RECRUITING: No FNL Commitments, No Problem

When the University of Florida turned on the lights and turned up the music for its Friday Night Lights mini-camp, it might have been a glimpse of the future of college football recruiting. The proof lies in the results. Eight of Scout.com's National Hot 100 athletes attended the one-night affair on the University of Florida campus and six of the eight actually participated.

Florida's success will only lead to a lot of copy cats next summer, but the Gators will always be able to say they were first.

With the Gators victory over Florida State showing on the jumbotron over head, the campers went through drills, one-on-one sessions, and then a little seven-on-seven action. The competition was great but the atmosphere may have added fuel to an already burning competitive fire. What makes it even more amazing is that Florida really didn't make a big deal of the event. It wasn't highly advertised or publicized but by the time it was over, Coach Urban Meyer and his staff had pulled off a huge whammy on the rest of the country.

Yet, in spite of the great atmosphere and all the hoopla following it, there is yet to be even one public commitment. A rash of commitments is probably an unrealistic expectation. Anyone searching the recruiting boards and chat rooms on Gator Country knows that I made it a point that there would not be this sudden flurry of commitment activity. In fact, we thought that if there were any commitments they would come from players that have new scholarship offers to play at Florida but not many of those happened either.

Still, on internet chat boards the talk is "sure Florida pulled it off but there weren't any commitments." Will anything be enough? After having been around this business for over ten years now, I can assure you that what the coaching staff at Florida wanted to establish was established. They planted a seed in the minds of about 25 recruits who attended. That was the plan and now the staff has some momentum to work off of when they begin their follow-ups. The follow up remarks from the hot 100 players below certainly are a tribute to the recruiting prowess of the current Gator staff.

Ft Lauderdale, St. Thomas Aquinas offensive lineman Sam Young did not participate in the camp, but did show up for his third unofficial visit to Gainesville since March. The number three offensive lineman in America, Young was really impressed with what the gators pulled off this weekend.

"It was really different," said Young, who bench presses 370 and has run a 4.9 40-yard dash. "I had been talking to Coach Holliday so I had a little idea about what was going on, but what they did was really creative. I think Coach Meyer came up with what is an ingenious camp idea. I think it was really good because it was new and different yet he was still able to get his point across."

Jamar Hornsby, who has been very high on the Gators had a great time. The number three wide receiver in the country performed very well on the field and certainly had the attention of the coaches. Hornsby wasn't shy with the accolades of the event. "I loved it," The 6-4, 195-pound athlete said. "Everything, the coaches, the players, being on the field, under the lights, I loved everything."

The number four rated running back in the country from nearby Lake Butler Union County had a good time also. C.J. Spiller did not participate in the athletic portion of the events, but did show up and stay over night with the rest of the big time recruits. He found a new appreciation for the stadium that Gators adoringly call The Swamp.

"When I was there [The Swamp] before I was playing in the state championship game and probably because I was playing I just didn't notice that it's so big," the 5-10, 185-pound Spiller said Sunday evening. "It looked a lot different Friday night. I told Coach (Urban) Meyer that it looked much bigger than it was before. It's really a huge place."

He also found a new respect for the coaches that he has already grown to like. He saw things he just didn't expect on the field. Spiller got a feel for the staff's care towards the players.

"I came away with a different view of Florida," said Spiller. "I got to see the way they coach on the field and how they get along with players. They're like having another father because of the way they love on the players and let them know that they're there for you. I like the way they get close to the players a lot."

Quarterback Tim Tebow of St. Augustine Nease actually rode to Gainesville for the weekend with Hornsby. Tebow grew up a Gator fan and this marked the second time he has camped with the Gators this season, not to mention countless times he has visited the campus at UF. Tebow was noticeably having fun.

"I had a really good time," he said. "It was very well done and very well planned out. We watched the team work out. We got to see how they do everything. Then we hung out with the coaches and went to a cookout. It was great fun."

The 6-3, 225-pound Tebow also knows of the quality of coaching at Florida and understands that the staff in Gainesville works hard and wants the best for their players. He has had ample opportunity to see all of this.

"Coach Mullen (quarterbacks) seems like a great coach," said Tebow. "He is good with the fundamentals. He seems like he cares about the whole team and especially the quarterbacks. He seems like a good coach and a good guy. Coach Meyer, first of all is a great coach. He is so enthusiastic and has so much emotional adrenaline going on … it is just amazing he can keep going. All the players say he is very inspirational."

Jai Eugene is the number one corner back in the country. The Destrehan (LA) native participated in the athletic portion of the weekend and certainly did nothing to make his stock drop in the eyes of the coaching staff at Florida. The 5-10.5, 185-pound Eugene also loved playing in The Swamp.

"Oh man it was great," he said. "I loved it. The facilities are nice. They have a great staff. The coaches loved me. I think I could make a big impact down there. It was just great…..Just getting on that field and playing was awesome. Coach Meyer said he wants me a lot and he thinks I can be a big time player for them. I could be a difference maker in their program."

Tim Hawthorne of Homewood, Alabama is the fifth rated receiver in the country. The 6-2, 192 pound has the size and speed that the Florida offense is really looking for. Hawthorne was really enthusiastic when I talked to him a few nights after he returned home. "It was great, man," Hawthorne exclaimed. "It was different because a lot of camps are in the day time. But it was a great atmosphere being at night. The whole trip was great and I wouldn't trade it for nothing. The Swamp was louder (with the music and crowd noise) than I thought it would be … I got a chance to see it under the lights and it was great.

"The lake was great too. I got a chance to talk to Coach (Billy) Gonzalez and Coach Meyer. All three of those coaches are great coaches. Coach (John) Hevesy recruits me and he is energetic and friendly. Coach Gonzalez told me they would put me everywhere on the field in the offense to try and get the ball in my hands. Coach Meyer he wanted me to compete, but I told him that I just got done with a big seven-on-seven camp and we won every game that I played in. They (the team) sounded like it was a very family oriented team. They joke around and stuff like normal college students. They just seemed so friendly, but seemed like they were on a mission to win a national championship."

Tampa Hillsborough quarterback/wide receiver Jarred Fayson, who is currently listed as the eighth best wide receiver in America, also enjoyed the "different" camp experience. Although favoring another state school, the 6-0, 195 pound Fayson took note of the creativity involved in the experience.

"It was a good camp with all of the competition," Fayson said. "It was pretty cool with the music and everything. They definitely had it set up differently from other camps that I'd been to. It was like a mini-camp. It was a good time to see all of those guys in camp and see how they work."

Another huge offensive linemen in attendance was Lee Tilley. This dominating lineman from Springfield, Ohio, is 6-5, 321 and ranked the fifteenth best lineman in America. He cut short a visit to the Auburn campus to get to Gainesville in time for the mini-camp. He's been on a tour of college campuses with his coach. Tilley was impressed with The Swamp.

"The stadium is extraordinarily nice," Tilley said. "It was so surreal … I was just imagining all the people being in there and them just going crazy. We did some drill work there was some great competition there. It wasn't like some places you go and there are 500 kids there. This was 8-10 offensive linemen who were all good against 10 defensive linemen that were all good. The weather was rough … it was 100 degrees today. It's 85 right now at 12:15 A.M."

The next day Tilley enjoyed finding out more about other athletic aspects of the school and the academic portions of the institution. "Today (Saturday) we saw the weight room and most of the football facilities," he said. "The weight room is very nice. It was interesting today. It was a learning experience. You come to the campus and you finally get to see for yourself what these coaches have been telling you for months."

What does all of this mean for recruitniks that are worried that no public commitments came out of the weekend for the Florida Gators? It means that a large number of the very best senior athletes attended the University of Florida this weekend on their own dime. To a man, they all seemed very impressed with what went on and all are going to take further looks into the school. With most of the best athletes in America usually waiting till late in the process to commit to a school, this is exactly what the coaches at Florida could hope would happen.

Rest assured Gator fans, the rest of the recruiting world will take notice.


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