Mattison: Hard Work, Honesty Recruiting Keys

ST. AUGUSTINE --- After 34 years in the coaching business, Greg Mattison has this recruiting thing figured out. The first thing he will tell you is that there are no shortcuts and that there is no substitute for honesty. Secondly, it takes old fashioned hard work. Combine those elements together and it shouldn't surprise anyone when you have a great recruiting class.

"You can't fool kids," said Mattison, Florida's defensive line coach who is the co-defensive coordinator along with Charlie Strong, prior to speaking to the St. Augustine Gator Club at the Casa Monica Hotel. "If you're not honest with them, they'll figure you out so save yourself the trouble and be honest from the beginning. There aren't any shortcuts and there's magic formula. You establish relationships and you outwork the other guy."

Mattison recruits the St. Augustine/Jacksonville area for the Gators and he scored big in the most recent recruiting class when he landed corner Jacques Rickerson and tailback/kick returner Brandon James, both from state 3A champ St. Augustine High, and US Army All-Ameircan quarterback Tim Tebow from state 4A champ Nease in nearby Ponte Vedra Beach. He also landed US Army All-American wide receiver/safety Jamar Hornsby from Jacksonville Sandalwood and wide receiver Justin Williams from just across the Florida state line in Folkston, Georgia.

That impressive haul was part of Florida's top-ranked recruiting class and the momentum has carried over into the spring where the Gators already have six commitments and are well on their way to another outstanding recruiting class. Mattison says Florida's success starts at the top with head coach Urban Meyer, who sets the standard for hard work.

"As assistant coaches, we're expected to find guys, establish good solid relationships with them and let them know that we'll be there for them," he said, "but if you don't have a head football coach that says 'here I am, I am the head coach at the University of Florida, one of the top programs in the United States of America and I am here to let you know how important you are' then you don't have a chance.

"That's the one thing that Urban has done. I know he's hit 60-something schools this spring alone. That doesn't happen by accident. That's done by hard work and then you throw in all the Gator Club meetings he's done and everything like that. It all starts at the top and every one of our assistant coaches pulls his weight."

Mattison said that the Florida coaching staff is a mirror image of what Meyer demands from his teams. Meyer preaches accountability and unselfishness to the kids that play football at Florida so it shouldn't shock anyone that he demands the same thing from his assistants.

"Everyone on this staff works so well together and we're held accountable by Urban," he said. "All our coaches are willing to work other areas, too. Guys like Charlie Strong and Steve Addazio are great coaches but they'll help another coach in his recruiting area to get a player that we want. All our coaches are like that. If there's a defensive player out there that we want and it's in someone else's recruiting area but I can help, I'm there. This is a very unselfish staff and you have to have a group like that to be successful. Of course, it helps that we've got the product that we have to sell. We're right up there with all the big boys anywhere in the country when it comes to academics, facilities and players."

It's important to note, Mattison added, that the Gators aren't going to take marginal players just to fill out their roster or recruiting classes. Meyer's goal is to bring championship football back to the University of Florida and that means recruiting players that have the character and ability to help the Gators get to that goal. Anything less than that is unacceptable.

Mattison was criticized when Florida didn't land a defensive lineman in the first recruiting class under Meyer in February of 2005. He says there is a good reason the Gators came up empty on the D-line.

"If you remember, a year ago some people questioned why I didn't go recruit any defensive linemen when I first got here," Mattison said. "Well, that's because I am not going to bring a guy in here that's not going to help us win a national championship. I didn't have enough of a relationship with kids and I didn't know enough about the kids and the ones I wanted I was going to try to get and if I couldn't get them I wasn't going to settle for a second best."

Rather than take projects or defensive linemen whose ability to perform consistently at the level demanded in the Southeastern Conference, Mattison concentrated his efforts on identifying the players that would fit into his way of doing things last spring and early in the summer of 2005. Once he figured out who he wanted, he built the necessary relationships and trust that led to Florida's outstanding defensive line class.

The Gators signed five defensive linemen back in February: tackles Corey Hobbs (Oviedo), Brandon Antwine (Garland, TX) and Terron Sanderson (Bradenton Manatee) and ends Lawrence Marsh (Augusta, GA) and Jermaine Cunningham (Stone Mountain, GA).

"We had a year and a half to get these kids," said Mattison. "We've heard reports that are more glowing about some of the kids we signed than when we signed them. I never doubted that but people are now saying that Brandon Antwine might have been the best defensive lineman in the state of Texas. We got five great kids this year and that's what we needed and now we have to go out and get 5-6 more this year so we'll be right where we should have been all along."

If you want to make Mattison giggle, then mention recruiting rankings. It's nice to get the recognition for signing a class filled with high character kids who have plenty of talent, but he questions the people who do the rankings. "Some people had us ranked the number one recruiting class in the country and that was great," he said. "But I don't get caught up in it because those people that are judging it don't know. They really don't know. Those people --- one of them is the mailman and that's okay to be the mailman --- but he's never played football so how does he know what I look for and what I do to evaluate a player? He's the one telling me that some kid I'm recruiting is a one-star kid that is never going to play pro football. This is a guy who's never played a down of football in his life and he's going to rank a guy I've recruited and tell me he can't play?"

The measuring stick for Mattison and the Florida coaching staff is a combination of character, academics and the willingness to work hard.

"It all starts at the top with Urban Meyer," he said. "We've got an unbelievable head coach that works harder than anybody I've ever seen. He wants guys with talent but they better have character and they better be willing to work hard. He's got the University of Florida on the right track. Great things are going to happen."

AVERY ATKINS UPDATE: Mattison responded to some radio reports out of Jacksonville that said there are some continuing problems with cornerback Avery Atkins. Atkins, who missed the last week of spring practice to deal with a personal issue back in Daytona Beach, was reported to be a continuing source of problems, both for the Florida coaching staff and teammates. The report said that Florida's coaches are bending the rules to accommodate Atkins and that teammates believe that the sophomore cornerback is getting unmerited preferential treatment.

After stating that Atkins is fine and there are no significant ongoing problems to deal with, Mattison added that while Atkins' situation might be different, so is every situation that the coaching staff has to deal with.

"Look, nobody makes their own rules within our football program," Mattison said. "The thing with every good football program is that every situation and every person within the family is handled differently. A football program is a family and not every kid can be handled exactly the same way. Some kids are young and immature and some kids are older. You handle each one differently according to the circumstances and the situation. No player ever holds the Florida football program hostage and that will never be the case. Avery's just another member of the family and like every member of the family he's got problems and things that he has to work through and deal with."

STAR IN THE MAKING: Mattison raved about Cunningham, a 6-4, 225-pound defensive end that had 26 sacks for his Stephenson High School team in Stone Mountain, Georgia.

"You guys remember The Freak?" Mattison asked. "Well, I think this guy has some of that in him. He can really turn the corner and go. He's a wonderful young man and he's a great athlete. The two freshmen linemen that will have a chance to play early are Brandon Antwine and Jermaine but Corey Hobbs might not settle for being left out."

THE FIRST CALL FROM MEYER: When Mattison and Meyer were on the staff at Notre Dame, they lived across a lake from each other. Late on summer afternoons, they used to hit golf balls across the lake at each other. It is a close relationship built on trust and mutual respect.

The trust and respect is why Meyer made Mattison a priority addition to his staff when he became the head coach at Florida. Mattison was on a recruiting trip for Notre Dame when he first got a call from Meyer on his cell phone about the Florida job.

Mattison said, "He told me something big is about to happen and 'I want you to know that you're the first one I want to come with me.' He said 'that's all I can tell you now but when it happens, it's going to be really, really big.' He was right. Florida is really, really big."

MCDONALD UPDATE: Mattison is pleased with the progress being made by defensive end/tackle Ray McDonald, who is ahead of schedule as he recovers from ACL surgery to both knees.

"My goal and I speak from the heart is for Ray McDonald to have a chance to play up to his ability one time," said Mattison. "I'm not talking just one game but for one season because that kid has more talent and more ability than maybe anybody I've ever coached and I've coached a lot of great players. He deserves the right to see how good he can be and that's what we're all hoping to see."

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