Have the Florida Gators ever had a better pre-season recruiting week(end) that was as good as this past Friday Night Lights?
In short answer, no.
And, equally, if not more important, Jim McElwain had his best recruiting weekend in his career and, coupled with his National Signing Day finish, is starting to stake his claim in SEC and National recruiting hegemony.
For the past three years, Jim McElwain and his staff have been criticized (mostly unfairly) for being weak on the recruiting trail. Their respective class rankings of 22nd (2015), 12th (2016) and 9th (2017) are below the expected top-5 ranking that Florida fans had grown accustomed.
However, with the eight recruit haul they had this past week and National Signing Day, as well as, McElwain’s ability to build balanced classes proves he has the recruiting prowess necessary to be successful at Florida.
What we saw at Friday Night Lights was, Jim McElwain and his staff, are not afraid to go after big fish, press hard, and earn a commitment from one of the top players in the country, despite the top player in his position group being present – Matt Corral.
What we saw at Friday Night Lights was, Jim McElwain use that same player to press one of the nation’s top wide receiver targets into committing – JaMaar Chase.
What we saw at Friday Night Lights (and a few days before) was, Jim McElwain securing the commitment of two players that is highly skilled and after continued recruitment and observation determined that they were a take – Randy Russell and Curtis Dunlap
And what we saw on National Signing Day was, Jim McElwain landed five four-star commitments in the greatest one-day haul in quite some time – Brian Edwards, TJ Slaton, James Robinson, CJ Henderson, and Adarius Lemons.
And while none of these eight aforementioned players have played one snap at Florida, the case against McElwain’s inability to recruit blue-chip players is now closed.
McElwain has shown he could go toe-to-toe with Florida State, Georgia, Miami, Alabama, Texas, USC, and Ohio State.
McElwain has shown that he can develop and build relationships with prospects quickly usurping prior relationships, like with Antonio Callaway and Jordan Scarlett.
McElwain has shown that he can identify weak holes on his staff and resolve those issues and make the necessary upgrades.
These are the signs of good recruiters. These are the signs of good coaches. And these are the signs of good CEOs of football programs.
But, what’s more, is that he has recruited balanced classes – something that was desperately missing in the previous regime and the panacea to Florida’s ills.
Will Muschamp recruited well for Florida when you look at star average, but struggled immensely in balancing the class. For example, he recruited 18 defensive backs, but only six linebackers. He had eight instances of recruiting two or less skill positions recruits per position group in his four years, including two years with only one running back, two years of only one tight end, and two years of only two wide receivers.
Since Jim McElwain took over, Florida has recruited nine wide receivers, six running backs, and three tight-ends – a total of 18 in three years. He has 11 offensive linemen, from just six total scholarship offensive linemen when he took over the program. He has recruited eight linebackers in the last three years, two more than Will Muschamp had in four. And he has still recruited the defensive back position well, bringing in 13 in three years.
When Florida needed offensive linemen in 2015, he brought in six. When he needed defensive backs in 2016 and 2017, he brought in 10. When he needed linebackers in 2016 and 2017, he brought in seven. When Florida was deficient at wide receiver in 2016, McElwain brought in four. All the while, Florida has recruited 11 offensive linemen and 11 defensive linemen – two more at each position than Will Muschamp did.
Jim McElwain still has much to prove, but damn, he’s answering just about every question with flying colors.