Meyer Doesn't Mind This Type Of Losing

BRADENTON --- Given the choice between losing and being locked in a room where he would be forced to listen to fingernails scratching a chalkboard, Meyer would probably take the locked room. However, when he got a call Monday afternoon telling him he'd lost a bet with Reggie Lewis, losing didn't seem like such a bad thing.

"Reggie called to tell me he got a 3.4 GPA," Meyer proudly told a crowd of some 600 at the Manatee County Gator Club's gathering at the Sarasota-Bradenton International Convention Center.

Before the spring semester began, Meyer challenged Lewis to take his classroom performance at the University of Florida to a new level. When his senior cornerback told Meyer that he would get at least a 3.4 in the classroom this semester, Meyer bet Lewis a steak dinner at his house that he couldn't do it.

"I told him you can't even spell 3.4," Meyer said with a laugh.

So the challenge was issued and Lewis responded in a big way, much like he did during spring football practice when he turned in one outstanding practice after another. He hit the books hard, won the bet and now Meyer has to pay up.

Meyer beamed when he told the crowd, "Reggie told me 'Coach, I take mine medium rare.'"

This is the second piece of good news when it comes to classroom performance among Meyer's starting cornerbacks. Saturday, Meyer told the Volusia County Gator Club that Avery Atkins was on track for a 3.4 going into his last two final examinations.

Last fall, more than 25 percent of Florida's scholarship football players had at least a 3.0 in the classroom and every scholarship player scored at least a 2.0.

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Meyer said that Chris Leak had the best spring he's had at the University of Florida both with on the field performance and in terms of leadership. The senior quarterback seems poised to have an outstanding final season at Florida.

"He's playing the best football he's ever played and he took leadership a step further," said Meyer, adding that Leak also deserved a lot of credit for the way the Gators rebounded from the depths of a loss at South Carolina to finish the regular season with a 34-7 pasting of Florida State and a 31-24 win over Iowa in the Outback Bowl.

Meyer told the crowd that Leak's ability to make plays suffered for much of the season because of health problems at wide receiver.

"In the Mississippi State game, we're without Bubba (broken leg), Dallas Baker is banged up, Chad (Jackson) has a tweaked hamstring and Jemalle (Cornelius) is trying to go on a sprained ankle," Meyer said. "What you saw against FSU and Iowa is what he can do when he's got healthy playmakers to go to."

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Incoming freshman Jarred Fayson of Tampa Hillsborough may have an All-America future at wide receiver but when preseason drills begin in August, he will be the number three quarterback. Additionally, Meyer said the Gators will welcome two walk-on quarterbacks that turned down scholarship offers elsewhere.

Meyer said that quarterback depth is an issue that can only be solved with good recruiting but with Leak and freshman phenom Tim Tebow on board, luring a quality quarterback is a difficult task.

"Finding a quarterback with enough competitiveness to believe he can take that spot is an issue," he said.

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Prior to the meeting, Meyer talked to the media about how the recruiting landscape has changed in the past few years. This phenomenon of early commitments has changed the way coaches go about recruiting and it seems there is no end in sight.

"Some schools are jumping all over kids and kind of forcing them to commit," he said.

Florida got a few early commitments last year but after the big win over Florida State, the Gators picked up plenty of recruiting momentum.

"The thing that really helped us this year this past year was we had a bunch commit around Christmas time," he said.

Having the bulk of his class filled enabled Meyer to start looking to the class of 2007 even before National Signing Day of 2006 was over and done with.

"I was in North Carolina [after Christmas] and I was junior recruiting," he said. "I was in the state of Florida already looking at the juniors for next year."

Texas, which has turned early commitments into somewhat of a football art form, has such a jump on everybody that they're looking further into the future.

"Schools like Texas have a lot of continuity," Meyer said. "They start a year ahead. They're actually looking at sophomores now."

The class of 2007 will be Meyer's third recruiting class at Florida. He thinks the Gators are in much better shape than they were when he first arrived at Florida and that comfort level showed up with the Gators' 2006 recruiting class, easily one of the top two in the nation.

"I think the first year was tough," he said. "We jumped in without any relationships whatsoever and probably the quality of the class suffered a little bit. Any time there's transition you're going to have a little bit of a slip but this past year, on paper [the recruiting class] it's a pretty good one."

Meyer attributes Florida's great recruiting class in 2006 to the strong finish with the wins over FSU and Iowa.

"We have a great product to sell and the fact that we finished strong, that was the whole momentum," he said. "You struggle and that carries right into recruiting. You lose a bowl game and all of a sudden you're battling just to fill it up with the right players."

The state produces so many outstanding high school football players that nearly every top collegiate program in the nation dedicates a good portion of its recruiting budget to scout Florida for prospects. Meyer doesn't really worry about the competition. He makes it a point to sell the University of Florida as the best combination of academics and athletics and believes strongly that the best players are going to give the Gators plenty of consideration.

"We have the best school in the state of Florida and we have more to offer than most places," said Meyer. "I grew up in Ohio and the kids in Ohio go to Ohio State. Kids in Florida should go to Florida. There's gotta be a reason to leave this state. Usually there is unless your product isn't very good but we have a great product and last year we did a pretty good job of keeping those kids right here."

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Meyer said that when he arrived at Florida, he only thought he knew what to expect. After a little more than a year on the job, he's realizes he was a bit naïve when he took the job.

"I'm much more comfortable," he said. "I'm much more knowledgeable. I took a lot for granted in the past. I know these guys now. I know exactly what their strengths and weaknesses are and I don't believe that this time last year we knew that. I can't remember being this excited about being around them. They've got a couple of weeks off and I look forward to getting them back here in a couple of weeks."

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