With over 2.1 million people in the greater Orlando and with it being approximately two hours away, there is no doubt that this should be a place the Florida Gators look often and hard at primo prospects to fill the roster.
Florida head coach Jim McElwain certainly knows it and doesn’t hold back about it.
“First and foremost, the thing we have said since we’ve gotten here… ‘we have to get back and make sure we do the best job in the state of Florida’, The Gators newest Head Coach said about recruiting before going specific on the Orlando area. “The proximity, obviously, there’s really good football here, great coaches. This is a place we’ve got to do a good job and make our hay. It’s one of those deals, we’ll be in here thick year in and year out, and I’ve got a little bit of previous time when I recruited down here the last 15 or 16 years, this was an area that I built some really good relationships personally. So I’m excited to be back down here.”
Florida has prominent members of the 2015 roster that grew up and played in the Orlando area which include Sumter, Lake, Seminole, Orange, Osceola, Flagler, and Volusia Counties. The list includes, sophomore safety Marcell Harris, junior safety Keanu Neal, freshman receiver Ryan Sousa, and punter Johnny Townsend.
McElwain is familiar with the area having mined it for talent at Alabama as an assistant and Colorado State as the head coach. Names like Dee Hart and Ha-Ha Clinton Dix out of Dr. Phillips in Orlando found their way to Alabama.
“Deionte Gaines was a heck of a player for us most recently out there (at Colorado State),” McElwain said. “I didn’t get a chance to coach him, but there was an offensive lineman (Colby Meeks) that came out early from (Doctor Phillips). I’ll go all the way back to Louisville and Michigan State that we came in and touched.
The fact is that McElwain and a few of his staff are very familiar with the area coaches and that has helped a lot on the recruiting trail.
“I think the one thing that’s great is building the relationships. Going into the NIKE clinic and seeing the coaches again that maybe I hadn’t seen for about 3-4 years and just rekindling those.
“It doesn’t take long (to refresh the friendships). Those are (longtime) friends. Rodney (Wells)(Doctor Phillips HS), before he was the head coach and some of his assistants are really good people. It’s a lot of fun to see those guys.”
Maybe the most important prospect and certainly the highest rated prospect from the 2015 class is from the area. Apopka’s Martez Ivey was the number one offensive tackle in the country coming out of high school this year and signed with the Gators and McElwain. McElwain likes everything about the young man.
“The guy is a great athlete,” McElwain said of Ivey. “But first and foremost is he’s a great person. He represents all of the things you want out of a player, true team guy, a guy that plays the game with a passion, he’s fun to watch… man. And he affects the people around him in a positive (way), and that’s great. Obviously our need at offensive line is no secret, you know, he’s coming in with five other guys and they’re going to have to come in here and learn quickly.”
McElwain says there is no place he would rather be to mine high school talent.
“I think first and foremost, having that Gator on your shirt that’s one of the most recognizable brands in college football,” he stated. “What an honor to be associated with that. There are a lot of great things that we can sell, and obviously the proximity to talent. It’s interesting to me, I think every college football program in the country probably recruits in Florida, some way, shape or form. So why the heck do we have to go anywhere else? Let’s keep them here. Having that opportunity to be that close because one of the No. 1 things you learn in recruiting is geography, the ability for family members to come see you play, be involved in your life as you’re going through your college experience. That’s what’s so exciting about being in Gainesville.”