The lack of healthy playmakers turned Florida's offense very pedestrian and emphasized the need to load up on speed and playmaking ability in the recruiting class.
"I was just watching our 2005 season film today and our so-called game breakers," Gonzales stated. "We didn't have but maybe a handful of plays over 20 yards that were catch and run by a receiver. The ones we had were thrown deep and guys made good catches. At the same time, we need the guy in the offense that we can throw the shovel, or the bubble, a ten yard route or a twelve yard out and can turn that into the big play."
Enter the 2006 signing class and the five fleet-footed receivers who add instant depth and playmaking ability to the Florida roster. All five have the ability to make an impact early and there is enough depth now so that Florida will never have to go four-wide without four fast playmakers on the field at the same time.
The first name you have to talk about when you talk about the receivers in this recruiting class is all-universe Percy Harvin of Virginia Beach (VA) Landstown. He's rated the number two receiver in the nation by Scout.com but he brings an all-around game that will drive defensive coordinators batty. Harvin is the kind of guy just made for an offensive coordinator with a creative mind. There are so many ways the Gators can get the ball in the hands of this 5-11, 182-pound dynamo and any time he has the ball in his hands he is a threat to make something big happen. You name the way this US Army All-American can make a big play happen and chances are he's already done something similar.
"He is an instant game breaker," Gonzales said. "He has tremendous speed and explosiveness. He is one that gives you more than just receiving. He is a great punt returner and kick returner. He is a threat every time he touches the ball and has the ability to take it the distance or make something exciting happen."
The offense that Harvin played in under Coach Chris Beaty at Landstown is quite similar to Florida's spread option. Most of the time, Harvin lined up in the slot where he could factor in both the passing game and the running game. He'll probably do many of the same things for the Gators.
"I think the way Coach Beatty used his team is the same way we envision using our receivers where the inside receivers can run vertical or match up on a linebacker," said Gonzales. "[Percy] is a multiple use individual."
In Jarred Fayson, the Gators landed a Percy Harvin clone, a game breaker who is at his best maneuvering through traffic. Fayson also has tremendous speed and multiple skills. He played quarterback at Tampa Hillsborough but that didn't stop this US Army All-American from being named the third best wide receiver in the nation by Scout.com. He's 6-0, 195 pounds, and capable of turning a simple bubble screen into a highlight reel.
"I think Percy and Jarred are a lot alike," Gonzales said. "If Jarred had been a receiver and a punt returner and kick returner he would have done a lot of the same things as Percy. I see them being a lot alike almost clones to be honest with you. (Jarred is) a little bigger right now --- about 200 pounds --- but at one point in time, (UF strength) Coach (Mickey) Marotti said he was one of the most explosive athletes he had seen anywhere on video. When you see him at quarterback, you see he runs faster than anyone else. The same as Percy, you toss him the ball and 92,000 fans will be on their feet because they don't know what will happen when he touches it."
The Gators stepped across the border into Georgia where they won a dog fight with the home state Bulldogs for the state's most exciting player in Justin Williams, who earned a four-star rating from Scout.com. The 6-2, 183-pounder led Folkston Charlton County to back-to-back state championships in football. He's also an outstanding scorer in basketball and the defending 400 meter champ.
"Justin Williams is a fantastic athlete," Gonzales said. "He is a longer legged guy, a little taller than Percy and Jarred but not as thick. I think he holds the receiving record at Charlton County and that is some great football up there. He is also a state champion in track. He had a lot of offers. When he catches the ball, he can make someone miss and has the ability to pull away. I am very excited to see what he can do when he gets here."
If you want size at the receiver position, US Army All-American Jamar Hornsby brings a big body with a little pizzazz too. The 6-4, 195-pound five-star athlete from Jacksonville Sandalwood has the ability to burn defensive backs deep or make the tough catch over the middle. He is also an outstanding blocker who loves taking out a defender and he has shown the ability to run over people when he gets the football in his hands. He hurt his knee in the final game of the season for Sandalwood but at least report he was doing well with his rehab schedule.
"When you look at Jamar he is a big guy," Gonzales said. "He is a big strong physical guy that can make plays. I went and watched him play in a jamboree in Jacksonville. I saw him play defense and he will bring some toughness. He has to come off of his knee's rehabbing, but he is ahead of schedule right now. He is a tremendous athlete and will be one of those bigger receivers which we like as well."
Four-star Riley Cooper from Clearwater Central Catholic is an intriguing athlete who has size (6-4, 205) and speed (4.37 40, 6.23 60 at a major league baseball combine). Gonzales likes the fact that Cooper has a mean streak when he's on the field and the kind of enthusiasm to play the game that is contagious with teammates.
"Riley is one of those guys that brings attitude to the position group," said Gonzales. "He is a big athlete and can do a lot of different things. He brings toughness to the group right away and provides a physical presence and a force. He is also tremendously fast and ran one of the fastest 60 times at the Major League Baseball combine last year."
Not only are these five receivers tremendous prospects, they are also proven leaders and that's almost as important as physical talent the way Gonzales views things.
"When you look at these guys, Percy was a five time state track event champion and Justin comes from a wining program as well," he said. "When you look at these receivers as a whole you get a bunch of leaders and captains at their high schools. That's what you want."
When the Gators mapped out their recruiting goals for the class of 2006, the plan was to land five receivers. Florida actually had seven committed at one time but two changed their mind at the last minute. Still, it's the best class of receivers in the country, an indication that Florida's coaching staff not only did their homework but they also won the battles for the hearts and minds of these fine athletes.
"We were 100 percent right on target," Gonzales said. "We got the guys we wanted. Obviously, [we missed one] when we went down the stretch run, but it might be better in the long run. Some, looking from the outside in don't understand the big picture. If you would have told me in May that this would be the receiver group we would get, I would be as happy then as I am now."
The Gators will lose Baker and Cornelius to graduation next year and if Caldwell has an outstanding year, he could be gone as well. That puts a premium on bringing in outstanding playmakers with speed next year, too.
"At the same time we lost one at the end but the situation for us now is perfect," Gonzales gushed. "It allows us to go out and sign two or three next year instead of just one. That will put us in position to find another group of guys that will fit in with the system we are trying to put in here."
On paper and at this time, the Gator receiving class ranks as the best in Gator history, even above that group in 1994 that included Ike Hilliard, Reidel Anthony, Travis McGriff, Jacquez Green, Jamie Richardson, and Nafis Karim. That class produced four 1,000-yard seasons from four different players. In terms of talent and speed, this class dwarfs even the group of receivers that arrived in 1994 and we all know what happened with those guys.