Every coach will tell you they could care less about stars and recruiting rankings. While some would be lying if they say that, there is some truth to the matter when it comes to taking a commitment from individual prospects.
The Florida Gators stand at nine commitments, with a combination of one 4-star commitment, seven 3-star commitments, and a prospect that has yet to be ranked. An average of just the eight prospects that are committed would yield a number lower than the norm for the Gators and so a lot of fans have been left scratching their heads about what is going on.
Not asked about player rankings, Jim McElwain laid out the process a little bit in which the staff and finally he come to the conclusion that a prospect should be offered and allowed to commit.
“I am the one that does it,” McElwain said in reference to the final vote of confidence in a particular prospect. “We’re still in the evaluation and write up stage, grading the critical factors at each position that we deem we need to be successful to fill those spots. It isn’t an exact science and we try to break it down as much as we can. Sometimes you have to go with your gut. There are a lot of subjective things involved.”
In fact there are many layers involved before they offer a scholarship to prospect to become a Florida Gator. McElwain has added an extensive support staff with backgrounds in recruiting and coaching. That support staff along with his nine assistants try to be as thorough as they can be before making their decisions.
“We have an eight step process before we get to (making an offer),” McElwain said. “It’s a lot of different eyes on the same player. Guys see things differently and write their personal evaluations without looking at anybody else. We compile all of those, compile the numbers, and then we build our board.”
The assistant coaches are spending most of their waking hours this week and the next few on the road evaluating prospect at spring practices. This along with plenty of film work, some background checks on character, and a bevy of other things go into the process.
“I think they key for us is we have to get it right. We only get 25 and we’re short on our roster already. We have to hit pretty good on these guys with guys that can contribute. Elimination of critical factors or fatal flaws is something we have to do. Obviously in our recruiting footprint here, the ability for those guys to evaluate and see how those guys practice and interact with teammates and coaches… to see how they compete and a lot of those things.”
Interesting geographical goals in recruiting…
Florida seems to have made an extra push to make noise in South Florida. Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach counties were home to seven of the 21 commitments in the 201 class and already four of the nine in the 2016 class. Linebacker coach Randy Shannon has been a huge factor in finding out everything about the prospects Florida has taken.
“He’s done a good job as all of our coaches have,” McElwain said of Shannon. “Obviously he had a built in relationship area already. Because of those relationships, we get a pretty good evaluation of not only the player, but the character and if they will be the right fit for the University of Florida. That’s something that is sometimes overlooked a bit and we want to make sure we do that right.”
McElwain says that as much as he could, he placed coaches that were familiar with areas in those areas to recruit to make things easier and more thorough.
“This is what I have tried to do with others in some areas, guys that had great relationships in those areas, so they can cut through the stuff and get right to the meat of it,” he said. “Instead of having to try and figure out whom you can trust and who you can’t.”
Maybe the most interesting idea he and the staff has is one to try and create balance in-state in where they draw the talent from. Located in the middle of the state, the University of Florida is in an ideal locale to draw from every corner. Being no more than five hours or so from the farthest points, McElwain and company want an even distribution on the roster as much as possible.
“I think the importance for us is to try and create a balance in the state where we are sitting at 25 south, 25 middle, 25 north and then fill in the other 10 of the 85 ideally within the region or maybe a little bit out of your footprint if the guy has preexisting reasons to be a Florida Gator,” McElwain said. “Maybe they grew up and had someone (relative) play here or that kind of thing.”
Given that, they have a lot of catching up to do in south Florida. Seven players from Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach counties return from last year’s roster. Add in the seven from the last class and we are a little more than half way there. In this case south Florida would include the Ft Myers and Naples areas too, but those areas are absent from the current roster.
It is a far cry from what we have seen here in the past and should inevitably build even more in-roads into south Florida and all over the state.
“That is kind of our goal here, to create that kind of balance within the state,” he said.
Rather than one star-studded Friday Night Lights event like we have seen at Florida in the last 10 years, it appears as though McElwain wants a more subtle multi-camp approach to bringing in the players to compete and work in front of the Gator staff.
“We’ll be doing it,” he said of specialty camps. “We won’t have the cattle call that it became. We will have some different days that we will be able to do it. I want the players to get around us. I like The Swamp a little bit because it is a special place.”
Here are some junior highlights from Florida's latest commitment out of Miami