For your Thursday morning wakeup, here are a few stories about seven of the most important recruits in Florida football history.
Steve Spurrier, 1963: What a difference one year makes. Spurrier’s freshman year at Florida (freshmen were ineligible then) was 1963, which just happened to be Bowden Wyatt’s last year as the Tennessee head coach. Wyatt, who played for General Bob Neyland, ran single wing. He was replaced by Douglas Adair Dickey, who would not only become Florida head coach in 1970 but would give Spurrier his first coaching job in 1978. Spurrier was a passing quarterback and an athletic legend at Science Hill High School in Johnson City. He knew he wasn’t going to run single wing, so Spurrier was looking outside Tennessee. Marvin Graves, the local postmaster and the brother of Florida coach Ray Graves, scouted Spurrier and aroused the interest of the Florida coaching staff. What sealed the deal for the Gators was a January visit to Gainesville. It was bitter cold back in Tennessee. It was warm and sunny in Gainesville and people were playing golf in shorts at the UF golf course. That did it for Spurrier, who made Florida football a household name and won the Heisman Trophy in 1966. Spurrier turned Florida into a household name then came back in the 1990s to win six SEC championships and the 1996 national title.
Wilber Marshall, 1979: An All-American tight end at Titusville Astronaut, Marshall almost transferred out in the spring of 1980 when Charley Pell told him he was being switched to linebacker. Florida had a logjam of tight ends and while Pell thought Marshall could be an extraordinary tight end, he thought he would be even better on the defensive side. The night after being told of the switch, Marshall showed up at the Pells’ house late night to tell Charley he was transferring out. It turned out Charley was already in bed, but Ward was awake so they sat at the kitchen table for a couple of hours talking things over. When Charley woke at 4 a.m. he came into the kitchen where Ward was making his breakfast. Charley had no clue that Wilber had come to the house and talked things over with Ward. “You think he’s gonna transfer?” Charley asked Ward. She responded, “Go take a look in Carrick’s room.” Charley walked down the hall, saw Wilber sleeping in the other bed in their son’s room and knew he had himself a linebacker. Wilber won the national defensive player of the year twice and may have singlehandedly changed Florida’s image from soft to swagger.
Emmitt Smith, 1987: On National Signing Day, word spread throughout Pensacola that Emmitt was going to Nebraska to play for Tom Osborne. He had hinted for weeks that whatever colors he was wearing on signing day would tell everyone where he was going. When he showed up at school wearing red and white, everyone knew he had spurned Auburn, which had long been considered the favorite. What nobody knew is that Emmitt had spent the night at the home of Johnny Nicholls, his Escambia High teammate and close friend. Nicholls’ dad Jimmy was the offensive coordinator for Dwight Thomas at Escambia. When it came time for Emmitt to sign, Nicholls and offensive tackle Mark White had already signed with the Gators. Emmitt said, “Well, I’m wearing Nebraska colors, I guess I will be going to the University of Florida.” The next day, recruiting guru Max Emfinger ridiculed Florida and Emmitt, telling Mike Bianchi, then of the Gainesville Sun, that Florida got “a lugger, not a runner. He’s not fast. He can’t get around the corner. When he falls flat on his face, remember where you heard it first.” Everybody remembers, Max. Emmitt Smith gave the Gators excitement as they came out of the probation years and was one of the chief reasons Galen Hall was able to re-stock the cupboard so that when Steve Spurrier took over as head coach there was plenty of talent. As for Emfinger, he became totally irrelevant after that.
Danny Wuerffel, 1992: There were two outstanding high school quarterbacks in the state of Florida in the fall of 1991 – Danny Kannell of Fort Lauderdale’s Westminster School and Danny Wuerffel of Fort Walton Beach. Florida and FSU were the two leading contenders for both of these guys and it was generally expected that one would be a Gator, the other a Seminole. When Kannell committed to FSU, the Gators got Wuerffel. At the time, everyone thought FSU potential Heisman winner and Florida got a QB who would be good but probably not great. That thinking changed when the state football finals were played at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. Kannell struggled against Jacksonville’s Trinity Christian in the Class 1A championship game. Wuerffel destroyed highly favored St. Thomas Aquinas in the Class 4A title game. He picked them apart throwing the ball and even broke away for an 80-yard touchdown run as Fort Walton Beach won in a romp. After the game, FWB coach Jimmy Ray Stephens emerged from the locker room shaking his head. “We have our team prayer,” Stephens said, “and then Danny Wuerffel sings ‘Amazing Grace.’ There weren’t too many dry eyes in there.” Kannell had a very good but not great career at FSU. Wuerffel helped the Gators to four straight SEC championships, national runner-up in 1995 and the national championship his senior and Heisman Trophy year in 1996.
Chris Leak, 2003: When he signed with the Gators as the crown jewel to a Ron Zook recruiting class that was ranked #1 in the nation, Chris Leak stated that he was so focused on winning a national championship that he vowed no girlfriend until the Gators came away with a title. He lost more games in his freshman year at UF than he lost in four years of high school football in Charlotte. After his sophomore season, Zook was fired. He spent 2005 being the square peg trying to fit in the round hole of Urban Meyer’s spread option offense. Meyer spent the offseason tweaking the offense to better fit Leak’s skills. Meyer turned the running plays over to freshman Tim Tebow and left the throwing to Leak. Maybe it seemed like an uneasy alliance but it worked and both Tebow and Leak say to this day there were no problems between them. As for that national championship, Leak kept his National Signing Day promise by leading the Gators to a 41-14 win over unbeaten Ohio State, which came into the game being compared to the greatest teams that ever played the game. Ohio State’s Troy Smith won the Heisman in 2006. You would have never known it watching Smith and Leak play that national championship game. Leak played like the Heisman winner and he was the champion. I still have my “Honk if you sacked Troy Smith” magnetic sign stuck to my refrigerator.
Tim Tebow, 2006: The night before he committed to the Gators, Tim Tebow spent more than an hour talking on the phone to Oklahoma State offensive coordinator Larry Fedora. When Fedora was Florida’s offensive coordinator under Ron Zook, he was the lead recruiter for Tebow, who was putting up Star Wars numbers at Ponte Vedre High School. Tebow’s recruiting came down to Florida and Alabama. The Alabama coaching staff spent the entire day at Tebow’s house prior to that conversation with Fedora and Mike Shula and his assistants had made quite the impression. Torn by the decision, Tebow asked Fedora what would he do? Fedora told Tebow to go with his heart and reminded him that he had grown up going to Florida games, that his mail box was orange and blue and his house had plenty of Florida décor, plus his hero growing up was Danny Wuerffel. The choice was still difficult and it wasn’t until 30 minutes prior to the announcement in his high school auditorium that Tebow alerted Mike Shula that he was a Gator. Tebow wanted to tell Urban Meyer but his cell phone battery died. In Gainesville, Meyer couldn’t stand the suspense, so when the ESPN-televised ceremony began, he went out in the back yard of his Haile Plantation home. It wasn’t until Shelley and the kids started screaming and yelling that he knew Tebow was a Gator. Tebow’s decision created a recruiting tsunami. Percy Harvin decided for UF a few days later. Brandon Spikes called it for UF at the US Army All-American Game. They all played a part in Florida’s 2006 national title, then were the lead characters in the 2008 national title. Tebow went 35-6 as a starter and won the 2007 Heisman Trophy.
The Pouncey Twins, 2007: The Pouncey Twins were committed to FSU but at the US Army All-American Bowl Combine in January of 2006, they announced they were wide open. Bob Redman and I got it on video cam, but even with that decommitment, no one expected Maurkice and Mike Pouncey were going anywhere but FSU. At a Nike Combine on the UF campus in March, the twins came to Gainesville to watch buddies Chris Rainey, Ahmad Black, Mark Wilson and Steve Wilkes compete. They got some one-on-one time with Meyer and some of the Florida coaches that day and their minds started changing. A couple of months later, the twins were confused about what they wanted to do so they drove to Tallahassee to see the FSU coaches. When it came time to see Bobby Bowden, he couldn’t remember their names. That didn’t settle well. On the way back home, they called the Florida coaches and asked if it was okay to stop by. Meyer and Charlie Strong said of course. That visit turned into a commitment. As they drove home to Lakeland, the twins called parents Lisa and Rob Webster to tell them their decision. Lisa said, “Pull off the side of the road and wait right where you are, we’re coming up to Gainesville to talk to this Urban Meyer. I was going to set him straight because the boys were going to be Seminoles.” Instead of setting Meyer straight, the parents were won over by Meyer. Seven Lakeland High players would end up signing with the Gators including Black, who became an All-American safety, but the Pouncey Twins were critical. Not only did both of them turn into All-Americans they killed offensive line recruiting at FSU for four straight years.
In what might be a hint of things to come, Tampa Bay Bucs coach Lovie Smith basically endorsed Jameis Winston when asked by reporters at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis about all the baggage the former Florida State quarterback carries with him.
"Let's talk about the elephant in the room," Smith told the reporters. "He's been accused of a crime. There's an allegation. I have faith in our court system. He went through it. He went through the school justice system, and he was cleared. He went through our court system and he was cleared, exonerated.
“To me, I think he's told us an awful lot with how he's handled it," Smith said later on. "It's not like he's getting ready to go into the NFL and scrutiny is coming his way. He's gone through it a couple years now and he's answered the bell. That's what you have to do. You have to have tunnel vision and do your job. Looking from the outside, that's what he's been able to do."
Famous Jameis is probably your guy, Bucs fans. You can just about count on it.
Just in case you’ve been keeping count, the number of transfers at South Carolina stands at 10 with the departure of redshirt freshman defensive tackle Blake McClain, who is headed to Pearl River Community College in Mississippi. Earlier in the week linebacker Marcquis Roberts announced he’s transferring out.
So what’s going on in Columbia? The unofficial word is that Steve Spurrier has basically told the malcontents don’t let the screen door hit you in the butt on the way out. Spurrier was none too happy with attitudes last year when the Gamecocks finished 7-6 after three straight 11-win seasons and he’s ready to clean house and start all over again.
South Carolina signed a recruiting class of 30. Reports in The State newspaper are that if no one else transfers and all the recruits qualify and gets in school, the Gamecocks will begin August with 85 on scholarship, 35 of which will have never played a single down of football at South Carolina.
Who do you think is the most important recruit in Florida football history?
Although they had been recording for 10 years, it wasn’t until 1970 that The Spinners were “discovered” when they broke out with the single “It’s a Shame,” the lead song off their “2nd Time Around” album. During the 1970s, The Spinners were one of Motown’s most bankable acts. This is “Games People Play” from their 1975 “Pick of the Litter” album. The song reached #1 on the R&B charts and the album reached #2.