Holliday Rebuilding UF SoFla Recruiting Base

OKEECHOBEE --- Once you leave the sprawl of West Palm Beach the landscape on your way to the small towns that dot the shores of Lake Okeechobee is dominated by sugar cane fields as far as you can see. This is the muck, that rich black earth that will grow anything, including, it seems, football players.

If you look at it purely on a per capita basis, there probably isn't an area anywhere in the country that produces more outstanding football players than the east lake where Belle Glade, Okeechobee and Pahokee churn out the talent. The coaches from colleges and universities all over the nation come here to recruit because of the abundance of talent and speed.

Wednesday in Belle Glade, Glades Central's practice was visited by Urban Meyer, Doc Holliday and Billy Gonzales from the Florida staff. Greg Schiano, the coach from Rutgers was there, braving the sun and the bugs in a snappy looking suit, no less. Alabama and Tennessee had coaches there. Earlier in the afternoon, Michigan and Michigan State dropped by.

They came to Belle Glade because Willie Snead, the former Gator receiver and now head coach at Glades Central, has at least six Division I prospects that will be seniors in the fall. If you count the kids that are going to be sophomores and juniors in the fall, then Glades had probably 15 kids that will be top Division I prospects before their high school careers are over.

There aren't as many kids at Okeechobee and Pahokee this year as there are at Glades Central, but there is no lack of talent or speed at either place.

It's like this every year in the east lake region and throughout South Florida. The abundance of talent is why Coach Urban Meyer has made it a priority recruiting area for the Gators and it's one of the reasons why when he arrived at Florida he hired Doc Holliday off Chuck Amato's North Carolina State staff. Holliday, who spoke at the Big Lake Gator Club gathering at Quail Creek Plantation Thursday night, is like a rock star just about anywhere he goes in South Florida. Anywhere he goes, he gets special treatment. Everybody knows Doc … kids, parents, friends, even the little kids who line the practice fields watching older brothers and cousins going through spring drills.

Doc Holliday made his mark recruiting South Florida when he was an assistant coach at West Virginia under Don Nehlen. He moved on to NC State where he helped Amato turn that program around on a foundation of talent recruited from South Florida. Now, Holliday is helping to open the doors for the Gators once again in South Florida.

There was a time when Florida recruited well down in this area but the flow of talent that used to make its way to Gainesville has been reduced to a trickle. Holliday and Meyer are getting those doors open wide once again.

"If you evaluate what's going on recently [with Florida recruiting in south Florida] it hasn't been good," Meyer said Wednesday night before he spoke at the Palm Beach County Gator Club. "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."

Holliday is rebuilding Florida's recruiting foundation in South Florida by re-connecting the Gators with coaches that he's known for years. Recruiting down here, he'll tell you, really isn't all that much different than any place else in the country. It still comes down to building relationships.

"I have a lot of friends down here, I know a lot of the coaches and I have great relationships down here," said Holliday. "That's what recruiting is all about. It's about building trust and relationships. They [kids, parents, coaches] have to trust you to tell them the right things so they can make the right decisions.

"You have to go about it the right way, too, and we're going about it the right way. When you wear that Gator on your shirt it's a pretty powerful thing and people have to expect that it means you're about all the right things, too. We're about the right things."

Holliday enjoys recruiting South Florida but he loves coming to the east lake area where the kids have a hunger to escape the hard life of communities built on the backbone of human labor in the fields.

"These kids come from good homes down here," said Holliday. "They're from families that usually don't have much money but they're good people. Their way out is to play football. The kids take that work ethic they've learned from their parents and they work hard and they're almost always very coachable kids that are hungry to learn. They have the work ethic, the desire and they're well coached."

The east lake area is loaded this year but so is all of South Florida, a far cry from last year which was uncharacteristically down.

"There's no question that it's better this year," said Holliday. "It's like it normally is down here. Always there are several players that can play for anybody in the country. This year there are many more players than there were last year in Dade County. There are some good ones in Broward and some good ones in Palm Beach County, too. This is the way it should be."

Holliday says that what separates this area of the country from the talent in other areas is the abundance of speed and the toughness of the kids. The combination of speed and toughness is a big reason why the kids in South Florida adjust easily to the college game.

"From the time they're from the time they're in grade school they're chasing kids around that can run so the speed of the game when they get to college doesn't change all that much because they play against fast kids," he said. "The kids down here are tough kids because of the way they grow up and they're very hungry and they love to play the game.

"They're very well coached down here, too. I think that's something that's overlooked. There are a lot of very good coaches down here that get after them and teach them to play the game the way it's supposed to be played.

"Bottom line there is always speed down here. That's why everyone comes down here to recruit. I think there are going to be several kids --- usually at least 15-20 every year --- that can play for anybody in the country. Their locations change, that's all. One year there are more in Dade and the next year it's in Broward or Palm Beach. Locations change but the level of talent rarely does. It's what I would call a normal year for talent down here this year."

Holliday finds himself recruiting the kids of players he recruited to West Virginia. He says that's both a blessing and a curse.

"It's great to have the chance to recruit kids when I already know their dads from when I recruited them," he said, "but that also says I'm getting a little old. But, it also means that if I'm welcomed by the parents it must mean I did some things right somewhere along the way.

"It's great to have the chance to recruit these kids to Florida. I have such great respect for the coaches, the parents and the kids down here. When we come in here, they know we're going to do it the right way."

MEETING NOTES: Holliday said that senior defensive tackle Steven Harris has been reinstated to the team. Harris was suspended from the team for spring practice for personal matters. The 6-5, 295-pounder is already working out with strength and conditioning coaches ... Holliday also told the gathering that all 27 of Florida's recruits qualified academically. "I think the recruiting class rankings should be done in August and not in February," he said. "It's not exactly fair that you can sign 20 in your class and maybe have six or seven who don't qualify and you're ranked number one." ... Holliday spent the day scouting talent at Pahokee and Okeechobee ... Holliday played college football at West Virginia. He was recruited to Morgantown by then WVU coach Bobby Bowden ... Holliday, who turned down the head coaching job at Marshall last year, said he's at Florida because you only get so many chances to be a part of a national championship and he feels Florida has a chance to compete very soon for a national title.

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