Recapping the Florida Gators baseball season, plus recruiting news

GatorCountry brings you a new podcast as we recap the Florida Gators baseball season as it came to end in Omaha on Friday.

Andrew Spivey and Nick de la Torre break down the season for the Gators, plus look ahead to next year’s roster.

Andrew and Nick also talk about the latest recruiting news around the program, plus the latest football news.

TRANSCRIPT:

Andrew:                 What’s up, Gator Country? Your man, Andrew Spivey, here with Nicholas de la Torre. Nicholas, had a long break between the last podcast, a lot of things going on. We apologize for that. Should be getting back on track now with our weekly podcast. Nick, we’re just three weeks away from SEC Media Days, and this time it’s in the great city of Atlanta.

Nick:                         Atlanta is not a great city. Atlanta traffic is some of the worst in the country. They have the most annoying baseball fans, outside of New York, yourself included. I’m reminded every day by those fans that the Braves are still in first place.

Andrew:                 That’s right. Shout out to my boy, Barrett Sallee. He and I have a pact that we will be having a good time in the middle of the Battery when our Bravos reach the pinnacle of baseball. It’s coming soon.

Nick:                         I’m sorry, how many do they have? How many World Series do the Braves have?

Andrew:                 We just have one.

Nick:                         How many years have they been playing baseball in Atlanta?

Andrew:                 50-some years, I think.

Nick:                         Oh, God.

Andrew:                 It’s all right.

Nick:                         Even the Marlins have two.

Andrew:                 Yeah, but how many times have you guys finished in the well of the cellar?

Nick:                         When the Marlins make the playoffs, they win a World Series. They win a championship.

Andrew:                 So, they’ve only made the playoffs twice.

Nick:                         That’s it. Two for two.

Andrew:                 There you go. Newsflash, the Atlanta Braves are tied for the best record in the National League. That’s all that matters.

Nick:                         What’s today’s date? It’s July? That’s cool.

Andrew:                 It’s almost July. We’ll get into talking some football, some recruiting, here in a few minutes. Nick, we got to talk about the baseball team. Go out to Omaha, and finish a game short, or two games short, of making it to the College World Series finals again. Nick, I’ll say this. The beginning of the year the team was really, really good, but when JJ went down it just kind of seemed like someone stuck a needle in them and inflated the air. They just really never regained that momentum. I think what a lot of people don’t talk about is the target that’s on your back when you’re the Florida Gators, the defending National Champions. It just kind of caught up to them. Listen, Arkansas is a damn good baseball team. It just caught up to them.

Nick:                         Yeah. Listen, Arkansas can hit. Those boys can hit whoever. I think Florida, you hit the nail on the head. It’s really when JJ went down the lineup changes drastically, especially the way JJ was hitting. He was hitting .450, .435 in the 10 games before he got hurt. The thing with Florida this year was you really never had a string of everybody hitting cold at one point. So, when JJ wasn’t hitting well, India goes on a 20-game hitting streak, and Will Dalton’s hitting. When Jonathan India started to slow down, Deacon Liput, Austin Langworthy, and JJ Schwarz are hitting.

Once JJ went down it was kind of a gut punch to the team, and India wasn’t hitting .300, and Liput went down a little bit. It really was only Austin Langworthy that was hitting the ball really well during that time when JJ was down. Then, obviously, losing Brady the last week of the season, last weekend series, and then losing Brady in the SEC Tournament, that was a big hit. When it comes down to it, Florida finished fourth. There’s 297 baseball teams, and Florida finished fourth.

Sully said it. He said, I think the expectations for our team now are to win a National Championship. He goes, a lot of teams are just happy to get to Omaha. He said, when I got here, we were just happy to get to Omaha. The first year we were just happy to be here. He said, the expectations have changed. That’s a credit to not just Sully, but to Brad and Craig and the players that have come through to change that expectation. I wouldn’t say at all that I think this was a disappointing season.

Andrew:                 I would say it was a disappointing finish, just because it’s always a disappointing finish if you don’t win a National Championship, if you have those expectations to win. I think that would be the better way to say it. It’s disappointing that you lose, maybe not disappointing that it was a bad year.

Nick:                         Yeah. I could say it was a disappointing finish. They played 70 games this year. I covered, I think, all but three of them, when I was out of town for a wedding. My ears were very in tune to this team, and I know what I saw. I think there were a lot of people towards the end of the year that maybe just tuned in at the end. I know you watched most of these games. I think there were a lot of people who maybe didn’t know what they were talking about, and that will bring us into our next point.

I understand that Brady Singer didn’t have good outings against Arkansas. He gave up eight earned two years ago in the SEC Tournament, over just one-plus innings of work. He gave up six earned. When was it? It was in April maybe, whenever they played in Gainesville this year. Arkansas is really the only team Brady Singer has ever faced that he didn’t have success against. Some people were saying, you can’t start him on short rest against Arkansas. Look, he doesn’t pitch well against Arkansas.

When Brady Singer tells me, Coach, I’m ready to pitch, Brady Singer is going to pitch. That’s the National Player of the Year. First round draft pick. My argument would be, who else would you start? Are you starting Tyler Dyson? He hasn’t pitched since May 8th. You can’t start Jack Leftwich. You could have started Tommy Mace, but Tommy Mace didn’t have a great outing. Defense kind of let him down, but Tommy Mace didn’t have a great outing, and he’s still a freshman. Do you start him over Brady Singer in an elimination game? My argument is Brady Singer is your guy. That’s your bulldog. That’s your ace. When your ace says, I want to pitch, I’m ready to pitch, you throw him.

Andrew:                 Yeah. I said this to you, and that is you go with what you got there with. That was with Brady Singer and Jackson Kowar, and those are your two guys. You and I are baseball fans, fanatics, whatever you want to call it. We follow the game a lot. If Clayton Kershaw goes to the Dodgers and says, I want to throw in Game 7 of the World Series, but he’s on three days rest, you’re not taking the ball from Clayton Kershaw. Just like Sully’s not taking the ball from Brady Singer. Brady Singer gave Florida the best chance to make it to Saturday. It didn’t happen. Who knows what would have happened with anyone else going? It’s hindsight, and you know what everyone always says. Hindsight’s better. We can’t do that. Can’t look back.

I say this with Singer. Singer’s going to pitch on Saturday most likely on five days rest then. That’s still not a fully period of rest, because it’s seven days in college baseball. In the post season, nobody’s on regular rest. What difference would it have made for Singer for that extra day of rest? We don’t know. Might not have been nothing. Like you said, Arkansas is the only team that hit him well. You can’t pull and not go with the guy that got you there.

The only thing I will say is I did think Sully had a longer leash for Singer than I thought he would have, but that’s for Sully to know. The bullpen didn’t do well, outside of Byrne, so what do you go to there? It’s Omaha.

Nick:                         That’s what he did the day before. You have a five-run lead, and people are saying, why’d you go to Baker? Why didn’t you just go straight to Butler? If I’m Kevin O’Sullivan, I’m trying to figure out what I have in the bullpen, because if we’re going to win a championship it can’t be my starter, Butler, Byrne. It just can’t be. Sully said, we can’t have Michael Byrne throw in all five games. If we’re going to make it to the College World Series final, we can’t have him throw in five straight games. That’d be in three straight nights at one point.

Andrew:                 Don Sutton says this best. He’s a Hall of Famer. He says, you cannot win one day without looking ahead to the next day. That’s exactly what Sully was doing. He was looking ahead. Now, granted, you can’t always look ahead, but that is you can’t burn everything. Then you win that game, and you go to the next game and have nothing. I understand Sully’s point of view as well.

Nick:                         Yes. It’s also he’s trying to see, Hunter McMullen, hugely talented. Fastball in the upper 90s, 95, 96, but he had struggled to throw strikes. We got a five-run lead. Let’s put Hunter in. It gives him a chance to throw on this stage. Let’s put Tommy Mace in. He hasn’t had a chance to throw on this stage. You’re doing it when you have a comfortable lead. You’d like to, when you have a five-run lead against Texas Tech, to not have to use Michael Byrne. They ended up having to use him. It lets you know, when you have a comfortable lead, I’m going to get these guys some time. I need somebody to step up. Here’s their opportunity. You ran through four pitchers before having to throw Michael Byrne.

Andrew:                 Exactly. Like I said, you can’t win today without looking ahead to tomorrow. You just can’t. You can’t burn through all of your pieces, especially with a five-run lead. Listen, the game got a lot closer than I think Sully and the rest of the fans, yourself included, Nick, wanted it to get, but it was a situation where you try to see. Here’s the thing too. You see what those guys have, because now you’re looking at those games, and you’re thinking this is what we need to build on for next year. Baseball is not a game like football or basketball, where you can throw all your eggs in one basket, because in less than 24 hours you got to roll the ball back on the mound again. You can’t rest up that quick.

Listen, I’ll never question Sully with pitching. We can all question and say some things about hitting under Sully, and that’s a topic for another day. When it comes to pitching, there’s nobody better than Kevin O’Sullivan. If he thinks Brady Singer gave him the best chance to win, I’m trusting Kevin O’Sullivan.

Nick:                         To me, the part that really shocked me was you lost two games in Omaha, and they’re both credited to Brady Singer. This is a kid that lost one game all year, was so good all year. It doesn’t all go to him. You didn’t hit Texas Tech in the first game. I think there were three hits in the first game. I could be wrong. I’m just trying to recall, not looking at the stats. Three hits, and you’re not going to win many games that way. To me, it was a big shock that Brady Singer gets the two losses out in Omaha. If you would have told me that when I was getting on my plane to head out there, I would have said you’re crazy.

The reason Florida’s pitching is so good is because of how Kevin O’Sullivan handles his guys and how he handles his staff. He takes care of players. That’s why the top prospects in the country, these top high school kids, keep coming back to Florida, keeping coming to Florida. It’s because I know I’m going to be protected and developed and taken care of while I’m there for my three years.

Andrew:                 You look back at the last few years. Dane Dunning. You have Alex Faedo. You had two guys this year. I’m sure I’m missing someone. You just look at the last three years. AJ Puk, Logan Shore. How could I miss those two guys? You go back, and you look at the guys that are there, and all those guys are on the brink of making it to the Major Leagues. Those are all Sully guys. Those are guys that don’t have arm problems, with the exception of AJ Puk, and they’re that way for a reason. You look at some teams around the country, 130, 140 pitches, and then in five days they’re throwing again, 130, 140 pitches. Those are the guys that aren’t getting top pitchers to commit to them in the first place, and then give up multi-million-dollar contracts to come to school. You look at the guys Sully’s got, and it’s not fully on Sully, but you look at some of the guys that have gave up some decent amount of money to come back to school. Jackson Kowar being one. Brady Singer being another.

Nick:                         Yeah. Kowar is a great story, because he grew up a Clemson fan, was committed to Clemson. They fired Jack Leggett. That’s how in tune Sully and Brad and Craig are. Jack Leggett gets fired after the year. That year Sully is getting ready to go to Omaha, and all of a sudden, a call comes out. Jackson, want to come to Gainesville? Sure. You get three years of Jackson Kowar, because Sully is able to multi-task, I guess you could say, on we’re going to the College World Series, but I also am looking towards next year and the year after, and all that.

Andrew:                 Nick, give us a quick rundown. We won’t spend too much time of this. Just guys that are expected to leave this team, and then I know there’s one or two commits that are expected to leave as well, or signees now. Give us a quick rundown of who is not expected to be back next year.

Nick:                         Leaving 100% is Jonathan India, Deacon Liput, JJ Schwarz, Nick Horvath. They’re seniors. They’re gone. Jackson Kowar, Brady Singer. All those guys are gone. Michael Byrne, I know as of Saturday Kevin O’Sullivan was calling the Byrnes and asking them frantically, do I need to offer somebody else? There’s another scholarship. What are you guys doing? There just hadn’t been much conversation between the Byrnes and the Reds in Cincinnati. Byrne was all in on Omaha, and once that ended they were going to start talking. I know that Michael Byrne and his family will have a number that they want to hit. If the Reds hit that number, he’ll be a professional baseball player.

You and I were talking a little bit off the air, and I don’t know how much more he has to prove. Yes, he can come back as a starter, and prove that he can be a starter, but he pitched in the Cape last year and was a starter in the Cape. So, teams see that. Teams look at summer ball. I don’t know how much he has to prove, and you lose your negotiating power when you’re a senior versus when you’re a junior. That negotiating power being I can go back to school. Here’s my number. Get close to that, above it, or reach it, or else I’m going back to school, and you wasted a draft pick.

Andrew:                 Hold on a second. I want to say this too. Michael Byrne is not a closer in the big leagues. He’s a starter.

Nick:                         Yes.

Andrew:                 Just throw that out there. I know some people thought he might be a closer. No. He’s not a closer in the big leagues.

Nick:                         No. He is not. He is a starter or a bullpen guy. That’s what he is. He is not a backend of the bullpen guy.

Andrew:                 Right. Go ahead.

Nick:                         Coming back you’ll have Brady McConnell. That will be your shortstop. He missed all of the year really with that hand injury. He was ready to go. He was healthy towards the end of the year. I know Blake Reese struggled, but you get an older guy like Reese, who’s a junior. He’ll be back as well. You got to figure, am I going to mess with the chemistry? I’m not taking Jonathan India out of the lineup. I’m not taking Deacon Liput out of the lineup. So, I got to take Blake Reese. Am I going to mess with the chemistry? Blake struggled defensively too at second base but came up with some big hits. Had a couple big hits in Omaha and a couple big hits in the regional, super-regional. I think that’s the decision O’Sullivan made, that he’s not being the best, he’s not playing his best ball at the end, but are we going to mess with the team chemistry towards the end there?

At catcher, you’re going to get all three of these guys back, Greenfield, Smith, and Girand. To fill out the rest of the infield, I already said McConnell and Reese. Keenan Bell will be back. Need to see him hit better. Played great defensively, but need to see him really turn the corner at the plate. Then Shane Shifflett is a kid they’re really high on. He’s a guy that can play any three positions, shortstop, second base, or third base. That’s something to look at. Also, Brady Smith, not just catching, but he’s a guy that they’ll be looking forward or looking to play a corner infield spot if they need him to. I need to pull this guy up from Chipola. There is a catcher from Chipola College that they’re looking at getting, a Juco kid. Threw a .420, I think, last year. I’ll get his name eventually.

Outfield, Will Dalton. Nelson Maldanado did not get drafted, so he’ll be back for his senior year. Austin Langworthy. Those will be your three outfield guys. Will Dalton will be probably in center field.

Really, the biggest spots are pitching. You’re going to get Leftwich and Mace back. Those are your Friday, Saturday guys. Tyler Dyson will be a guy that is trying to hang onto a weekend spot. Garrett Milchin, a name from two years ago, he had Tommy John’s surgery, so he’ll be back for his redshirt sophomore year.

Then I’ll just run through these real quick, because you’ve got like 12 pitchers. Connor Churchill. Colton Gordan is a guy who redshirted this year. We’ll see if he’s back or not. He traveled to Omaha, but wasn’t dressing in the post-season, but traveled with the team. Hunter McMullen. Hunter Ruth is a guy from Gainesville, Florida. He’s coming back from Tommy John, but he’s a mid-high 90s guy, great arm. Nick Long didn’t pitch too much this year. He’ll be back for his junior year. Andrew Baker, Cole Maye, and Kirby McMullen. A lot of arms that O’Sullivan will return.

Then a name that I’m going to be keeping close on is Mason Denaburg. He’s from Merritt Island, same high school as Brady McConnell. He’s a mid-90s guy. Devasting breaking ball. Was a first round draft pick of the Nationals. Nationals have a very small signing pool. He’s a name I’m going to be keeping an eye on July 15th. I’ll have a story after the July 15th signing period, because everyone keeps asking me about the recruiting class. I think a lot of people just don’t understand how different baseball recruiting is than football recruiting. I can give you a big list of guys right now, and it’ll be completely different on July 16th, after the signing period.

Andrew:                 Yeah. It’s one of those things where the bonus pool comes into effect. If they have an extra amount of hundreds of thousands of dollars they can give a fifth round pick a little bit more than they should and all that stuff, because they got leverage. Tune into that.

Wanted to hit a quick note real quick, and that is Tim Walton. Softball got that big extension. He was a hot commodity. Texas was knocking at the door, calling him. There were some teams calling Walton, wanting Tim Walton to leave the Gators. Credit to Scott Strickland for knowing what he has in Tim Walton. That’s another team, they get out to Oklahoma City. They don’t finish where they wanted to, but to get to Oklahoma City again is pretty good.

Nick:                         Yeah. There was some questionable calls. I don’t want to feed everyone or reopen that wound, but some questionable calls out in Oklahoma, and I don’t understand. If you’re going to slow down the game by introducing instant replay, then make it extensive. Be able to make the right call on everything, not just we blew that one, but that’s not one of the plays that we can go back and watch.

Andrew:                 When ESPN is calling the umpires out, you know it’s pretty obvious.

Nick:                         Yeah. They don’t do that often, because they pay a lot of money to be there, to be the sole provider, or the sole broadcaster, of those things. They don’t often disagree with things or make waves, but they were there.

Andrew:                 It was bad. It was really bad. Nick, let’s go on. Let’s talk a little football recruiting. Lot of things have went on. Fans are ready to fire Dan Mullen, if you hadn’t got that message yet, Nick.

Nick:                         He fired yet?

Andrew:                 He’s getting close. They got the pitchforks out. Now, they did pick up a commit since the last time we came on, and that was offensive lineman Riley Simmons, out of Buford, Georgia. Big offensive lineman, 6’3”, 324. Guard/tackle kind of guy. Comes from a very prestigious program in Buford, produces a lot of linemen. He’s going to be very technique, fundamentally sound. Is going to be a guy that’s going to come in and work hard and play the game the right way, play the game the way John Hevesy likes. So, again, a good pickup now. Everyone’s going to look at the stars and say, he’s only a three-star.

Nick:                         Mullen’s taking three-stars?

Andrew:                 Yeah. There you go.

Nick:                         Get rid of him. What is this, Mississippi State?

Andrew:                 There you go. Again, a good pickup, a solid pickup. Florida now sits with 10 commits in the class. I think they’re in the high 20s in the country in recruiting rankings and all that good stuff.

Now, move on to the guys that are starting to turn away. Looks like DB Chris Steel out of California likely USC. Micah Pittman, the wide receiver, looks to be leaning towards Oregon, but Florida is still in the mix there. He hasn’t announced yet. The good news is tight end Ethan Ray says he wants to make a mid-summer decision. Looks like Florida is going to be in that one.

While I get the unsettling feeling of some of the guys, big name guys, are starting to go elsewhere. A guy like Nathan Pickering, Nick, you and I talked about him. He was a guy that came on campus, had a lot of high praise, and then he stays in the state of Mississippi and commits to Mississippi State. I understand people starting to worry that these big names that are on the board, the high prized targets, are committing elsewhere. I also will say this. The brand of Florida is still the brand of Florida. There hasn’t been a game to show that things are back yet.

That leads me to my next point. Someone brought this on our message board, and you and I said it was a really good point. Did Dan Mullen underestimate how damaged the brand was when he got to Florida? Right off the top of my head, I would say probably so. Do you agree with that, Nick?

Nick:                         Yeah. Dan Mullen was here for the four most successful years of Florida football. That’s what he knows. Obviously, from afar he is looking, and he can see that Florida went 4-7, they’re going through coaches real quickly. He can see that, but you don’t really know until you’re in it. I think he shows up, and the Florida brand, that Florida logo, does mean something, but it’s like when people were complaining about the football team and saying, this is Florida, this shouldn’t be happening. I say, it’s not the Florida that you’re saying it is. The brand had been damaged by going 4-7, by going 4-8. It’s not the Florida that was winning 10 games a year, and people were complaining about winning only 10 games.

That’s not the same Florida that Dan Mullen is at. It’s why he’s here. If Florida was what Dan Mullen was when he left, then he wouldn’t be here. We’d still have whoever that coach was. I would say that’s a fair thing to say, that he probably underestimated the damage that had been done to the program.

Andrew:                 Yeah. I mean, I will say this. Someone had a good point. They said, what is it? Is it the relationships in state? I will it probably is. Him and his staff don’t have a ton of guys that have a lot of connections in state. They recruited it, but don’t have a ton of connections in state, and maybe that’s an issue. I will say that when you recruit the state of California as heavily as they are recruiting the state of California, you’re going to swing and miss more times than you are successful.

Tongue in cheek, I go back to you’re the University of Florida, and if you want to get back to where you want the University of Florida, which is the Urban Meyer days, the good Steve Spurrier days, you have to recruit the best of the best, whether that’s in Hawaii, whether that’s in California, whether that’s in Nebraska, Oregon, wherever it may be. When you’re the University of Florida, and you’re at the upper echelon, the top pinnacle of the national focus, you have to recruit the best.

Now, that might go back to what we just talked about, in that Dan thought he could go out to California and recruit those guys, because it was the old Florida. Well, it’s not the old Florida, not yet at least. Do I believe Mullen can get Florida back? Yes. I do. I do believe in what Mullen brings to table. Nick, I think you do agree that Mullen is different than the past two. But when you go out to California, and when you go to these states that are very close to national powerhouses, you’re going to swing and miss more than you hit a single.

Nick:                         I do like that. We talked about in the past where the coaching staff maybe weren’t going after guys that they thought they’d have to really battle for, or guys that they didn’t feel great about. I do like that this coaching staff doesn’t care. They understand that they’re going to get some no’s, but that’s fine. That’s not going to stop them from going out and offering and talking to somebody.

Andrew:                 I will say this. You better have a damn good backup plan. That is the thing that I think worries some, that the backup plans maybe aren’t either recruited as hard, or the backup plans just aren’t there. That’s where you got to worry, but I’m with you. You go back to Will Muschamp. He wouldn’t recruit the state of Alabama, because he was afraid of losing. He didn’t recruit Marlin Humphrey. He didn’t recruit Bo Scarborough, because he was afraid of no’s. You’re the University of Florida. You shouldn’t be afraid of a no. Again, be prepared, because a guy like Chris Steel you’re going to miss more often than you get.

It goes back to this point too, Nick. This spring official visit, and I get it, a lot of people are doing that, but when you bring a guy like Chris Steel in early, and he still has time to take that official visit to the hometown team, USC, more than likely it’s not going to be a good idea. USC was the team favored. Then he has a visit at Florida, and he has a high, and he’s talking up Florida. Probably telling Florida what they want to hear, telling USC what they want to hear. Then he takes that official visit to USC. All your momentum is gone. Guess what? July 7th Chris Steel is making a commitment. You put the pieces together. That’s just kind of how it is with these early official visits.

Nick:                         People aren’t going to like to hear this. This might just be my opinion. Chris Steel tweeted that picture out. Sometimes I forget how much I love my city. If I was from LA, I wouldn’t go to Gainesville. That’s a real deal big-time city, and Gainesville is great. I’ve lived here five years now, but I wouldn’t be leaving California for Gainesville, Florida. That’s just me. Listen, you can say it’s a great education. University of Southern California, that’s a great education too.

Andrew:                 Yeah. Listen, there’s a lot of connections at USC, just like there’s a lot of connections at Florida. I don’t know what Chris Steel’s major is going to be, but whatever it may be, when football is over with, if Chris Steel decides he wants a job, you got a good chance of finding a job with a USC alum, just like he does with a Florida alum. I’m not taking anything away from Florida at all. I would say the same thing about a Florida kid going to USC. Why? Again, you know the risk you take when you go out there. Fans should know the risk they take.

I understand that fans say, don’t waste your time out there. You have to, because those are the top kids. You can only recruit a guy so much. Yes, they’re going to be in state recruiting Kaiir Elam, Matt Elam’s younger cousin. You can only go see him twice, so you might as well go out and see Chris Steel twice. You bring him out on a visit. I mean, Florida’s not hurting for the $500-$1,000 they paid for Chris Steel to come out there. You didn’t waste time there but be prepared for a backup plan.

Also, fans should understand that until a California kid is signed, inked, and delivered, it’s not over with. That’s for any out of state guy. We always talk about the Alabama kids, the Georgia kids, that kind of stuff. You always have to remember, the home state school, if they grew up liking that home state school, could be. Now, you have a different story with a guy like Micah Pittman, who grew up in Tampa with his dad playing for the Bucks. That’s a little bit different. You still may lose him to Oregon, but that’s a little bit different in that you didn’t lose him to USC, because that was the home state school. Again, it’s still moving his whole family from California to Florida. It’s a big deal.

Nick:                         You brought this up, and I’ll ask you. Has Mullen and the staff shown that they have those backup plans?

Andrew:                 Not yet.

Nick:                         I agree with you. If you’re going to swing big, you got to have the backup plans.

Andrew:                 I don’t think that the backup plans are in place for guys at defensive back, guys on the defensive line. When you lost Nathan Pickering to Mississippi State, that was huge. That hurt. That was your top guy on the board, and your backup plans are kind of watered down, especially at DB. If the younger Elam doesn’t go to Florida, your backup plan there starts to become lesser guys. Now, are they still good players? Sure. But guys that maybe aren’t as good as those guys. They’re not the Quincy Wilsons, the Jalen Tabors, the Vernon Hargreaves of the world. Let’s face it. You and I have said this before. It’s time to reload at that position with some studs. You’ve got a lot of depth guys there now. You need studs there.

Nick:                         That’s the DBU moniker, that brand, that reputation doesn’t come from not getting those guys like a Quincy Wilson or Jalen Tabor. It comes from getting those top 1% of guys.

Andrew:                 Right. Exactly. It’s a thing of putting the product on the field, for sure. Guys seeing Grantham’s style. Getting back to that presence of being a hard knock defense, a defense that is top program. Also, Nick, and we’ve talked about this before, and our good friend, Chad Wilson, has talked about this before. When do defensive backs get maybe irritable or get to the point where they start to notice that they’re out on an island by themselves, and they need an offense to show up? Is that something that’s pushing Chris Steel away? Possibly.

Nick:                         Maybe. That’s not something I had thought of, I guess.

Andrew:                 I mean, that’s something that could be out there, for sure, and it’s something we’ll have to look at a little bit. One name, Nick, we didn’t talk about, and that’s just my fault, the pickup of Lucas Kruel, the tight end, the former baseball player to Arkansas, that’s going to enroll and be eligible to play this year. I personally like the pickup, Nick. He’s a big physical tight end, a guy that hasn’t played the position in two years, so he’s going to have to knock the rust off, but he’s a red zone target. When you go back and look at Urban and Dan’s offense, that big tight end was big.

Nick:                         Yeah. People know me. I’m not the rah-rah guy. I’m not going to say I like somebody just because they committed. I don’t know about this guy, and it’s only because he hasn’t played football in two years. He’s big, and I’ve seen the workout pictures and videos that his trainer posts, and that’s cool. I can throw up a bunch of weight in the weight room too. It doesn’t mean I’m going to be any good when I get on the football field. But that is a position that needs something. It hasn’t been C’yontai Lewis. Kemore Gamble could be good. He redshirted, and we don’t know what he’ll be in this offense. That’s really all you have. Getting anyone, just getting a warm body is good. I’m just not ready to say that Lucas is going to be an All-SEC kind of guy when he steps on the field in August and September.

Andrew:                 I’m not either. I’m just saying I think it was a good pickup, a big pickup. It’s a guy that, you’re not teaching 6’6”, 6’7”. You’re just not.

Nick:                         You can’t teach that size. Right.

Andrew:                 If he needs a little bit of seasoning, that’s cool. I think it’s kind of like we always say with defensive ends, and that is when they’re young, you tell them one thing. Go get the passer. Maybe Lucas’ job is in the red zone, you go get the ball. We’re going to high point it to you. 6’6”, 6’7”, you’re going to win most of those jump balls. That’s kind of my point. Again, that was my mistake for overlooking him.

Nick, I’m going to give my last thoughts real quick on recruiting, and then we’ll move on and talk a little football. It still is June. June 26th when we’re taping this. There’s time for them to make up. What Mullen and that staff did in December pulling Emory Jones, what they did in January when they pulled Malik Langham out of Alabama, that was no fluke. That was zero fluke. They won those battles against big-time schools. There is potential with this staff. There is a chance to recruit well with this staff.

I say this, and I know it sounds cliché. I know someone’s going to say, I’m tired of hearing that, but put a good product on the field in the fall, recruiting gets better. That’s the same again this year. Put a good product on the field. If Kyle Trask or Emory Jones or Feleipe Franks have a good year at quarterback, playmakers are going to want to come. Mullen’s offense is very intriguing to playmakers, just like Urban’s is very intriguing to playmakers. When you show good product on the field, things will go. When the image and the opinion on Florida changes, recruiting will change.

Nick:                         We’ve been saying that for a couple years now. Even when McElwain was able to get to Atlanta two years, the product wasn’t good. I think you didn’t see the returns as much as you would want in recruiting, because I think people were able to see through it.

Andrew:                 Exactly.

Nick:                         I think we saw through it.

Andrew:                 Yeah. We definitely did.

Nick:                         If I recall at the time, I think we both said, it’s certainly a big deal to get to Atlanta in your first year, but what you learned in Atlanta was that you’re not close.

Andrew:                 Right. I think what we learned the most the second year when you got to Atlanta, and you continued to …

Nick:                         It was even worse.

Andrew:                 Right. Then when you lose as bad as you did to Florida State, when you just didn’t look good against the top caliber teams, that’s when things kind of showed a little bit. Listen, the defense was always good. The offense just never improved. It was a situation where we were talking, it just never did good. It just never improved, and that was a situation that I think we all saw, and that’s the situation we’ll all look at with Dan Mullen.

Now, does getting to Atlanta for Mullen this year, is it a necessity? I don’t think so. I think just showing a good product on the field, showing that you’re better, being competitive against Georgia, being competitive against LSU, being competitive against Florida State. That’s what we’re going to see.

Nick:                         How long before that being competitive needs to be winning games? Do you get one year? Do you get two?

Andrew:                 I would say by next year you better start winning those games. Listen, I don’t think you can go 0-3 in those game. LSU is not a very good football team. Florida State’s not going to be a very good football team. You better win one of three, for sure, two of three for sure. In that Georgia game, you better be at least competitive. You can’t have a laydown like you did last year.

Nick:                         That whole week was a mess.

Andrew:                 It was. I’m just saying you can’t have that happen. We’ll see. Let’s talk about football. You got a couple things you want to talk about. Go ahead.

Nick:                         Yeah. The Jordan brand stuff is starting to come. The first shoe. It’s not going to be Florida-specific stuff. Obviously, the colors will be Florida-specific. Oklahoma will be getting them too. The shoes are what Michigan had last year, what UNC has had for a couple years. The Jordan brand stuff will be coming out in July. I’m sure fans will start jumping on that. I saw Emory Jones posted the Concords, it’s a Jordan shoe. It’s been made into a cleat. You’ve seen some NFL players who are Jordan brand athletes wearing them. Emory Jones had them. That can kind of go into recruiting too. Obviously, Florida’s playing up that recruiting aspect with we’re the only school in the SEC that is a Jordan brand school. I think that’s part of their deal. They will be the only one, at least for a couple years. I think it’s a good look. I like the cleats that I saw, and I like the Jordan brand.

Andrew:                 Things have sort of been leaking.

Nick:                         I’ve never been a big Jordan …

Andrew:                 We lost you there, Nick. We lost Nick. I’m with Nick. I’ve never been a big Jordan fan with football, but it’s cool. It’s different.

Nick:                         Yeah. I think it’s weird watching a football team with a guy dunking a basketball on their logo. I’ve never been a big shoe guy, so I was never really into Jordans, buying them for myself, wearing them. I think it’s a good look. Here’s what it is. A lot of people said, I don’t like this, I don’t like that. It’s not for you. It’s for 17-21 year old kids who are playing football. They like it. If I’m a Gator fan, that’s all I care about. I don’t care if I like the stuff. It’s overpriced, or it’s going to be very expensive. If I don’t like it, good. Save $160 on shoes I don’t like. Kids like it. The Jordan brand is a big thing for kids that Florida’s trying to get.

Andrew:                 Yeah. I’m a big Under Armour guy, Nick. You know that. I’ll say this, Nike is making a comeback on their shoes. Bought my first pair of Nike shoes a couple weeks ago.

Nick:                         That’s shocking. You’ve been very brand loyal to Under Armour, since I’ve known you. Five years.

Andrew:                 Yeah. Under Armour shoes are not as comfortable anymore. They made a little change.

Nick:                         This is a big development.

Andrew:                 I know. I’m breaking some news here on the Gator Country podcast. Like you said, it’s not about us. At the end of the day, if the kids like it. Listen, this is a big recruiting pitch for Florida over a lot of schools. I think it’s a thing where now you can recruit the guys and say, we’re Jordan brand. Same thing Oregon does. Same thing Maryland does, and Auburn uses with Under Armour, that kind of stuff. It helps some. We’ll see.

Nick, give us a quick update, before we get out of here, on the Van Jefferson, Trevon Grimes case.

Nick:                         Van should be good to go. Trevon Grimes, as I’ve said, there’s really no update there. It’s the NCAA has been very inconsistent on how they’ve ruled it, so Florida just has to make their case and send that to the NCAA. There’s no timetable for how long that takes. Whereas once Florida sends in Van’s stuff it’ll be 10 days. There’s really no timetable on Trevon’s case. I fully expect, I would be flabbergasted, and we as reporters would have to do a deep dive if the decision came against Van Jefferson. We’d have to do a deep dive into how that came about. Basically, what I’m saying is I’d be shocked if he weren’t cleared to play from Day 1. It’s still just a waiting pattern for Trevon, because that’s, like I said, the NCAA has ruled very inconsistently on that.

Andrew:                 Right. Exactly. So, there we go. Lot of things talked about on this podcast. We’ll be back next week. Like I said, July 16th is SEC Media Days in Atlanta. Nick and I will be there. That’s kind of the unofficial kickoff to football season. Right now, the dead period’s going on in recruiting, so no visits until July 25th. Then right after that is Friday Night Lights. Things are starting to move in the month of July. We’ll be ready. We’ll be ready to kick things off and get going again. Nick and I have a little bit of a break, but we’ll be back for another podcast. Nick, tell everybody where they can find us. We’ll get out. We’ll see everyone next week.

Nick:                         When is Friday Night Lights?

Andrew:                 July 27th.

Nick:                         Got you. www.GatorCountry.com for all your Florida Gator news. The podcast is there in audio and transcript form. You can also find the podcast on iTunes. Search @GatorCountry. Subscribe there. Have the podcast sent straight to your phone. Never miss an episode. You can find us on social media, @TheGatorCountry on Instagram, @GatorCountry on Facebook and Twitter. I’m @NickdelaTorreGC, and he’s @AndrewSpiveyGC on the Twitter machine.

Andrew:                 There you go. Guys, we appreciate it. As always, chomp, chomp. Go Braves.

Nick:                         You stay classy, Gator Country.

Previous articleRae enjoys Florida Gators visit with a decision possibly coming
Next articleBreakout Watch: Who will step up on Florida Gators defense in 2018?
Andrew Spivey
Andrew always knew he wanted to be involved with sports in some capacity. He began by coaching high school football for six years before deciding to pursue a career in journalism. While coaching, he was a part of two state semifinal teams in the state of Alabama. Given his past coaching experience, he figured covering recruiting would be a perfect fit. He began his career as an intern for Rivals.com, covering University of Florida football recruiting. After interning with Rivals for six months, he joined the Gator Country family as a recruiting analyst. Andrew enjoys spending his free time on the golf course and watching his beloved Atlanta Braves. Follow him on Twitter at @AndrewSpiveyGC.

1 COMMENT

  1. Didn’t the Gators hire several recruiting positions since Stricklin (not Strickland) took over? I recall the main one was from one of the California schools and he was Director of Recruiting or something like that and there were several others with recruiting related titles in their job. What have they brought to the table? We seem to be falling into the familiar position whereby the top recruits all say how much the Gator offer means and how much they like the coaching staff and campus, yet they all commit somewhere else.