Early dozen were so important to 2016 Gators' class

Sure there was a hole or two in the 2016 football class for the Florida Gators when the final bell tolled, but there were some great additions and story lines in the group that Florida head coach Jim McElwain hauled in on Wednesday. No group may have been more important than the 12 prospects that enrolled early in January and will be able to participate in spring drills.

Not that I would have ever had the will power to do it when I was in high school, but I don’t believe it was an option to graduate a whole half year ahead of the rest of my recruiting class. All the extra school work, summer classes, online classes (didn’t have those back then), would have really turned me off.

To get 12 of your best and most important prospects in the recruiting class to accomplish that and enroll at the University of Florida is a genuine feat… and productive In more ways than one.

“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,” McElwain told the media in his post signing day press conference. “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.”

McElwain decided to have a little fun with the January enrollees and throw them their own signing day ceremony.
“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, our guys enjoyed that. I'm really proud of those guys that are here.”

As important as it is to the prospects that arrived early, it was equally important to the coaching staff. For a class that had 24 commitments before December started, the Gators finished signing day without a single prospect that committed in January.

Imagine closing with a class of 25 and not having a single prospect that you finished with commit to the staff in the busiest recruiting month of the year.

That is what happened this time around.

It shows first, how important it was to the class to get so many guys committed, but also with the number of guys enrolled it allowed the staff to keep the rest in the fold by having less to visit.

At the end of the day, with as rough as January was, the staff needed these guys on campus already. He likes what he has seen and heard of the new arrivals.

The quarterbacks that arrived early have so much more to learn and getting them in school early was a bonus for that. At the position, it is so much more than the ability to throw the football.

“Just to see them interact and just get involved in how we go about our daily business is something that's huge,” McElwain said. “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.

“We're excited about (Feleipe) and Kyle that are in here with that class as freshmen. Here is the great thing at that position… you're getting an opportunity through these workouts right now to really 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.”

The Gators also added a January enrollee in the form of Purdue graduate transfer Austin Appleby. More than learning the ropes for himself, McElwain loves the fact that he has a player at the position that has played on the big stage and may be able to help the younger guys learn the ropes.

“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,” McElwain said of Appleby. “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.”

The Gators return just two scholarship running backs at a position that needs really five to be sure to get through a season of injuries. Getting an older guy like junior college Mark Thompson in to work with sophomores Jordan Cronkrite and Jordan Scarlett is a big deal. Thompson isn’t your every day run of the mill running back either. He is built like you want an SEC back to be built. He is expected to contribute right away.

“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, he didn't look 210, you know what I'm getting at.”

The Gators were able to get three 4-star receivers on campus for the January semester. When you consider there was only one 4-star receiver already on campus(Ahmad Fulwood) it is easy to understand the talent influx that the staff has infused, just with the early group  The fact that they are in school early means they will be better equipped to compete early and get on the field that much quicker.

The lone offensive line early enrollee Forsythe may not be a guy that is ready to play in year one, but he has the size and strength to possibly see that happen. If not, then what kind of positive is it for him that he could have two springs to participate in before he plays as a redshirt freshman?

I grouped these two together for a good reason. Jordan is a terrific lengthy defensive end that has the ability to really grow and be a significant player soon in his career. Reese is a big sized linebacker that they will absolutely expect to get in the mix in year one.

What makes these two different is the fact that due to different circumstances, they were really quick recruits to the class and then enrolled before anyone could change their minds. Neither was looking very hard at Florida before the month of December, but by mid-December both were committed to the Gators. Now both have a good chance of seeing meaningful playing time in September.

These two guys are opposites in terms of their roles within the class. Burnett was quiet, visited a couple of times, and just decided to be a Gator. Gardner was loud and proud and a guy that continuously recruited for the Gators while out on the recruiting trail.

Both players are expected to contribute this fall. The numbers in the secondary make it almost a certainty. Athleticism abounds for the two and it will be exciting to watch them compete in the spring.

He may leave as the most popular kicker in school history. I know I have never seen a more celebrated kicking prospect on social media channels that I have seen of Pineiro. His recruitment was a bit special as well, as McElwain had to go and steal him from the grasp of Nick Saban and his commitment to the Alabama Crimson Tide.

McElwain was asked if he has ever recruited a kicker as hard as Pineiro.

“No, absolutely not,” he said. “Never have.”

Recruiting kicking specialists is usually a little different. Staffs hold kicking camps and a bevy of kickers show up and a program like Florida usually figures out the kickers they like, offer them in order and settle on the highest rated one. For McElwain, there is only one guy he would have.

Those that follow Gator football understand the need for getting a big time kicker. Before this cycle, McElwain never put too much thought into recruiting a kicker.
“I never have, until I saw two go down with ACLs,” McElwain said of the situation before adding some humor. “But, what a character. I think we have a chance to maybe put one through the uprights.

It doesn’t appear McElwain is against an early signing period, but in his mind, the 12 guys already on campus are there on some form of an early signing period.

“Who knows where the movement is,” McElwain said of an early signing period. “There've 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.”

And yet another bonus… having a spring practice with almost a full roster of players competing.

“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,” he said.


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