14 Days To NSD: Where’s The Suspense?

Darn that Urban Meyer. Here it is two weeks until National Signing Day and he’s just taken all the agony and suspense out of it. He’s got nine of his signing class already in school and another 14 committed and get this — six of those guys are five stars (by Scout.com) and another 14 of them are four star guys. You could make a pitch that the other three guys deserve a fourth star, too.

So where is his sense of tradition? Does the man not understand anything at all about National Signing Day? Does he even have a clue that this is the Super Bowl recruitaholics? Does he not know that what he’s done is the Super Bowl equivalent of scoring 34 first half points and putting the game out of reach by halftime? Wait a second … doesn’t that sound vaguely familiar?

There aren’t those midnight runs to Albertson’s for another quart of Maalox since there is no longer any recruiting intrigue. We’re hearing that folks are actually accomplishing something at work in January rather than spending every spare moment trolling the Gator Country boards for the latest twist and turn on the recruiting scene.

Word is that people are going to sleep at a reasonable hour, too, instead of staying up until 3 a.m. in the chat room talking recruiting with a couple hundred of their best buddies. This used to be a rite of January, sort of a Gator fan’s initiation into a new year. You know how it went — Christmas is over, New Year’s we have a football game and then the day after it’s straight to recruiting and you don’t leave your chair or your computer except to sleep, eat and maybe shower for the next four weeks.

Well, you can forget those days and it’s all Urban Meyer’s fault. Where is the man’s sense of drama?

Instead of holding recruitaholics hostage for all of January, he and his staff had most of the class of 2007 in place before the Gators went out to Arizona to vanquish the Buckos. The morning after the Gators were the official kings of college football, there were nine brand new Gators taking their first classes in Gainesville, one juco quarterback and eight high school studs.

Now before we go any further here, think about it … nine early enrollees. Maybe that isn’t a record but it has to be close if it isn’t. Those are nine that will have a head start on the rest of the recruiting class because they’ll have mat drills to instill some toughness and they’ll have a full semester under Mickey Marotti and Matt Balis to toughen them up and add some pounds of muscle. Plus, they’ll have the advantage of spring practice. They will be light years ahead of the rest of the recruit class that will be arriving in Gainesville in the summer.

Florida’s place in the recruiting rankings is pretty secure and it looks like number one will be bolted down and welded into place by the middle of next week (hint, hint, hint … look for a couple more big timers to commit in the next seven days), marking the second straight finish at the top in recruiting. The Gators have had some big time recruiting classes in the past, but never have they put two together like the one they had last year and the one that is about to be completed in a week or two.

So since there isn’t much drama left, let’s take a quick look at who’s in and who might get in to finish up the class. Here’s how it could close out:

QUARTERBACK: With Bryan Waggener (juco) and Cameron Newton in school and John Brantley on the way, this is the best quarterback class in the nation.

RUNNING BACK: With Bo Williams already in school and Chris Rainey on the way, the Gators have a running back class that will easily rank among the nation’s best. Noel Devine is still on the board and Florida is still very much in play here no matter what you might hear on another board. He’s a longshot to qualify anywhere and if he goes prep school, that will factor heavily in Florida’s favor.

WIDE RECEIVER: Joe Haden and Paul Wilson are already in school. On the board are Ahmad Paige, Deonte Thompson and Terrance Toliver. The guess here is that Paige is definite. Thompson says he’s going to be a Gator to people close to him so all we can do is trust that UF gets the fax on signing day. Toliver? If he wants to be a Gator, somehow they’ll find room in the class. A class of Haden, Wilson, Paige and Thompson would be as good as it gets. Throw Toliver in that mix and we’re talking disgustingly good, probably the best in the country by a wide margin.

TIGHT END: The number one tight end in the country is already enrolled. Aaron Hernandez is going to be a good one. No need for another.

OFFENSIVE LINE: James Wilson, Michael Pouncey and Maurkice Pouncey are not only the best three offensive linemen in the state of Florida, they’re as good as they get in the country. The Pounceys would have been the best two offensive linemen in San Antonio if they had been there for the US Army All-American Bowl. Figure this one is closed out and Florida will have a top five OL class.

DEFENSIVE LINE: This is getting fun. Jay Howard, Sidell Corley, Duke Lemmens, Torrey Davis and Carlos Dunlap give Florida the top defensive line class in the country but there are two more names on the board. One of them is big John Brown of Lakeland. He is visiting Florida this weekend and there are rumblings that he’s not about to let his six best buddies from Lakeland spend the next four years in Gainesville without him. Will he qualify? That’s the big question but there is a stream of thought from some pretty good sources that Big John is willing to do a sign and place if necessary. The other DL prospect is juco Tommie Duhart of Belle Glade, who is a Gator legacy. If Brown is a sign and place then Duhart definitely comes into play. This is what you call re-loading.

LINEBACKER: Lorenzo Edwards, Steven Wilks and John Jones are in the fold and there’s room for one more. Chad Jones is in the hunt and it’s down to Florida and LSU. This one is hard to figure since he lives a stone’s throw from the LSU campus and he’s a serious major league baseball prospect as a power hitter. Do the Gators risk a spot for someone that might take the baseball bucks? The other name is Brandon Hicks of Jacksonville. The guess here is that Hicks announces this week for UF. Because Edwards and Wilks played safety in high school, this group might not get a high ranking nationally, but all three of these guys can play.

CORNERBACK: Ahmad Black is already in school (already gained 10 pounds of muscle since the end of high school football season too) and Bert Reed, Justin Grant and DeMarcus Van Dyke are all committed. The only concern here is Van Dyke who says he’s definitely a Gator but the folks down in south Florida think he’ll decommit the Gators and recommit Miami, the school he was committed to before he decommitted and committed to the Gators. Confused? You should be and from the sound of it, so is DVD. Still on the board is Ronald Johnson of Muskegon, Michigan. Rumor has it he’s visiting this weekend. Could he be the insurance policy if Van Dyke bolts? Consider this a solid, very athletic group and if the Van Dyke commit holds, then UF should rank in the top ten at this position.

SAFETY: There are two names on the board here, Major Wright of St. Thomas Aquinas and juco All-American Nevin McKenzie. The guess is that Florida gets one of the two and calls it a wrap. Wright is the ideal because you figure to get at least three years out of him instead of the two from the juco, but considering the last juco safety — that Reggie guy … Nelson? — and what he did, nobody should complain if McKenzie is the man. The guess here is that Wright commits to Florida when he visits next weekend.

PUNTER: Chas Henry is committed and he’s the best in the country.

If all this holds, when the faxes arrive signing day you’ll be able to put together what should be close to a two-deep roster that’s about as impressive a group as Florida’s ever had when you combine the 2007s with the class of 2006. The Gators could very well have the deepest, fastest, most talented roster top to bottom that they’ve ever had.

And just think about it. This is just Urban Meyer’s third recruiting class. Remember all those folks that said he’d never out-recruit the School Out West or the folks down south? They said he’d wilt when he went toe to toe with the big boys for recruits. Those same folks said he could never win big at UF and that he could never win with that offense in the SEC.

Wonder what they’re saying now? Better yet, wonder what they’re going to be saying in two weeks?

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Franz Beard
Back in January of 1969, the late, great Jack Hairston, then the sports editor of the Jacksonville Journal, called me on the phone one night and asked me if I wanted to work for him. I said yes. The entire interview took 30 seconds. It's my experience that whenever the interview lasts 30 seconds or less, I get the job. In the 48 years that I've been writing and getting paid for it, I've covered Super Bowls, World Series, NCAA basketball championships, BCS championship games, heavyweight title fights and what seems like thousands of college football, baseball and basketball games. I'm a columnist and special assignments editor for Gator Country once again, writing about the only team that ever mattered to me, the Florida Gators.