Recruits Talk About UF Game

I had a chance to speak with Ernie Sims, Earl Everett, Justin Midgett, Dee Webb, Aubrey McPhadden, Joe Cohen and other recruits about Saturday night's game in the Swamp between Miami and Florida. How would the loss affect Florida in the recruiting wars?

One of the great things about the recruiting process for prospects is Saturday afternoons. Each fall during the college football season, recruits can attend games anywhere they want to go. It is called an unofficial visit. The bigger the game, the more prospects that will be there. It doesn't matter if your favorite team is in Norman or Knoxville.

This past Saturday, in the biggest game of the young college football season, Miami traveled to Gainesville to take on the Gators. The Swamp is one of college football's best "game-day" atmospheres and it is a great recruiting tool for the University of Florida. It is arguably the loudest college football venue.

Well on Saturday night, there were a few hundred prospects there to witness the Hurricanes beating the Gators. And it was a very convincing win for the defending National Champions and No. 1 ranked team in the country.

Certainly, Miami and Florida State are the kings when it comes to recruiting. FSU has set the standard for the last fifteen years or so. Miami has really come on as of late, especially when Butch Davis took over for as the Hurricanes head coach a few years back. Florida was always somewhere in the middle. The Gators always had their moments with Coach Steve Spurrier in the recruiting wars, but they were never consistent like the Seminoles and steady like the Hurricanes. Quite honestly, these two programs have recruited on another level.

But something significant happened in January... Steve Spurrier resigned at Florida and Ron Zook took over. In the month he and his staff had to recruit, they did a good job in extraordinary circumstances. The new Florida staff has been working overtime in the recruiting wars. Since Signing Day, they have been laying the foundation for this season's recruiting campaign. They have worked their tails off to put themselves in position to have a banner recruiting year. But just as critical as working hard and laying the foundation, the real season is vital to their recruiting success. Recruits want to know and feel secure, that the Florida program will not regress under the new coaching regime.

That is why there was more on the line on Saturday night than just bragging rights. The winner gets the edge in the important recruiting wars.

With Florida taking such a drubbing in the vaunted Swamp, in front of their fans with all those great prospects looking on, how will this affect what happens for the Gators on Signing Day?

In contrast, Miami's win was so impressive, could that persuade even more recruits to Coral Gables?

Ernie Sims is the country's top player. He plays running back and linebacker for Tallahassee (Fla.) North Florida Christian. Sims likes all three Florida powers, Auburn and Georgia. He went to his first game in the Swamp on Saturday night. "It was a great game and they both played hard," said Sims. "Miami was just too good... too powerful. But that was my first game in the Swamp and it was the loudest place I have ever heard. Miami's win didn't change anything in regards to recruiting with me."

Sims may publicly say things that are status quo with him but the same can't be said for one of the state's top offensive lineman. At one time this spring, this big OL was leaning to the Gators. "That game changed how I now look at Miami," said Aubrey McPhadden, from Jacksonville (Fla.) First Coast High School. "They were the dominant, aggressive team. I watched both lines but Miami's was simply overpowering. I have been to the Swamp before but that was the craziest and loudest I have ever seen and heard it. Right now, I just like all three Florida schools and LSU."

Earl Everett, the state's No. 2 prospect from Bushnell (Fla) South Sumter High School, said, "That was the third game I saw at Florida and I have not seen anything like that. That was just an intense game. I was surprised at how bad Miami won. I thought it would have been much closer but the 'Canes turned it up a notch. But the game doesn't really change anything for me. I will make the best decision for me. And it is still the same schools - Miami, Florida, Georgia, South Florida and Nebraska."

Two other recruits that are high on both the Gators and Hurricanes didn't make it to the big game. One didn't go because he couldn't make it and the other didn't want to attend because he would have been embarrassed.

"I watched the game on TV," said defensive end Kirston Pittman, who's brother Thomas played for Florida a few seasons ago. "Florida had a chance to win but they messed up some opportunities. You can't do that against Miami. They are just too good. That game changed my outlook with Miami. They looked great and they lose all those defensive linemen. They will all be in the league (NFL). Right now, I like Miami, Texas, Florida, Oklahoma and Florida State."

Demetrice Webb said, "I didn't show up because I am a Miami fan, and I couldn't root for Miami when the game is at the Swamp. I stayed home and watched it. But the outcome doesn't change my approach to recruiting. In the end, I am going to do what is best for me and that is playing time. I will be looking at all the depth charts. It looks like I will pick one of the Florida schools (FSU, Florida or Miami)."

Like Webb, two other Sunshine State stars like the 'Canes, Gators and 'Noles. Both Reggie Nelson and Joe Cohen, teammates at Melbourne (Fla.) Palm Bay, claim Saturday night's Miami win will not influence what they do in the end with the recruiting process. "I was very surprised by what happened," said Cohen, a defensive end prospect. "But Florida just made too many mistakes. The game changes nothing for me. In fact, that was the first time I had ever been to a Florida game. It kind of made me want to suit up and play college ball right then and there. I was like 'oh my god, this place (The Swamp) is awesome'. Like I said, everything is still the same. I like Florida, FSU, Miami and a bunch of others."

"That was my first game at Florida as well," said Reggie Nelson, a safety prospect. "It was loud and crazy and I couldn't hear anything. I watched both defenses very carefully and sat there amazed at what I saw. They are two good teams. Florida just made too many mistakes. This game will not affect my recruiting for me. I really like both of them, FSU and some other schools outside the state.

One player who will not be impacted by the game's outcome is Justin Midgett. Midgett, from Punta Gorda (Fla.) Charlotte High School, was the first commitment for the Florida Gators. Midgett went up to Gainesville for the game and he did the best job he could in his new role as a recruiter. "Man I tried," said Midgett. "I talked to as many of the guys as I could. I want to convince them to come to Florida because we are going to win here. I spoke with (Joe) Cohen, (Antonio) Cromartie, Amp (Hill), and a bunch of others. Watching that game gave me goose bumps. I can't wait to get on that field. I get the feeling a lot of kids saw and felt that too."

The bottom line is this. Gator fans are worried that the loss to the Hurricanes will have an adverse affect on recruiting for Florida. The outcome of that game may persuade one, possibly two kids that are on the fence between the Florida schools. At the same time, there were a ton of kids that saw an incredible game day atmosphere.

Florida just needs to win. They still have plenty of big games the rest of the season. I can't begin to tell you how critical this is for them to have success getting the prospects they want. It is crucial! All along, I thought this was a 10-2 football team. A 10-win regular season would really enhance their chances of having a banner recruiting year. The coaches have worked hard to put themselves in position with a ton of blue-chippers across the board.

A poor season, even by Florida standards, could really make things much more difficult for the new Gator staff. With games left against the Vols, Dawgs, 'Noles and the rest of the SEC schedule, ten-wins may not be attainable. If this team ends up with nine or even eight wins, things could get a little dicey once again in the recruiting wars for Florida.

It is not that the staff is not working hard at it. They are going beyond the call of duty and working their tails off. But as I said earlier, prospects want to see that the program is NOT slipping. If Florida puts up a 10-win season, no one can say that. But if the Gators win eight games, even nine, I can already see the negative recruiting... "Spurrier's gone and they couldn't even win with Rex Grossman as their QB. What are they going to do without him?"

I guarantee you that's what these kids will hear. Recruiting is cutthroat and dirty and more time than not, coaches will say anything to land their man.

Win 10 games, and this will not happen. This staff has worked too hard and already established the necessary relationships. The recruits know Florida needs the players and in the back of their minds, most of the prospects know where they want to go. A big season eases their mind. An eight-win season causes doubt.

Remember one other crucial thing: Florida did not beat Miami or Florida State on one recruit last season. That is significant. That can't happen again. There are enough elite players in the Sunshine State for each of the big three to get their share. Again, have a ten-win season and this will not happen.

To sum it all up, Saturday's loss to Hurricanes should have only a small impact in recruiting. It is one game in a long season of big games for Florida. The Gators are in position to have a very good recruiting year. What happens on the field is the key. An SEC Championship would certainly help their cause.

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