Let's just call this one "A Tale of Two Recruiting Classes."
In February of 1999, the majority of the Gator nation was in a state of shock. Anquan Boldin of Pahokee and Nick Maddox of Gastonia, North Carolina had made promises to the Florida coaching staff the night before, then on signing day both faxed in their papers to the school to the northwest. FSU fans were gloating over a class that included Darnell Dockett and Jeffrey Womble, trashing the Gators every chance they could over Florida's misfortunes.After all, the Gators had to settle for Rex Grossman, Jabar Gaffney and Lito Shepherd.
Fast forward a year later.
FSU fans are the ones shaking their heads, wondering how it is that Florida landed a class that had Tre Orr, Willie Green, Earnest Smith, Benny Mills and the piece de resistance', quarterback Brock Berlin. Florida fans were gloating over the signing of "The Berlin Wall" --- Shannon Snell, Max Starks, Kevin Deaton, Smith and Chad Tidwell.
The Class of 1999 was ranked by one service as high as number ten, but in terms of consensus among the gurus, it was somewhere around 15-17.
The Class of 2000 was hands down number one. There wasn't a school in the country that wouldn't have traded its class for that group the Gators brought in.
So let's take a quick look at what happened.
Boldin, a high school quarterback, went to Florida State because he was convinced that Steve Spurrier would move him to wide receiver. Except for taking the bulk of the snaps at quarterback in the Sugar Bowl his senior year thanks to Chris Rix's suspension for falling asleep and missing final exams, Boldin spent his career at wide receiver where he had one excellent year and three that were so-so at best. Nick Maddox, so brilliant in his North Carolina high school career, became known as Nick "The Not So Quick" Maddox. His career was barely above average, but certainly nowhere close to what the FSU faithful envisioned.
On signing day 1999, Florida fans lamented losing Boldin because the Gators had to "settle for" Rex Grossman. Grossman threw 78 career touchdown passes and in his (third year) sophomore season, he was one of the finest quarterbacks for one year in the history of college football. In one of the great tragedies in the history of college football, Eric Crouch won the Heisman Trophy in 2001 over Grossman. He was a first round pick of the Chicago Bears.
Gator fans trashed Jabar Gaffney as a throw-in, claiming the only reason he got a scholarship was because his dad played at UF. All he did was catch 138 passes for 2375 yards and 27 touchdowns in the two years he played, making All-America both seasons. He was a second round pick of the Houston Texans.
Shepherd is now an All-Pro corner with the Super Bowl-bound Philadelphia Eagles. He made All-America at UF twice.
Another in that "pathetic" (as some Gator fans called it) recruiting class of 1999 was Taylor Jacobs, who caught 133 passes in his career, good for 2097 yards. He made first team All-SEC. He became a second round NFL pick of the Washington Redskins.
Linebackers Mike Nattiel and Bam Hardmon were in that class. They both started for three years. Nattiel now starts for the Minnesota Vikings. Hardmon made second team All-SEC his senior year. He'll be in NFL Europe this spring and summer.
Everyone thought Bobby McCray was too light to ever be productive at the college level. He holds the Florida record for career sacks and was All-SEC. He now starts for the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Also in that class was All-America corner Keiwan Ratliff. Keiwan didn't qualify in 1999 so he sat out a year, then re-signed again in 2000, so technically speaking, he can be considered a member of both the 1999 and 2000 recruiting classes. He's with the Cincinnati Bengals now.
Tron LaFavor, Clint Mitchell and Ran Carthon were all in that Class of 1999 as well. LaFavor was drafted by the Chicago Bears and Mitchell by the Denver Broncos. Both will probably play NFL Europe this spring and summer. Carthon spent 2004 with the Indianapolis Colts.
Those were the producers in that class. Now for the ones that didn't do so well.
Matt Farrior was considered by many to be the best player Florida signed in 1999. He started some of the time both as a junior and as a senior, but he never made more than a handful of significant plays in his entire time at Florida.
Arpedge Rolle did backup duty for two years on the defensive line and Dwright Jackson finished an injury marred career as a backup linebacker.
Roy Williams never made it to UF. He had grade issues, ended up in junior college and then at UCF. Chris Stephens finished his career as a backup quarterback at North Carolina. Marshall Schaap transferred to Wyoming where he started two years at tight end. Elgin Hicks transferred to South Florida. Todd Poitier transferred to Florida Atlantic. When Tony Charles finally showed up at UF, he was something like 230 instead of the 270 he was listed on signing day. He went to Maryland then transferred somewhere else.
Rod Royal got tired of waiting his turn. He transferred to Division I-AA McNeese State where he was a two-time All-Ameircan. He's now in the NFL. In the final analysis, the Class of 1999 produced four All-Americans, six All-SEC players and 12 who made it to the National Football League.
Not bad for a class that had Gator recruitniks wondering if they should drink the Kool-Aid.
Then there was the Class of 2000 with its poster child, Brock Berlin. Berlin committed early to the Gators and spent a month making calls to players to urge them to come to Florida so they could win a national championship. Berlin was never as good as Rex Grossman, the quarterback the Gators had to "settle for" in 1999. Berlin got tired of riding the pines, transferred to Miami and started two years. Instead of the Brock Berlin Era down in Coral Gables, it's being referred to as the "Brock Berlin Error."
Kevin Deaton never set foot on the Florida campus. He ended up signing a baseball contract to pitch in the Mets organization. Earnest Smith ate his way into total oblivion. He left school. Chad Tidwell transferred to Valdosta State. Willie Green's knees were shot before he ever stepped foot on the field at Florida. The all-time rushing leader in Florida high school history was a courageous kid who gave it everything he had at Florida. The mind was willing but the knees just wouldn't cooperate. Benny Mills got sick, lost a lot of weight and then couldn't find a position. He transferred to Kentucky and instead of playing defense, spent two obscure years on the offensive line. Bobby Williams battled injury problems before taking a medical exemption, finishing his career at UF as a volunteer coach. Tre Orr blew out his knee his senior year in high school up in Lake City. He never again regained that ability to dominate a game on both sides of the ball that he showed in high school.
Kelvin Kight and Carlos Perez were the receivers everyone in the nation wanted. They did well at Florida, but neither of them ever became a star. Kight and Perez both got a cup of coffee in the NFL this past season.
Snell and Starks started three years on the offensive line but neither one ever became the All-Americans they were predicted to be on signing day in 2000. Snell wound up on an NFL practice squad this past year while Starks is with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Darrell Lee was everybody's high school All-American. He never lived up to the hype although he did start for two years at defensive end. Matt Jackson began his career as a wide receiver at UF but ended it in total obscurity as a corner. Ronald Dowdy never really found a position. He bounced around as a backup on defense, then offense, back to defense and finally back to offense. Reid Fleming became a starter at linebacker his senior year. Kicker Matt Piotrowicz was Florida's kickoff specialist for four years. Kenny Parker came in as one of the most hyped defensive linemen in the nation. He battled through pain, knee injuries and a bad back that required surgery twice in his five years.
Ian Scott was considered one of the cornerstones of this class. He was a dominating defensive lineman at Gainesville High and when he chose UF over Michigan on signing day, it was considered a coup. He made second team All-SEC twice. He now plays for the Chicago Bears.
Corey Bailey was a significant backup as a nickel safety for three years. In his senior year, he started some at safety, but became far more productive when he was switched back to the nickel late in the season. Travis Harris started games at both defensive end and linebacker in his five years. His most productive games were at defensive end.
Three of the lesser known names of the Class of 2000 became the greatest contributors.
Ben Troupe was considered almost a signing day throw-in, a tight end from Augusta (GA) Laney who wasn't considered a big-time recruit. He made All-American in 2003 and was a second round draft pick of the Tennessee Titans of the NFL.
Guss Scott came out of tiny Trinity Christian in Jacksonville, a 1A school. He started for three years at safety, made All-SEC second team twice, and was drafted by the Super Bowl-bound New England Patriots. Injured most of the season, he stands to collect a Super Bowl ring if the Patriots win the big game in another week.
OJ Small was an option quarterback at Jacksonville Forrest who converted to wide receiver at UF. He was always considered a step too slow, but somehow managed to start two years at UF including this past season when he led the SEC in receiving and made All-SEC.
In the final analysis, the Class of 1999 was considered a bust on signing day but produced four All-Americans and 12 NFL players. The much more hyped Class of 2000 produced one All-American, seven who made it to the NFL (a couple more may still) and its headline player ended up at Miami where fans would like to have him tarred and feathered.
The point of this exercise is to point out that recruiting is not an exact science, and it's easy to look all the way back to determine which class was a success and which one was a bust. The 1999 class produced more NFL players but had at least seven who were total busts for one reason or another and there were a few who saw some duty as backups. The 2000 class produced a few starters and a couple of legitimate stars. It also had seven total busts and seven whose only claims to fame came in backup roles.
On Wednesday, Florida will sign another recruiting class, this one likely to finish ranked about tenth overall in the ranking by the gurus. We'll have to wait and see how this class pans out, but if there is one certainty it is this: some of the players will live up to the hype, some won't.
It isn't science. It's just football.