RECRUITING: First Impressions Great For Gnat

When the lights were turned on and the music blared at the University of Florida's "Friday Night Lights" camp it didn't take much for defensive end Rodney Gnat of Jacksonville Wolfson to imagine what it would be like to come roaring out of the tunnel on game day at The Swamp. As his imagination took over, the entire evening left a lasting impression.

(Rodney Gnat profile)

Like the rest of the campers Friday night, Gnat came to Gainesville anticipating the opportunity to show off his skills. The creation of a game-day atmosphere only heightened the intensity, making the camp special for all those who attended.

"I thought it was real good," The. "I thought it was a good chance to compete against some of the better talent in the country and show the Gator coaches how I compare athletically," said the 6-4, 225-pound Gnat. "It was exciting out there. In my mind it felt like it was the first game of the season.

"When we started doing the linemen one on one and pass rushing drills, they just turned on the crowd noise. I can just imagine what it will be like to put 90,000 fans in the stands and it is 90 degrees outside. It got to the point where Coach quit yelling because it was so loud, we couldn't hear. Just sitting in the tunnel at The Swamp and watching the Gator swamp video. That was something amazing too."

The Gator coaches made an impression on Gnat, too. He left Gainesville impressed with the Florida coaching staff. He liked their message and the way they take time to teach about football and life.

"Coach (Greg) Mattison is a great coach," Gnat said. "He is up tempo and was like some of the campers, excited to be out there. I met his wife, and she is a nice lady, too. I think Coach (Urban) Meyer is a great coach and a great guy and will do some good things with that program."

Rodney currently lists five schools as his favorites.

"My top list of schools are Louisville, UCF, Clemson, South Carolina, and Florida," he said.

Rodney's father, John Gnat, attended the Friday night session. John Gnat didn't expect much when he got to Gainesville, but he decided he would keep an open mind. By the time the Friday session was over, he had a much better appreciation of what the University of Florida has to offer his son.

"I found the visit very, very informative," John Gnat said. "I have to be honest with you, I am very impressed with Coach Meyer. I will tell you, I told the coach that I had my druthers about Florida, not as an institution, but as an athletic institution. Coach Meyer really changed my opinion last night. I came in with an open mind, but if you would ask me where Florida stood on a list of schools of my opinion, it wouldn't have been very high. Coach Meyer really changed my outlook about the school."

That original outlook came from simply being a fan of one of the Gators rival schools. Mr. Gnat was very honest about his loyalties coming into the weekend and then where he stood afterwards.

"I'll be honest with you I sort of favored FSU," he said in a mild understatement. "We are originally from New York. We came to Florida in '92 and FSU was a school that I always watched. It is very funny because (ex-Florida linebacker) David Galloway was our neighbor in Miami when we lived in Miami and he played for Florida. We used to kid one another about which school was better. My wife said to me last night 'How are you going to call David up and tell him that you now are very impressed with Florida?' I said, 'I don't know, I think I will have a big lump in my throat.' It will be hard to swallow, but I will tell him.

"Florida has always been a great academic institution, but I have been more on the side of the other rivalries here. Now, I could really bleed Gator blue … I really could. Coach Meyer is very sincere in the way he speaks to the parents. I don't think he was trying to sell the program and not have the kids best interest at heart. I think he had the kid's interest at heart. I think he has Florida as an institution at heart. What I liked is that it will be a family there, and my wife and I were really impressed about that. We visited Clemson, UCF, and FSU and I got a good feeling coming away from that camp last night, that was well worth my son and I attending."

He watched eagerly as Coach Mattison put his son through the grinder on the practice field. He has a great appreciation of Mattison and the rest of the coaches and just how they come across as coaches an as guardians to the players they are in charge of.

"Coach Mattison is a wonderful guy … I loved him," John Gnat said. "My wife and I met he and his wife. I think everything they were telling us was really sincere. Sometimes you go to places like this and they will do anything to recruit the kids. I don't think these guys are like that, Coach Mattison and Coach Meyer I would easily trust with my son. No doubt about it."

Because it has been a dead period for recruiting, there hasn't been much communication for the Gnat family with the Florida coaching staff. John Gnat made sure that the Florida coaching staff knew that Rodney would be coming to the Friday Night Lights.

"I have called him (Coach Mattison), but [due to the dead period for coaches to call] he has not initiated any contact with us," he said. "I called him today to let him know we were definitely coming, because Rodney was in summer school and we missed the regular camp. We called and said we were coming and Coach Mattison was very elated.

"Another thing in talking to Coach Meyer, he is one of the few coaches at a big time school like this that will walk right up to you and say 'Hey, how are you doing?' He made himself really accessible. That really impressed me too. He really floored me because we introduced ourselves and he said, 'Where's Rodney?' I was like, 'What?' He said he had heard about Rodney, seen him on tape, and was real excited about him."

The camp experience was apparently good for both player and Florida coaches. Rodney got a chance to work out and learn about Florida. The coaches got a chance to see him first hand. Obviously, they liked what they saw because they gave him some glowing recommendations.

"Rodney was told that they were really impressed with him, and that his stock really went up after last night," John Gnat said. "They told him to go back to school, work really hard, and they will be in touch with him."

Rodney Gnat is the epitome of hat these camp style situations are all about. Sometimes a little personal time at the school and in front of the coaching staff can make everyone involved take another look at the fit that the player would have. It seems that this relationship has just started, but has a chance to really flourish.

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