Williams to PSU opens up recruiting board for UF

He wasn't the most important recruit from a need aspect for the Florida Gators, but for recruitniks he sure could have made life a lot more enjoyable. Wednesday, Derrick Williams, maybe the most sought after recruit in America, committed to Penn State over Florida, Oklahoma, Texas and Tennessee.

Fans from all five schools thought he was coming to their school as internet sites and televisions were tuned in to hear the news as early as possible on ESPN News. Five schools held their collective breaths, but when the announcement came only one school had a winner while four others wondered what about their school wasn't as appealing?

For the Gators Williams wasn't as much a need as a want. The Gators have a glut of talented receivers and as a group, they rank among the nation's best. Williams is good enough to play from day one, even at a school like Florida, which means that every school that recruited him promised he would play as a freshman. However, Florida and some of the others recruiting him don't have the pressing need that exists at Penn State.

In Florida's case, losing Williams isn't so big that it can't be overcome as there are a lot of talented receivers on the board, but it does hurt momentum for the recruiting class of 2005. Momentum in recruiting can be very valuable. The more top stars who commit early to a school the more others want to join in that class to make it something special. Add in the fact that Williams plans to be a salesman for his team of choice --- in this case Penn State --- and he may have proved to be an invaluable commodity on the recruiting trail.

Williams began his sales pitch at the end of the news conference that announced his choice of Penn State. "I really encourage every recruit to come with me to Penn State," he said.

Gator fans will remember back in 2003 when Chris Leak committed to Florida and immediately began doing his part to bring in a great recruiting class. Leak had an impact on a class that would bring in current starters and others on the two-deep roster such as Andre Caldwell, Chad Jackson, Earl Everett, Dee Webb, Joe Cohen, Marcus Thomas and Steven Rissler. That class was ranked in the top three in the country and before they all graduate, it might go down as the best class in the nation and perhaps even the best in all of Gator history.

This doesn't mean Gator fans need to go into panic mode with regards to recruiting this season. Coach Urban Meyer has put together a top flight recruiting staff that has made an excellent impression with recruits in Florida and Georgia, where the Gators do the bulk of their recruiting. Meyer's new staff of assistants has added potential to the class by garnering interest in players they were recruiting to their former schools. This has added great potential to Florida's signing class.

A good case in point is quarterback Josh Portis of California, who had committed to Meyer and Utah. No sooner had Meyer signed his contract with Florida than the four star quarterback de-committed Utah, promptly turning all of his attention to the Gators. He visited Gainesville last weekend and didn't hesitate to commit to UF once the weekend ended. Portis will be a January enrollee who may gain an upper hand toward playing time with the two backup quarterbacks (Gavin Dickey and Cornelius Ingram) being multi-sport stars whose seasons conflict with spring practice.

Greg Mattison's addition to the Gator staff has resulted in a potentially serious look from wide receiver David Nelson. Nelson will play in the US Army All-American Game. He was being recruited to Notre Dame by Mattison and is actually still a soft commitment of the Fighting Irish. Nelson has tremendous potential and landing him could take some of the sting away from losing Williams to Penn State.

Mike Locksley's presence on the Gator staff can't be under-estimated. Coach Locksley was probably the main reason that Derrick Williams even gave the Gators a sniff in the first place, and certainly he was one of the reasons the Gators stayed in the picture to the end. Locksley built trust with the Williams family, the same kind of trust he has maintained with Derrick McPhearson. McPhearson signed with the Gators last year, but had to go to prep school to get his grades in order for admission to UF. Locksley stayed with McPhearson the entire time he was at Hargrave and he has re-committed to Florida. Locksley was also the area recruiter last year for Derrick Harvey, the Gators most highly rated recruit for the 2004 class.

The other coaches from joining the Florida staff from Utah all come with good reputations as recruiters. They will have to transition to Florida with its huge population base and tremendous number of potential recruits, but they are hard workers who should make a good impression.

Perhaps the real coup for Meyer was landing Doc Holliday off the North Carolina State staff. Holliday is almost legendary as a recruiter in South Florida. NC State's roster is loaded top to bottom with Floridians, mostly recruited by Holliday. The Wolfpack's highly regarded defense is made up largely of players Holliday recruited to Raleigh.

On paper, this is a potentially outstanding staff of recruiters that Meyer has brought to Florida. We won't see how good they are until all of them are here, working together, meshing as a staff and working the recruiting board to nail down Florida's class of 2004. Landing Williams would have been an early bonus and a momentum builder, but when the full staff lands in Gainesville the first week in January, they will have hit the recruiting trail hard and it would not be surprising if they put together a very solid class that could end up being spectacular if a couple of big stars on the board decide to be Gators.

Already with four January enrollees committed to UF, the new staff can concentrate on finishing up the recruiting class by bringing in the best athletes possible to fill the glaring needs of the team.

Fightin Gators Top Stories