Meyer Sees Early Enrollment Trend Continuing

WEST PALM BEACH --- Consider Urban Meyer a big fan of this new recruiting fad which has seen some of the nation's top football players graduate in December so they can enroll in college in January. The obvious advantage for the kids is they get an extra spring practice under their belts, but Meyer sees long range academic benefits. Six recruits from Meyer's first two classes at the University of Florida enrolled early and their academic success is an indicator that this trend should continue.

Offensive linemen Ronnie Wilson and Eddie Haupt skipped their final semesters to be a part of Meyer's first recruiting class. Back in January, Tim Tebow, Carl Johnson, Maurice Hurt and Chevon Walker enrolled. From a football standpoint, the extra practices put these six far ahead of the typical freshman football player that arrives in the summer. From an academic standpoint, all six have enjoyed an easier adjustment to college life.

That's important in an academic arena such as the one at Florida where the typical incoming freshman scores close to 1,400 on the SAT and has a GPA that is weighted above 4.0. For a football player that enrolls early, there is time to adjust to the academic requirements long before the fall arrives when there is the added pressure to perform on the football field.

"Florida is such a competitive school right now," said Meyer. "You have 26,000 apply and they only take 6,000 and we're dealing with a bunch of 1,400 SATs. They [football players that enroll early] get to start a little slower and that's more time to graduate.

"You look at Tim Tebow. He had a 4.0 this semester. Carl Johnson and Maurice Hurt did very well. Ronnie Wilson and Eddie Haupt were over 3.0 last year. That's a tremendous advantage academically and football wise."

Meyer has spent the last three days recruiting in South Florida, which used to be an area of the country where there used to be a lot of recruits with dubious academic backgrounds. Higher academic standards and NCAA minimum entry requirements have put the pressure on the high school kids to get their academic houses in order and it's evident that the message has been heard loud and clear here in the southern part of the state.

"Right here in south Florida there are about 10-15 of them that have graduated early and enrolled in school in January," said Meyer. "I see that happening quite often now."

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Meyer isn't convinced he's changed the culture of Florida football quite yet even though the Gators have not had to deal with some of the high profile off the field problems that have plagued a lot of schools. The perception of the Florida football program has changed completely since he took over in December of 2004 but just because the Florida football players haven't had their photos taken for police mug shots doesn't mean that there aren't issues that have to be dealt with on a regular basis.

"I'm awful proud of some of things people are saying but to think we don't have issues, well we have issues," he said. "Maybe it's not major issues that you read in some of the newspapers across the country but we're a family and every family has issues to deal with.

"I'm proud of the way our team is being perceived right now but I'm even more proud of the fact that back to back we've had the highest semester GPAs in the history of Florida football. In the fall we did it and we just topped it this spring so there are a lot of good things going on right now off the field."

In the most recently completed spring semester, 41 percent of the scholarship football players earned a 3.0 or better GPA.

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Florida is hitting the recruiting trail in south Florida very hard this spring. Meyer was at nearby Belle Glade to watch practice at Glades Central Wednesday along with assistant coaches Doc Holliday and Billy Gonzales. The Gators haven't fared well recruiting south Florida in the past several years and the Belle Glade pipeline, which used to provide the Gators with standout players such as Fred Taylor, Reidel Anthony and Johnny Rutledge, has all but dried up in recent years.

Meyer said that's a trend that has to stop, that it's time for the Gators to recruit their fair share of outstanding players from this talent-rich area.

"If you evaluate what's going on recently [with Florida recruiting in south Florida] it hasn't been good." he said. "There's too many good football players down here not to have more production and there are a lot of Gators down here and a good tradition of players. We need to do a better job."

Over the years, Holliday has proven to be one of the best recruiters in the nation of south Florida talent, first at West Virginia and then at NC State. He's working this area very hard and it appears that it's paying off. Florida is being mentioned as a serious player by nearly every recruit in South Florida and this is a year when there is an abundance of talent in Dade, Broward and Palm Beach.

"Doc Holliday's down here recruiting and we're going to make more of an effort," said Meyer. "We've been down here a lot. I don't know if there's any other head coach that's been down here in this area of Florida more than myself. We have great respect for the players down here. We're going to make a real push to get more players out of this area."

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Meyer admits that there was plenty of adjustment to be made to the way football was played in the Southeastern Conference in his first season as Florida's head coach, but he says he and his staff really weren't caught by surprise. He expected plenty of speed and he saw it. He expected great defenses and saw them, too.

"I think it was what we thought," he said. "However, at one point six or eight defenses in the SEC were in the top 15 in the country. I can't be exact on that but I was shocked at how good the defenses were statistically because there's also good speed on offense but last year seemed to be a year when all the offenses were kept in check by great defenses.

"It's all cyclical. I don't think that it will always be the case in this conference and it's been proven that's not always the case."

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Florida's 2006 schedule will be ranked among the toughest in the entire nation. Florida will be playing eight bowl teams from 2005 and nobody is expecting a repeat of last year's 5-6 by perennial power Tennessee. Only Division I-AA Western Carolina, which is Florida's week 11 opponent, can be considered a sure bet.

"It is a rough schedule," said Meyer. "The only chance you have to make it through a schedule like that and to hit our expectation and hit our goals is to stay close as a team and stay healthy.

"You go on the road to Tallahassee, Knoxville and Auburn and then the home schedule. Our crossover games are LSU Alabama and Auburn but that's part of the SEC and that's a great schedule so we will work as hard as we can this summer to get ready for that schedule."

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Meyer will spend next week back in Gainesville. While he enjoys recruiting and evaluating talent, the time on the road takes away from his interaction with his players. He's looking forward to spending some time next week with the team's leadership council.

This year, the leadership council was not voted on by the players, but instead it was hand selected by Meyer because he wanted to see his best leaders in a position to effect team attitudes.

"They were hand picked and that's the first time I've ever done that," he said. "I used to let them vote but I picked the leadership guys this year. I can't wait to get back to meet with them. I love those guys. That was not voted on. They were hand picked. I love talking to them."

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