a school in the country that doesn’t come to this state to recruit,” McElwain said. “That speaks volumes for the high school coaches and the types of players that are in this state. That’s something that we need to get back and really focus on as the University of Florida. Getting ourselves and make sure that we make it hard for these guys to leave the state."

McElwain also referred to the “five-hour radius” from Gainesville, reaching up through north Georgia and all the way to south Florida. The Gators took 15 of their 21 signees from their home state, but five of the six prospects from other states came from Georgia.

Georgia prospects offensive lineman Nick Buchanan, tight end Daniel Imatorbhebhe, offensive lineman Brandon Sandifer, cornerback Chris Williamson and defensive lineman Jabari Zuniga formed a strong bond throughout the process, and Buchanan and Williamson even spurned offers from the instate Bulldogs.

That five-hour radius showed up for the Gators on Wednesday, but the priority will always be taking care of their home state.

“Our guys worked in overtime getting to as many places as we could,” McElwain said. “I think our reception was really good, which will help us moving forward.”

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