Signing Day Flashback - Recruiting Jon Demps

At 2 a.m. on National Signing Day, all the lights were burning in the Demps household in Pensacola. No, Jon Demps wasn't studying for a test nor was he simply too excited to sleep. He was on the phone with Charlie Strong, Florida's co-defensive coordinator, and both of Strong and Demps were getting the re-assurances that they needed. An internet report was posted that the four-star (by linebacker from Pensacola Washington had given his commitment to Florida State.

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Although the report was retracted the Florida football staff wasted no time springing into action. Jon Demps was not a player the Gators were willing to risk losing.

"They made me feel like they needed me," Demps said, describing how the Gator coaching staff convinced him that the University of Florida was the place he both needed and wanted to be. It was a long and arduous ordeal for the superstar linebacker that twisted and turned until the final hour, but in the end, the school that made him feel needed won out over others that just wanted another big-name player to add to their signing day ratings.

As he talked to Strong, it was like being talked off a ledge on a tall building. The Florida coach stayed calm and kept reminding Demps that there was no need to make that leap for FSU becasue there were plenty of good reasons there were to be a Gator.

"There were a lot of calls and a lot of things being said," Demps said. "It was a hard decision to make. It was a long thought out process and everything."

Demps grew up a Florida State fan so saying no to his dream school was "real hard," but when he looked at Florida's roster with only three linebackers returning, which means early playing time and a chance to start, Demps understood that with the Gators "the opportunity was better." Recruiting is a numbers game but as Demps understands, all numbers aren't the same. Some schools recruit players who have to be ready to play immediately while others are simply stockpiling talent for the future.

"A lot of them dudes at Florida State, most of them aren't going to see the field this year," said Demps. "A lot of them are going to get redshirted. They even signed like 25 people last year."

The Seminoles were stacked three deep at linebacker before the recruiting season began, yet FSU signed seven more linebackers. Florida State recruited Demps passionately, but because of their numbers their words rang hollow when compared to what he heard from the Florida staff.

"Florida State, they wanted me," he said, "but Florida, they made me feel like they needed me. I'd rather go to a place that needs me than wants me."

Once the Gators and Demps were a done deal, he spent the spring getting ready to step in and play immediately. He's on campus now, going through workouts and first classes with the rest of the incoming freshman. There is no doubt that the expectations very high for Demps when two-a-days begin in August. .

"They expect me to probably know the whole playbook," he said.

While football is the ticket that opens the door for Demps, the ultimate prize is the education. His parents are teachers at a private Christian school in Pensacola which they actually own and operate. From the day he started school years ago, he's had it grilled into him that education is the top priority. When it came time for his parents to have their say in Jon's final decision, the educational factors weighed more heavily than things like playing time.

Jon's mother, Millicent Demps said, "Education is very important. That is what we teach in our family. We teach them if they want to succeed in life they have to have a good foundation and that is their education. Both my husband and I are educated. He has taught for like 40 years and we both have taught in public and private Christian school.

"Education is a very important part of our lives and that is what we teach our children. I'll tell you, we were talking to one of our cousins today that attended Florida and he was so happy that Jon was going there. His description pretty much says it all ... he said Florida is the Harvard of the South."

Jon knows he has a lot more than football in his future. In multiple conversations with him over the last month he always stressed that he would get his college degree. He has often talked about running the family business one day. He also knows that a future in sports is not out of the realm of possibility, so why not meld the two.

"Hopefully if I stay long enough in school I can get my degree in business management and learn how to be my own manager," he said. "Then, if I am able to go to the league (NFL), I can be my own manager."

He's thought about a double major of business and education, but there is one other field that has a certain allure that has nothing to do with business, education or sports.

"I also want to major in criminology," he said.

The University of Florida can survive on its own merits academically, but it took a slew of people and a few coaches to push and push the academics and the total package to the Demps family. Headlined in that group were Coach Strong and Head Coach Urban Meyer.

Millicent spoke nicely of Meyer, "I think he is super. It seems like we have known him for a very long time. He is a very down to earth person and seems to be very trustworthy and honest man. I appreciate that."

Jon Demps had even a bigger impression of the Head Gator.

"The guy is unbelievable," he said. "He is energetic, he loves his players. He is a player's coach. He will do anything he can for his players. Just being in his first recruiting class, it will be something special.

"When we are seniors, we will be his first senior class that he recruited. That will also be something special. We are going to win him some championships, because he will have done a lot for us."

Demps was first recruited to Florida by Coach Ron Zook, but when Zook was fired, Charlie Strong worked yeoman hours to maintain the recruiting base so that when the new staff took over there would be a chance to land a solid class. One of the players that Strong made it a point to keep in contact with was Demps. Strong kept the Gators on the radar in the transition period from Zook to Meyer, then once Meyer became the coach, Strong made Demps a priority recruit.

"That's my man," Demps said, speaking of Strong. "He came recruiting me hard and he came every week. He tried to pull me in and he did a good job. He does a good job making athletes feel like they are the number one player that he is recruiting. If there is a need, he will stress that to you. If they really want you, they will come and get you."

Strong wasn't the only connection to Florida, however. There is family in Gainesville, one already on the Florida football team, another who will be joining Demps in the freshman recruit class.

"That was another thing about going over there [Florida]," he said. "I have lots of family there. I am going to play next to my cousins Brandon Siler and Avery Atkins."

Siler is a starting linebacker for the Gators, the 2004 SEC freshman defensive player of the year. Given Florida's lack of linebacker depth, there is a very good chance that the cousins will be lined up in the starting defensive unit on opening day against Wyoming. Atkins, a five-star (by cornerback from Daytona Beach Mainland, joins Demps in the recruiting class and he's another freshman who's good enough to be in that opening day starting lineup.

Both Atkins and Siler were very influential in the final decision for Demps too. Many phone calls were shared between them in the weeks leading up to Demps signing.

Of Siler, Demps says, "I talked to him today, last night and every day, since my visit. He told me that everyone down there was talking about me. He was talking like he was going to have to take a backseat, and I said you aren't ever going to have to take the backseat from me, we are going to ride out together."

So the love was finally found for the Gators with Demps. It was a long hard sell but no one is happier about the end result more than Jon Demps.

"It feels good to be a Gator right now," he said. "We are going to win championships, I know that. We are going to do it big."

Jon Demps may have caused a lack of sleep for one night for the Gator coaching staff, but this 6-4, 228-pound combination of hard hitting and speed is going to be causing opposing coaching staffs in the future to stay awake long into the night trying to figure out how to handle him.

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