Big Weekend Was Gamble That Paid Off For UF

When the Florida Gators beat Tennessee, 16-7, in The Swamp a couple of weekends ago, it was a calculated gamble by the UF staff because there were more than 70 top recruits at the game on both official and unofficial visits. Florida had some of the top talent in the nation watching in person, but not only did Florida leave a favorable impression with a big SEC victory, the electric crowd atmosphere obviously had a lasting effect on so many of the recruits.

Florida Defensive Back Coach and Recruiting Coordinator Chuck Heater has been a recruiting coordinator at Utah, Washington, and Colorado before his stop in Gainesville. Heater's weekend consisted of making sure all the plans were right for the many big time recruits that visited and making sure his secondary was prepared for the game. It's the organization before the weekend that allows him to coach the team when it is time. Heater has faith in the recruiting organization of the football staff outside of the coaching staff, even though hosting this many recruits was something new to him.

"It is something I never did too much of," he said talking about his prior stops on the coaching circuit. "I never had that many kids in before. Obviously, there had to be a lot of internal organization and they do a good job."

Florida hosted official visits for eight big time prospects that weekend. Quarterback Jevan Snead, wide receivers Chris Bell, Riley Cooper, Percy Harvin, and Damon McDaniel, offensive lineman Maurice Hurt, defensive lineman Jared Odrick, and defensive back Darrin Walls were among the recruits at The Swamp. Any team in America would love to have that group visit during the course of a season let alone one weekend.

It's a give and take on game weekends. Time spent in preparation for a game is time spent away from recruiting a big time prospect that is visiting your campus. The coaches require plenty of help from their support staff which has to take care of the kids during the game while the coaches are doing their job on the field. For recruits, The Swamp Experience of September is light years ahead of what it is in January when there is no packed stadium with fans raising the decibels to deafening levels.

"We lose a little bit of personal time but the trade off is the game and that atmosphere," Heater said. "For some kids it can be a memorable experience to be here in that type of game. It takes quite a bit of organization that is for sure."

By all accounts from dozens of interviews conducted by visitors of the game and the weekend, the atmosphere as it relates to recruiting was an overwhelming success. Heater understates how well the weekend went.

"I think overall it was positive," he said. "Time will tell, but I think it was positive."

The prospects that visited had a whole different outlook on the weekend. The excitement on The Swamp may just pay huge dividends down the road. In fact, one commitment followed the big game when offensive lineman Maurice Hurt committed to the University of Florida following the weekend. The Milledgeville (GA) Baldwin County standout told a crowd at his school on the Monday following the weekend, that he was excited to be a Gator.

"The game was a wild experience … in The Swamp with 90,000 people … the loudest place in America," Hurt said. "I was in shock and awe about it all. The atmosphere in the locker room was great, them singing the alma mater and all."

He followed with his reasons for wanting to be a Gator.

"It's just the atmosphere itself …The Swamp … Gainesville a great college town. It's not too big, not too small … a perfect college town," he said. "The facilities are some of the best. The coaches and what they have done speak for themselves. It's good to see the things that they are doing."

US Army All-American cornerback Darin Walls of Pittsburgh (PA) was an official visitor that weekend. Walls had already made official visits to Pittsburgh and Michigan but he came away more impressed with Florida's game-day atmosphere.

"That was the best game I have ever been to," Walls said. "The fans were non-stop, they were loud and I just liked the atmosphere there." "I would give it a 10," he said of his visit to Florida. "I gave Michigan a nine and Pitt an eight."

Wide receiver Damon McDaniel of Virginia Beach (VA) Landstown came to the game on an official visit with his teammate Percy Harvin. They are among the top wide receivers in the nation.

"The crowd was unbelievable," said McDaniel. "It was just how they were into it. Tennessee burned a whole lot of timeouts just because of the crowd. They were real involved."

For some it was more than the atmosphere of the game. The game was an eye-opener, but the time spent with the coaching staff offered invaluable information to make a qualified decision on the University of Florida as a future home. For Lebanon (PA) defensive end Jared Odrick the whole experience really opened his eyes. "It was something else, exciting," Odrick said about the game "It was the loudest thing I ever heard. It was definitely loud and wild.

"This definitely changed my outlook on the University of Florida. They are definitely up there and I have been looking at all five of my schools pretty hard. This was my first official of the five, but I know some of the things I doubted about the school definitely came up more positive than anything else after this trip. I doubted the sincerity about what position they wanted me at. After I saw the depth chart and talked to the players and I talked to Coach (Urban) Meyer one-on-one numerous times, he told me they are going to put me at defensive end and try and keep me there. That is the way it was going to be."

The prospects quoted above were just some of the dozens of super star high school athletes that actually attended the game against Tennessee. Hundreds of future prospects visited for the game and a few dozen will likely make return trips for official visits sometime. Coach Heater is torn between bringing in the prospects for the games on official visits or on non-game weekends, but sometimes there is just no choice.

"It's a mixed bag," said Heater. "If a kid is a mid-year guy (enrolling in January in college) you are probably not the only school that the kid is going to visit (for a game). There are a lot of kids that are committing early and a lot are mid year guys and some of those kids are already on second or third visit and that's the game. You are just getting in the game. If the kid says he wants to come, he wants to come, that's why we do it."

If he had his druthers Heater would bring the kids in on official visits after the season so they can have more quality time with the recruits on their visits. That is the way it usually works out.

"I'd say about 75-80 percent of the kids around the country are going to be visiting in December and January, and I am not sure bringing them in early is the way to go about it," he said.

Either way, the Gators can't argue with the results of their first major game weekend of hosting official visitors. The Florida state weekend promises to be another one and the Gators are already lining up the official visitors for that weekend, also. They can only hope for the same atmosphere that occurred in Gainesville two weeks ago.

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