Zook's First Recruiting Win

<B>Ron Zook</B> did a good job on the recruiting trail last season. It's tough that first go around, especially when you only have month until Signing Day. But his best recruiting was done minutes after he took the job as Florida's new Head Coach. He had to convince <B>Rex Grossman</B> and <B>Taylor Jacobs</B> NOT to declare for the NFL Draft.

In the moments after Steve Spurrier announced his retirement from the college game for the N.F.L., many questions were asked out loud by Gator fans everywhere. Why, Steve, why? Is a Spurrierless life really worth living? And finally, how in the world is a new coach going to convince the underclassmen to stay in school?

After Ron Zook was hired away from the New Orleans Saints, the answer from most Gator fans to the last question would have been a resounding NO WAY! Jabar Gaffney, Reche Caldwell, Mike Pearson and Lito Sheppard all had already declared for the draft before Zook had been hired.

That left only Orange Bowl MVP Taylor Jacobs and the underclassman whose return held the most importance to maintaining any semblance of the Fun ‘N Gun, Heisman runner-up Rex Grossman. Both players had been leaning towards the N.F.L. with Grossman saying he was about 90 percent sure he was leaving early.

Zook was informed immediately upon being hired by Athletic Director Jeremy Foley that before he gets started recruiting high school players, there were a couple college players he needed to recruit first.

"I told him that there's a quarterback you need to go get before you do anything else," Foley said.

Zook then met with Grossman and Jacobs to sell them on a Zook-led Florida program. Grossman and Jacobs were quickly convinced and decided to return to school, Grossman for his junior year and Jacobs for his senior year. Grossman said he was impressed by Zook's passion and energy.

"He recruited me pretty well," Grossman said. "He got me sold on the program. I think his intensity and enthusiasm is just amazing, and it might be a good little spark for our team."

Grossman also was encouraged by his meeting with Zook about the prospects for this season.

"I'm exited about next season," Grossman said. "I'm really pumped about him and pumped about these coaches. We've got some good young players and he's going to give them a lot of motivation and inspiration."

Foley said that the return of Grossman and Jacobs and their confidence in Zook signals a huge step for Zook's young tenure at Florida.

"I think it sends a huge message to other players and to recruits that Rex and Taylor sat down with Ron and said that ‘this is someone who we want to play for,'" Foley said.

Grossman echoed those sentiments, saying, "Coach Zook is going to be a great motivator, and everyone is really going to want to play for him. I'm really looking forward to working with this staff."

If Grossman is to equal his success of last season, Taylor Jacobs is going to be a huge part of it. The fourth-year senior now emerges from the shadows of Jabar Gaffney and Reche Caldwell to become the Gators' undisputed primary receiver. Grossman shows much confidence that Jacobs will break through to have a huge 2002 season.

"I think (Jacobs) is one of the best receivers in the country, and he has been playing behind the other two best players in the country," Grossman said. "He is going to catch a lot of passes and be a top 10 pick in the draft."

It was essentially a package deal with Grossman and Jacobs when it came to either staying in school or leaving for the N.F.L. These two knew how much they need one another with only unproven talent among the other receivers and Brock Berlin now residing in Miami.

Now, Grossman and Jacobs look to be one of the premier quarterback-receiver tandems in all of college football, a prospect that Jacobs, who never seemed like he really wanted to leave Florida, gets very excited about.

"I'm not ready to leave Gainesville," Jacobs said. "I think I have a great opportunity to make some big things happen. I like the situation that is coming to me now."

Jacobs said he wasn't afraid of his new responsibilities as the top receiver and a senior leader, but is very much looking forward to it.

"I know I've got to step up big (with the departure of Jabar Gaffney and Reche Caldwell)," Jacobs said. "If 100 balls come my way, that'll be 100 caught balls."

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