The 2016 Florida football recruiting class is in the books although there is room to add a graduate transfer or possibly a juco later in the spring. Expectations were for a 28-man signing class and the Gators came up three short on that end and while we can argue until the cows come home about the ones that got away, there is nothing wrong with this group that Jim McElwain and his staff assembled. Scout.com ranks this Florida recruiting class #10 nationally. Maybe it lacks the signing day sizzle of some of the higher ranked classes, but for the most part, the Gators met their needs and filled quite a few holes in the two-deep.
The Gators needed a serious infusion of speed at the receiver positions and they got it, plus they flipped Tyrie Cleveland on signing day. They needed quarterbacks and if you add Purdue grad transfer Austin Appleby to a class that includes Feleipe Franks and Kyle Trask, the Gators have more quality depth at the position than they’ve had in years. A kicker was needed and you’ll have a hard time convincing me that UF didn’t get the best one in the country in Eddie Piniero, who flipped to the Gators from Alabama, which finished with Scout.com’s #1 class (again). UF also got linebackers including one out of Alabama and one out of Michigan, rush ends who can get after a quarterback, help in the secondary led by Chauncey Gardner, three offensive linemen the coaching staff likes a lot including the center of the future in Brett Heggie, and they upgraded the running back position by bringing in Mark Thompson, who has speed and enough power to be that pounder in the fourth quarter.
The Gators definitely whiffed at defensive tackle and they’ll have to make that up in the future, but otherwise it’s a very solid class, particularly since it represents the first full year of recruiting by McElwain and his staff. They patched the holes with SEC caliber players. As the staff continues to build relationships with high school coaches in Florida and throughout the south, it’s not unreasonable to think the recruiting will improve.
Obviously, the Gator Nation would have preferred a National Signing Day with momentous closing speed like the classes assembled at Alabama and Florida State but that didn’t happen. The Gators had four top tier targets on National Signing Day and Cleveland is the only one they landed. You could look at that as a disappointment, but it would take away from the effort it took to land Cleveland and the rest of what I think is a very solid group.
In many ways, this class reminds me of the one Steve Spurrier assembled back in 1999. On National Signing Day, Gator fans were calling it a disaster because the Gators lost out on quarterback Anquan Boldin from Pahokee and running back Nick Maddox out of Charlotte. Gator fans lamented the signing of Jabar Gaffney and the national media didn’t seem to think all that much of quarterback Rex Grossman. Most of the experts said this class was just a little bit above average but not by much.
All that class did was produce nine players who started two or more seasons, six first or second All-SEC picks (Gaffney, Grossman, Daryl Dixon, Taylor Jacobs, Bobby McCray and Lito Sheppard), three first or second team All-Americans (Gaffney, Grossman and Sheppard) and 11 players who were either drafted or signed on as free agents and played at least one year in the NFL.
There is no question there was plenty of talent in that 1999 class, but there was also plenty of development that took place. And that’s the key word now as we move on from National Signing Day 2016.
The number of stars behind the name don’t matter anymore. Now it’s about coaching and hard work on the part of the players. From here on out it’s all about development and that’s true for every signing class in the country.
Some of the high profile signees – not just here but everywhere in the country – will turn out to be absolute busts. Some either won’t qualify or will hit snags in the classroom once they’re enrolled that will send them packing. Some won’t be able to handle the competition so they’ll transfer out. Some will turn out to be average at best and then some will turn out to be bona fide stars who lived up to all the hype.
It will be five years before we close the book on this 2016 class but when the final chapter is authored, we’ll look back to find a number of studs and quite a few duds. Just for the sake of showing just how uncertain recruiting is, here is a list of 4- and 5-star players UF signed from 2004-11 who didn’t pan out for any number of reasons. As you will clearly see, big reputations out of high school don’t always translate to productivity at the next level.
2004: Derrick McPhearson, WR (4-star); Mike McIntosh, WR (4-star); Mike Mangold, DE (4-star); Markus Manson (4-star)
2005: Jon Demps, LB (4-star); Avery Atkins, CB (5-star); Josh Portis, QB (4-star); Eddie Haupt, C (4-star); Ronnie Wilson, G (4-star); Kalvin Baker, LB (4-star)
2006: Mon Williams, RB (4-star); Jamar Hornsby, S (5-star); Jarrad Fayson, WR (5-star); Bryan Thomas, S (4-star); Justin Williams, WR (4-star); Corey Hobbs, DL (4-star); Chevon Walker, RB (4-star)
2007: John Brown, DT (5-star); Lorenzo Edwards, LB (5-star); Cam Newton, QB (4-star); Jerimy Finch, S (4-star); Bo Williams, RB (4-star); Torrey Davis, DT (5-star); John Jones, DE/LB (4-star); Bryan Waggener, QB (4-star)
2008: Dee Finley, S (4-star); Matt Patchan, OL (5-star); Carl Moore, WR (5-star); Brendan Beal, LB (4-star); Earl Okine, DE (4-star)
2009: Edwin Hebert, DT (4-star); Nick Alajajian, G (4-star); Gary Brown, DT (5-star)
2010: Chris Martin, DE/LB (5-star); Chris Dunkley, WR (5-star); Josh Shaw, S (4-star); Lynden Trail, DE (4-star); Jordan Haden, S (4-star); Michael McFarland, TE (4-star); Jonathan Dowling, S (4-star); Gerald Christian, TE (4-star)
2011: Jacoby Brissett, QB (4-star); Graham Stewart, LB (4-star); A.C. Leonard, TE (4-star); JaJuan Story, WR (4-star)
BIG WIN OVER ARKANSAS AT THE O-DOME
The Gators notched their fifth win in the last six games when they held on for dear life to beat Arkansas, 87-83, Tuesday night. The Gators stand 15-7 overall and 6-3 at the halfway point of the SEC portion of the schedule, which ties them for third in the conference with Kentucky and South Carolina. If the Gators can duplicate that 6-3 conference record in the second half of the SEC schedule, you can almost pencil them in for the NCAA Tournament, which would be quite an accomplishment for first year head coach Mike White.
While there is plenty of basketball to be played, it’s not too early to note that UF athletic director Jeremy Foley found a good fit for the program in Mike White. He’s young, enthusiastic, great with the media and his players would run through brick walls for him. In his first year on the job he’s within one win of what the Gators totaled last year for Billy Donovan and he’s tied Norm Sloan for the most wins by a first-year UF basketball coach in school history.
And, he’s doing it with a style that is going to open the eyes of recruits in the future. In seven of Florida’s nine conference games, the Gators have scored at least 77 points. In the recent roll of five wins in the last six games, the Gators have scored at least 80 points. That’s the kind of offense that gets the attention of kids on the AAU circuit. They want to go somewhere and play where the ball goes up and down the floor and much of the game is played in transition.
Helping to turn the Gators into the team that nobody wants to play the rest of the way has been the play of fifth-year senior Dorian Finney-Smith, who is averaging 19.8 points and 10.1 rebounds starting with UF’s road loss to Texas A&M seven games ago. Against Arkansas, Finney-Smith scored 14 of Florida’s first 22 points and finished the night with 22 points and 9 rebounds. He was one of five Gators who scored in double figures.
And get this – the team formerly known as the gang that couldn’t shoot straight, hit 30-36 of its free throws against Arkansas and is 54-67 in its last two games.
The Gators travel to Kentucky Saturday. The Wildcats rarely lose at Rupp Arena but this is a Kentucky team with the kind of flaws that the Gators can expose the way they play defense. The Gators got their first signature win for White last Saturday against West Virginia. A win over Kentucky in Lexington would be a rather nice first year accomplishment for Mike White.
QUESTION OF THE DAY
Do you think McElwain and his staff did a reasonably good job of filling in holes in Florida’s two-deep or do you give them a failing grade for not closing strong on National Signing Day?
MUSIC FOR TODAY
I’ve had Stevie Ray Vaughan on my mind for the past few hours so today’s selection is this collection of his music called “The Slow Blues.”