The way this staff has made these personal connections is particularly impressive to me. I can't tell you how many times I've been told through the years about how hard it is to "build relationships" in a short period of time. But Urban Meyer and his staff have blown up the conventional timetable. They are not only getting quality kids to commit and to do so early, but they are recruiting entire families and engendering a sense of loyalty that belies the brief time the coaches and prospects have known each other.
Chuck Heater Discusses the Process
Florida Recruiting Coordinator Chuck Heater and I talked about the process of the Gator staff getting to know the players and coaches in the state. As you must know, discussions about particularly prospects, even those who have verbally committed is out of the question. But we were able to cover some ground, including an assessment of positional priorities for '06.
LV: Coach, is the entire 2005 signing class on campus now and what are they going through?
CH: Yeah, they've all come in and they're in summer school and getting acclimated to University life which is kind of a neat program they have for the guys. And the NCAA allows them to train as well, so they're training and going to school, which gets them into the transition very quickly.
LV: What contact do you have with them?
CH: We don't really have any. As we say, the guys that train our kids --- the speed, strength and conditioning staff --- spend more time with them than we do. This is the time of year they're with them exclusively because the NCAA doesn't allow us to work with them. So we just watch from afar. Well, actually we don't even get to do that, we just ask the guys how they're doing. And we hear they're doing great.
LV: Have you gotten a general impression about how the class reported in terms of physical conditioning and preparedness? And, how they are responding to what has to be the most physically demanding program they've ever gone through?
CH: Well they are doing a great job with it. Obviously they will be out there with our other guys, but they acclimate them for awhile because our guys have been going through it for several weeks. Eventually they'll be able to jump in there alongside our other kids, but they're doing great. It's a good group of kids. You know we jumped in there pretty late in the recruiting process but we're really pleased with the group of guys we have and see who can help us this year.
LV: You recently went through the May evaluation period where you really get a chance to know the class of 2006 and make the connections throughout the state. Do you feel like the staff is known now and you've made enough contact throughout the state to feel like you've made up most of the ground on people who have been recruiting Florida for a long time?
CH: Well, coach Meyer made it a priority from the get-go that we need to make it to every high school in the state and I bet we came within just a few schools of doing so. We had a high school football clinic that was really well attended. We really tried to reach out to the high school coaches because they're our lifeblood. These are guys that train players, and then send them our way to help us win games. Those guys are critically important so we like to reach out to them and let them know we have an open door policy. I think we've made great progress, but the reception had been great anyway. One of the reasons coach (Meyer) came here was his awareness that there's great high school football in the state of Florida and knowing you can win a lot of football games if you can keep those guys around.
LV: Seeing how you're also the coach of the cornerbacks, do you think many of these guys have a realistic chance to help you on the field this fall?
CH: Well, we hope so. The only true corner we signed was Avery Atkins and we're hoping to see what he can do and get him ready. The guy that was originally signed a couple of years ago and we re-signed was Reggie Nelson. We'd like to take a look at him (at corner). What we're hoping to do is be able to cover man-to-man and to do that you have to have the right kind of people doing it. We're really hoping those two guys can blend right in with what we're doing and compete with the guys we have coming out of spring.
LV: One corner position appears in very good hands with Dee Webb. You've coached a number of very high draft picks at corner through the years; does Dee Webb have that kind of ability?
CH: There's no question, he's a very talented guy. He's a prototype, quite frankly of a good, tall corner. He's 5-11 and that's a good, solid 5-11 and he has great speed and quickness. Those are the physical abilities you're looking for, so there's no question he could be truly outstanding. Hopefully it will come together completely for him this year.
LV: Let's look towards the 2006 class, are you happy with the current positional balance of the squad or are there some positions you made need to over-recruit?
CH: I think we're a little short at corner, in terms of numbers. We really should have taken more guys last year but it didn't work out that way. We really have to hit the offensive line this year. There are come older guys (five seniors) who will be cycling through here very quickly so we have to have a very good year in terms of numbers at that position. But frankly, you want to get quality players at every spot every year. You never want to go an entire year without taking anybody in some places because it looks like you got 'em all. We're never going to turn down a great player and everybody knows there are a lot of those in Florida. So if he can play and he wants to be a Gator we'll be ready to make a deal.
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Chuck Heater is a veteran coach who has recruited for Ohio State, Notre Dame, Colorado and Washington among others. And one thing never fails. Whatever position the recruiting coordinator handles always needs one or two extra players.
Heater and Urban Meyer go back a long ways… all the way to 1986 when Heater coached defensive backs at Ohio State and Meyer was a graduate assistant working with tight ends. I asked Heater about that time together and watching Meyer's evolution from grad assistant to the hottest young head coach in America. We'll have those comments for you tomorrow.