The college basketball season is winding down and that means one thing for most die-hard Florida fans: spring football.
Florida Gators football junkies are itching to see seven talented early entries suit up in the Orange and Blue for the first time. In this piece, Gator Country takes a closer look at each early enrollee and tells fans what to expect from them based on recent history.
Over the past four years, the Gators have had 30 freshman early entries. Eighteen of those players played as true freshmen, while eight started at least one game as a freshman.
Of the 12 early entries who didn’t play as a true freshman, five didn’t play due to injury or transfer.
So is there an advantage to enrolling early?
Absolutely, Muschamp said at his National Signing Day press conference.
“Coming mid-year is great from the standpoint of youíre getting way ahead academically and you’re also getting way ahead from a football standpoint,” he said. “You’re able to have a slowed-down process, going through the offseason program, learning how to work, learning how to work at a championship level, and then getting into spring ball and understanding the schemes and the different things we’re going to ask you to do.”
And if Florida’s last couple classes are any indication, there’s probably at least one true freshman who’s already on campus who will suit up as a starter next year.
Last year, Trey Burton was the only one of the early entries to start a game. And while Florida didn’t have any of its six early entries in 2009 start, three started in 2008 and four started in 2007.
Some of the guys who started as a freshman after enrolling early?
Mike and Maurkice Pouncey, Joe Haden, Aaron Hernandez and Janoris Jenkins.
Simply put, there ís a good chance one of Florida’s youngest players this spring will end up starting in 2011 – and becoming a superstar down the road.
Over the four-year span from 2007 to 2010, three offensive linemen started as a freshman. Two cornerbacks, one quarterback, one tight end and one kicker also started in their first year.
On the other hand, no running backs or defensive linemen early entries have contributed as a freshman over the past four years.
What does that mean for Florida’s current crop of early entries?
It’s probably somewhat indicative of the guys who have a good chance at contributing early.
Most of the guys who contributed in their first year did so thanks to Florida being thin on the depth chart at their position or because they could contribute on special teams.
With Muschamp promising an open competition at quarterback, Hagerty quarterback Jeff Driskel has to be one of the favorites in the early enrollee group to earn some playing time next year.
Also, given Florida’s lack of playmakers at tight end, University Christian tight end A.C. Leonard is a guy who could see the field next year. His play-making ability will give him the chance to make a name for himself this spring. Two of the three tight ends over the past four years have played as a true freshman.
Kicker Kyle Christy, who is also expected to be the Gatorsí punter next year, should contribute right away.
While early enrollee defensive linemen have struggled to contribute early over the past four years, Venice defensive end Clay Burton could buck the trend since there’s almost no depth at the end position.
Finally, Lakeland receiver Javares McRoy is another to watch. While Florida has plenty of play-making receivers with good potential, he could also provide the Gators with a return threat. If he does, his chances of playing increase greatly.
The others, running back Mike Blakely and cornerback Pop Saunders, will have their work cut out for them. Both play positions that Florida is relatively deep at already.
Looking at the impressive list of All-Americans and All-SEC caliber players who had success after enrolling early, one thing is clear.
It takes hard work to contribute right away.
“It’s huge to be able to get a guy mid-year,” Will Muschamp said. “But they have to be totally into it because they’re not going to be able to go to the prom … You have to be all in to want to do this.”
EARLY ENTRIES BY YEAR
QB Trey Burton
WR Robert Clark
WR Solomon Patton
TE Gerald Christian
LB Neiron Ball
CB Jaylen Watkins
SS Matt Elam
2010 REDSHIRTS OR TRANSFERS
OT Ian Silberman
OL Leon Orr
CB Josh Shaw
SS Jordan Haden
LB Jon Bostic
LB Dee Finley
OC Nick Alajajian
OG Jonotthan Harrison
TE Desmond Parks
OT Matt Patchan
CB Janoris Jenkins
PK Caleb Sturgis
DE Earl Okine
LB Brendan Beal
CB Jeremy Brown
OL Maurkice Pouncey
OL Mike Pouncey
TE Aaron Hernandez
CB Joe Haden
QB Cam Newton
SS Ahmad Black
RB Chris Rainey
WR Paul Wilson