The Florida Gators wrapped up a very successful National Signing Day with a class of 20 players — including two early enrollees.
In one of his final press conferences, Will Muschamp said “don’t let the new guy tell you there isn’t any talent here.” Sure, Florida has some talent on the roster but Muschamp left a roster with just seven scholarship offensive linemen and just eight kids committed to the program. Two of those kids would decommit within weeks of Jim McElwain being hired and a third — Derrick Dillon — didn’t make it to the final class either.
The job that McElwain and his entire staff did in pulling together a recruiting class in just a few short months — going up against schools negatively recruiting how poor Florida had performed on the field, the staff turnover and against relationships that recruits had built for years with other coaching staffs — is nothing short of incredible.
An integral part of holding that group together was recruiting coordinator Drew Hughes. A holdover from the previous staff, Hughes was able to get the new coaching staff up to speed on where Florida stood with the guys they would be targeting for this class.
“I thought Drew did a really good job. He was a guy who obviously was able to hold it together,” said McElwain. “Drew had a real handle of what’s going on and knew where a lot of the players were.”
Faced with an impossible task, McElwain and his staff ignored recruiting sites that had Florida’s recruiting class ranked outside the top-100 in the country. They didn’t have time to waste lamenting about the hand that they had been dealt, they simply had to make moves and make the best of what was given to them.
The end result is a haul that not only boats the top-ranked offensive linemen in the country (Martez Ivey), the second rated defensive end in the country (CeCe Jefferson) and a pair of bruising backs (Jordan Scarlett, Jordan Cronkite) but a few playmakers and offensive linemen to solidify a line that was in dire straights.
McElwain wanted to sign five or six offensive linemen this class to bolster their overall numbers and that’s just what he was able to do with Ivey, Nick Buchanan, Richerd Desir-Jones, Fredrick Johnson, Tyler Jordan and Brandon Sandifer.
“Our goal was to try to hit in that five to six range in there and I think we’re pretty good hitting those numbers,” McElwain said. “That was something that we felt we needed to do especially not because of the talent that we have but because of the lack of numbers we had. So I think that was really good and very important for us as we went out and then tried to create some balance in the other spots moving forward.”
Florida’s defense hasn’t been an issue the past few seasons, but the Gators will get help in the class from Jefferson, Rayshad Jackson, Luke Ancrum, Keivonnis Davis, Andrew Ivie, Kylan Johnson, Chris Williamson and Jabari Zuniga. However, the focus was on offense — rightfully so.
Of the 19 players that signed with the Florida Gators, 13 were on the offensive side of the ball. Some will point out that Florida did
not sign a quarterback but with returning starter Treon Harris getting ready for his sophomore season and redshirt freshman Will Grier looking to compete for a starting job, signing a quarterback wasn’t totally necessary this cycle and not something the staff isn’t concerned with but they will keep options open.
“I feel really good about quarterbacks, obviously it was a position that you recruit every year, you don’t settle you go out and try to get what there is,” McElwain said. “There may be some that are still out there as this kinda goes forward and you know we’ll answer that, like I said, from some of those spots if needed moving forward.”
McElwain and his staff were the comeback kids on Wednesday afternoon. They’ll take a night off to relax and unwind after the whirlwind they just completed but don’t call it a vacation. There’s no time for that.
“What we’ll do is go out and have dinner as a staff and tell a few jokes and laugh a little bit and corroborate some stories that were out there and then we’ll get back at work in the morning to get ready to go for this spring ball,” said McElwain.
With National Signing Day 2015 over and done, the Gator family grew, they improved both on and off the field and they’re ready to build a program that fell into the SEC cellar under the previous staff.
“Every year this is a fun day,” McElwain said. “It’s one of reflection. It’s one that you’re really excited about the guys that chose to be a part of your family.”
If this is what McElwain and Co. can do with just two months to build relationships, the entire country better be on alert and ready for the 2016 recruiting cycle.