The first shot rang out to the recruiting world on the first recruiting weekend in January when Urban Meyer and the Florida Gators were able to entice five-star defensive end and USC commitment Everson Griffen to visit Gainesville on an official recruiting visit. A week earlier and Scout.com’s current number one player in the nation would have said thanks but no thanks.
Expect there will be more like Griffien. The sell is actually pretty easy. Come and play for the reigning National Champions and the two-time National Coach of the Year. Come to a place where the playing time is available and abundant. Come to a place where the coaching staff has proven it can make players play better than they ever have before. Come to a place where you will get your degree and be proud of it. All of this is now a proven track record for the Florida Gators and this current coaching staff.
Griffen left Gainesville still committed to the Trojans, but he also has an understanding of the need at his position and just what it is like in the nation’s new “Title Town.” The Gators only have seven to eight more prospects to commit in the class of 2007, but it is no secret that playing time is available for prospects that are the best at their positions. The Gators lose quite a few starters from the National Championship team and that gives Florida’s staff quite a lure when they call the nation’s best prospects.
The Gator staff now also has a track record of letting the young guys play. College quarterbacks for the most part are hesitant to play true freshmen, but when in a position like the Gators were in this year, the staff decided to use whatever talent they could use to make a championship team. The plan worked to perfection.
The Gators lose 22 seniors this year including most likely nine starters on defense. With all of that experience, the staff was still able to play 27 freshmen including many in key situations and several starts among them. With all of the starters gone from the championship team, selling playing time as a freshman is easy for the staff and it should pay off with the last remaining spots.
Let’s talk about some specifics.
Starting quarterback Chris Leak is gone and behind him on the 2006 roster was only Tim Tebow, the freshman all-American. The Gators have done great for themselves this season bringing in three quarterbacks with two already enrolled and ready to compete in the spring. Cameron Newton and Bryan Waggener add immediate depth while Gatorade Player of the Year John Brantley is waiting to sign in February and enroll in June.
With the loss of starter DeShawn Wynn and his 2000-plus career yards, the Gators have an easy sell at the running back spot. No one behind Wynn has ever stepped up to be “the next guy.” The Gators have two big time running back prospects already committed including one that is already enrolled in Bo Williams. Jitterbug and five-star running back Chris Rainey marks another good one that is committed and he has a chance to play right away as well with his special skills. The Gators have played a true freshman running back in each of the last two years (Kestahn Moore and Mon Williams). Look out for the Gators to go for another big time running back if they can get him to go with these two.
The Gators lose three senior receivers to graduation including two starters in Dallas Baker and Jemalle Cornelius. The Gators showed their willingness to spread the ball around before the national audience last Monday night and that means that receiver prospects know that if they are on the field, the ball could be coming their way. Two commitments already on campus are Paul Wilson and Joe Haden. Bert Reed is a third and is due in June. The staff played three true freshmen receivers in 2006 in Percy Harvin, Jarred Fayson, and Riley Cooper. The Gators are looking to bring in one or two more to make an impact right away on offense.
Tight end Cornelius Ingram had a great game in the championship and probably made commitment Aaron Hernandez smile with anticipation as he will be the only tight end in the Gator class. Hernandez is already enrolled and will participate in spring drills at the University of Florida.
The Gators are not losing much on the offensive line this year and so it was not a priority to land numbers on the line. All the Gators went out and got were two of the top three linemen in the entire south in the Lakeland twins, Michael Pouncey and Maurkice Pouncey. The other top lineman in the south is Tim Tebow’s former teammate and current USC commitment James Wilson. Wilson is planning on visiting the Gators next weekend.
One position that the Gators have done well so far, but are still in need of two more is on the defensive line. The Gators lose four of their top five defensive linemen (Ray McDonald, Steven Harris, Joe Cohen and Jarvis Moss) coming off one of the greatest performances ever by a D-line in the national championship game. Linemen should be salivating at the chance to play like the Gators did up front against Ohio State on Monday.
The Gators have four big time players committed in Torrey Davis, Sidell Corley, Jay Howard, and Duke Lemmens. There is a huge group of names still bandied about for the final two spots and look for the Gators to have a surprise or two show up at the doorstep for official visits, much like Everson Griffen. The line is not where you usually play young guys, but the Gators still played two true freshmen in 2006 on the defensive line (Brandon Antwine and Jermaine Cunningham). If there was one position that the needs have not been met yet, it is on the defensive line.
The Gators will also have to replace all three starting linebackers from the National Championship team. Earl Everett, Brandon Siler, and Brian Crum all played well in the game and the attacking scheme the Gators used all season is an attractive one for linebacker recruits. Steve Wilks and John Jones are two athletic linebackers that will need some time to grow. Again, showing their willingness to play young players, the Gators played two true freshmen linebackers in 2006 in Brandon Spikes and Dustin Doe. This is a position the Gators would need to sign at least one and would love to sign two more in the 2007 class.
The secondary is also taking a big hit from the 2006 season. Three starters will be gone (Reggie Nelson, Ryan Smith, and Reggie Lewis) including both starting cornerbacks. The Gators have a commitment from all-American safety/linebacker Lorenzo Edwards and cornerbacks Ahmad Black, DeMarcus Van Dyke, and Justin Grant are all four-star talents. Wondy Pierre-Louis and Markihe Anderson are two true freshmen cornerbacks that played a great deal in the 2006 season. The Gators are looking to land another two players in the secondary from the list they already have committed.
At punter, out goes All-SEC punter Eric Wilbur and in comes the nations top punter prospect in Chas Henry. The Gators should be set here for four more years.
It is plain and simple; the numbers are there for quantity and quality to commit to the Gators. The playing time is available for top talent to come in and play right away. The staff now has a tremendous track record of playing young players and in fact don’t have a choice at many positions to do so.
The Gators will be getting looks from superstar talent that they were previously not getting looks from. Right now it is too early to figure out who those prospects are and where they will come from, but you can count on it happening. Getting them to look is more than half the problem, once that is solved, the Gators will land a surprise or two before it is said and done.