***Video above and full transcript below.***
COACH McELWAIN: What a great time. I love this time of year. Because we had an opportunity to add some new guys to our family, to our team, to Gator Nation.
I think really, when you look at it, those guys that jumped on board early, those 12 guys, and the graduate transfers that are here right now to go through spring ball, I think that speaks a lot for who they are and what they are all about. Those high school guys that went ahead and worked a little extra in the summer and stuff to get graduated so they can get here and be a big part of what we're doing, and they are already, you know, just integrated into our guys. It's been great.
We had an opportunity, for those guys, because a lot of them didn't have a chance to go through the signing day like a lot of the people did, and so we did one with our team down there, where we introduced the guys, put them in Gator colors and showed some highlights and had them make a couple comments and that was pretty good. I mean, out guys enjoyed that. I'm really proud of those guys that are here. And you're going to get to know those guys obviously through spring practice and the spring game and that kind of stuff. So should be pretty fun.
But as far as that, I think you can kind of tell what we were trying to do in this class. We were trying to kind of restructure some of the rooms, get some new blood in there, get some guys as competition as we move forward. Excited about all the people who have been involved in making this a successful year.
I'd like to give a shout out to Coach White and what he did last Saturday against West Virginia when we had obviously a bunch of not only current recruits, but guys on campus from 2017 and 2018 classes, so that really gave us a great kickoff moving forward, and what a great environment that was. And looking forward to that tonight against Arkansastonight as we play at seven. So you guys get a doubleheader here. You get a little football in the morning and a little basketball at night, that's pretty good. But you know, with that, take any questions you guys have.
Q. How much do you think you helped the offense with this class?
COACH McELWAIN: Well, you know, obviously that's part of the side that needed probably the most restructuring, and like I said, I think we addressed some of those position needs. I feel really good at the skill spots. We obviously have some young offensive linemen and we have got a couple that we look forward to adding to that.
But when you look at from the receiver, quarterback, running back side, I think we've got some really good talent in there. It will be fun to watch them, because the majority of here already. So we'll get a good feel for that this spring.
Q. How big is that, having the two quarterbacks and three of the receivers here for the spring?
COACH McELWAIN: Well, it's just -- just to see them interact and just get involved in how we go about our daily business is something that's huge. I'm really proud of those guys. I'm proud of all those guys that chose to do a little extra work, you know, when it's a little uncomfortable to get in here and start their college careers a semester early.
Q. Your first full year in a recruiting year. Can you talk about what that was like for you?
COACH McELWAIN: It was fun to have the full kind of cycle going forward, as we already have great momentum as I said, on 2017 and 2018, really excited about that, as well. Just the way we were able to get an earlier start with all the guys and building the relationships and really proud of our coaches, and, I'm really proud of our people on campus here. Everybody from the administration to the people who help out with the tours and all that, it's -- they can feel what's going on, and as we continue to add to the facility pieces, keep investing in these players is really what it's all about.
Q. Tyrie Cleveland, you guys celebrated that one pretty good. What was the key there, what got that guy to flip?
COACH McELWAIN: He's a guy that came by this summer and always had a lot of interest in the Gators, right there in Duval County, before he moved to Texas, so he's not necessarily, you know, stuck and into the Texas part of it.
For him, it's a little bit of a homecoming. Here is a guy that grew up wanting to be a Gator, playing in the swamp, back with a bunch of guys -- a couple guys that he actually grew up playing with. So I'm really happy he's back in this part of the country.
Q. Who did the final legwork?
COACH McELWAIN: Well, I think that's one of the things, you look at how we recruit, everybody is involved heavily. Obviously Kerry had a lot to do with that, being a position coach there. When he was here, you know, it was a little piece of everybody and I think he felt it.
Q. Feleipe Franks, what's the upside there, how far is this kid -- I know a lot of people are pretty excited.
COACH McELWAIN: We're excited about him and tile that are in here with that class as freshmen. Here is the great thing, at that position, too, is you're getting an opportunity through these workouts right now to really kind of build a lot of -- kind of see the leadership piece of it, too, as to how they go about their daily work. I know this: We are going to be able to complete some routes on air because these guys can throw it now.
Q. The other thing is last year, one of your expressed goals was kind of locking up the State of Florida. Where do you feel the program is with that?
COACH McELWAIN: We've still got a long ways to go, but we'll continue to work that in all those areas. I'm really, I kind of like how we've got some from a lot of the different areas, as far as within the state, not just focused on one central area. That's something that we still need to get better at. We'll keep working at it.
Q. Improving offensively has been a priority for you since day one, since you got here. In 14 months from the last cycle to this one, how happy are you with kind of how you've transformed the personnel on that side of the ball with the guys you've brought in?
COACH McELWAIN: Really I'm more so excited about getting the type of new blood in, those different position groups and different meeting rooms, bring a little energy, a little competition. An opportunity to really work on some guys as to how you go about your daily business and how you go about getting better every single day.
In this short period of time, these new guys, it's been fun to watch how eager they are. But also been fun to watch some of the older guys taking these guys under their wings, and, you know, kind of a big brother figure and that's been great to see with the current Gators, as well.
Q. I'm sure the last thing that you probably pay attention to is star ratings, but early on in this cycle, you and your staff got a lot of commitments from guys that were unrated guys and raised a lot of eyebrows from fans, but by the end of the cycle, a lot of those guys were four stars or getting pursued by Alabama and a bunch of other top programs. Is that kind of a feather in your cap?
COACH McELWAIN: I'm glad you kind of saw that. That's one of the things we did is we wanted to get an early start on obviously the identification, the evaluation and seeing if they are going to be a fit for the University of Florida. Not just as players, but both academically and socially and all the things that go along with that.
Having this full cycle, to go back to Pat's question a little bit, I think we were able to really get a jump on some guys and I was very happy to see our evaluation as a lot of these guys had great senior years, and then it's kind of interesting, you start a marathon, and then a bunch of people jump in with about a quarter of a mile to go and hand him a cup of water. You're still hanging on.
But that's part of recruiting and that's why I'm so proud of our evaluation process. We have a really good jump start moving forward as we are talking about 2017 and 2018.
Q. What aspects about Austin Appleby intrigued you to bring him in as a graduate transfer?
COACH McELWAIN: Austin is a guy that, obviously here is a guy that brings experience, a guy that started at a high level and a guy that understands what it is to prepare as a starting quarterback. And that's something that's lost sometimes is those guys in the meeting room that can kind of translate with those younger guys and everybody build competition, but also teach as to how you go about your business. I've been really excited to kind of hear what he's been doing and having an older guy in there is pretty good.
Q. Obviously one of the more heralded guys, Antonneous Clayton, what is your evaluation of where he is now as a football player?
COACH McELWAIN: Well, the guy can get off the football and make plays. There is a case of a guy that, you know, we got on early, just a credit to his family, the people around him, that he stayed with us. And you know, this is a guy that Gator fans should be really proud of.
Q. Mark Thompson, expected to boost the tailback position. What makes him so explosive, and obviously he's a guy that you hope can contribute right away next year.
COACH McELWAIN: I think the first thing that comes to mind is his size. And then when you watch the film, his ability to finish. He was just up in the office today with a couple of the guys. Came by my office, see how we were doing, and said he was at 239 today, and you know, didn't look 210, you know what I'm getting at.
I'm excited to see him as we work forward and he's doing a great job with Coach Canton. You throw in there Lamical Perine along with Krite and -- Jordan already, that's a pretty darned good backfield. We're really excited about it.
Q. When you call for Jawaan/Jeawon Taylor, who shows up, since you've got two of them?
COACH McELWAIN: Well, the one we -- the one from the 304 is Jea-won, and the other one is Waani. And so we're good. We've got it figured out.
Q. I'm sure you're aware of what Bret Bielema said on TV today, that you're the new Ole Miss; that you're doing things that are shocking people. Do you take that as a compliment or sour grapes?
COACH McELWAIN: Well, I kind of get a kick out of it a little bit because obviously this guy doesn't know who the heck I am. I sure as heck don't know who he is, and I'm not even sure we really ran into him on the recruiting trail.
But you know, I know what I'm all about and I know what the University of Florida is all about, and I think if you were to pole anybody in college football, I think they would know that Mack does it right. I have no idea what this guy was talking about to be honest.
Q. Does this add to the rivalry when you guys play?
COACH McELWAIN: I guess, give you something to write about I guess, I don't know. Good for you guys.
Q. Obviously it's a great day when you add somebody like Tyrie Cleveland but you lost a few other commitments. Are you happy with the way you and your staff closed the signing period?
COACH McELWAIN: Absolutely. You can see the numbers on the sheet and I think we're still waiting for another one that probably hasn't -- I think all the papers have cleared. But I think what is it, how many do you have on there, 24? So we've got 25 will be signed and last time I checked, that pretty much is a full class, so I feel pretty good about it.
Q. And how did you guys get better at linebacker today?
COACH McELWAIN: Well, you look at the young guys that obviously we've got one here already in David, and then you take a look at those young guys that will be in here taking snaps right away, as I kind of explained to them. We have got some quality at those spots, but the lines aren't very long. It's like when you go to Disneyland and get one of the fast tracks or whatever, where you have to go get on a ride right away, these guys are going to come get on a ride right away. They will have a chance to get better in a hurry.
Q. Any time line on finding a defensive backs coach?
COACH McELWAIN: Yeah, I think we're down the road on that. Obviously it goes back to something I believe in, is I'm not going to ruin anybody's -- you know, when this is something we're ready to do, you guys will probably know it via Twitter or whatever before I even do. Yeah, it's ready to go.
Q. Have you ever recruited a kicker as hard as you recruited Eddie?
COACH McELWAIN: No, absolutely not. Never have.
Q. Ever thought about recruiting a kicker --
COACH McELWAIN: No, I never have, until I saw two go down with ACLs. But what a character. I think we have a chance to maybe put one through the uprights.
Q. How is the Cuban food when you went down and visited?
COACH McELWAIN: It was pretty cool. He actually did the translation for me, so at least I knew what I was eating and I will tell you this, it was good, and his grandma can really cook.
Q. How has the growth of social media impacted the recruiting process for you and your staff this year?
COACH McELWAIN: Well, it's just something that constantly evolving and you've got to evolve with it. It's how people communicate today. So you've got to have specialists in there that know how to use it, see what's trending, doing all that, all the stuff that you've got to do. Obviously try to keep up with it. But that's why we've got experts in our organization to help us with that. But it's the way now that people go about their business, and so it's pretty cool.
Q. The question about the notion of closing and how for some reason, recruits that decide today are more valuable than the ones that decide in October or December. Do you get a kick out of that? Do you feel that guys you brought in in January is probably more impactful than what you signed today?
COACH McELWAIN: You know, you never know on that, and yet, we were kind of aware of where we were, and what was probably going on. So I mean, it didn't shock anybody, if that's what you're asking, and so some of them might have known even before. It makes for great news, you know and you guys -- everybody gets excited about it. I know we had a great recruiting class.
Q. Would you like to see national signing day not be such a big deal in the future and maybe go towards an early signing period?
COACH McELWAIN: Yeah, I think we've talked. Who knows where the movement is. There's been different models for all that. I think the guys that are now graduating early and coming in are kind of answering a little bit of the early signing period when you kind of think about it.
So you know, for us, having 12 of those guys in here, it totally changes the locker room, the meeting rooms and what we're going to be able to accomplish in spring ball.
Q. One commitment you guys had, ended up at a rival school at a position you guys I don't think ended up signing anyone, defensive tackle. You guys have a lot of depth there, but is that an area you needed to get a guy?
COACH McELWAIN: You always want to try to make sure you get one or two pieces at each spot and that's a choice. That's what it is.
Q. You've done this a year or two. With social media, all the changes, you always hear that recruiting is about relationships. How has recruiting, if it has, changed for you over the years?
COACH McELWAIN: Quite a bit. And obviously the thing that you've seen, too, dramatically, is the change in the calendar itself. And there isn't a lot of opportunity as you once used to (have) to really get out in the one-on-one phase. Those contact opportunities have been drastically pushed back.
You really have to do a great job with the research and digging seven people deep in people's lives to kind of get a feel for who they are, you know, and put a lot more on that. And yet, that social media that's out there today, you can do some pretty darned good research on maybe what you're going to be dealing with, too.
As we kind of talk to our guys in a constant education, that's a piece that I don't think anybody realizes that they can use as a platform to enhance their brand, who they are, what they are all about, right. And I think we all see a lot of instances where maybe it doesn't get used in the way you want it to, and yet, that's all part of learning.
Q. Had a lot of success and put a lot of emphasis on the State of Alabama. Is that just this recruiting cycle --
COACH McELWAIN: I think for us, obviously the footprint in the SEC. And obviously there were some guys in particular that we evaluated and felt like they were in need positions for us. I wouldn't like that much into it. Maybe some of those schools that are in those areas and kind of get their pick, maybe weren't need at some of those positions, you know what I mean.
So I wouldn't read too much into that at all. I think when you look at the SEC in general, pretty much every school is recruiting in that footprint, you know, and in this case, like with Lamical being kind of in that Panhandle area; that's a natural with the State of Florida. Montgomery is on the way down there, and then when you look at Hoover, that's one of those that we just evaluated, he filled our needs and he's a really good player. I wouldn't read too much into that other than that.
Q. All three of the offensive linemen you signed are from the central Florida area. What did you like from them and what do you think they can bring to the team maybe next year and in the future?
COACH McELWAIN: I think first and foremost, when you think about the size, and then you couple that with the athleticism, and three guys that really wanted to be Gators. That means a lot. They will fit in there. We got our numbers back. I think as we sat here and talked going into spring ball last year, what were we, at six or seven O-linemen maybe, something like that? You know what, I'm glad at least we got some bodies there, too.