With fall camp quickly approaching, the Florida Gators find themselves well under the 85-scholarship maximum. The number currently sits around 78, and head coach Dan Mullen believes that will soon be the norm.
Between the ever-growing enigma of the transfer portal and signees struggling to qualify, the Gators (along with other teams around the country) are left with plenty of spots to fill on the roster.
But there is no denying Florida has faced more issues than most with those two things this summer.
With Brian Edwards’ departure last week, the transfer total has nearly reached double digits at nine.
The dramatic offseason started back in May when the Gators lost Jalon Jones and Chris Steele before the 2019 signees ever played a down. That situation started a domino effect that might finally be slowing down, but left Florida feeling the aftermath.
It’s no surprise Mullen is not the transfer portal’s biggest advocate.
“I read somewhere there’s more kids in the transfer portal than scholarships available,” he said. “That doesn’t make a lot of sense for those kids. Kids are going to be left without and kids are going to be put in a bad situation potentially. It would work out for some and not for others. That’s always a rough deal.”
It is not only leaving some players out to dry, but some programs as well. There is no way to prepare for nine guys to leave during the recruiting process for the incoming class, so it’s all a guessing game.
“I think it’s a new era of college football,” Mullen said. “Unless the NCAA does something to change the rules and let you sign over with guys that are transferring out, it’s going to be hard to have a full roster.”
It’s even harder to have a full roster when so many of those who did sign never even make it to campus.
Diwun Black and Deyavie Hammond both failed to qualify and went the junior college route. Meanwhile, the status of three more are still up in the air.
Mullen seemed quite confident that receivers Arjei Henderson and Dionte Marks are both in good shape to qualify. Florida is just waiting on some final paper work from the NCAA before they are good to go.
Things for Wardrick Wilson are not as bright at the moment. The offensive lineman from the Bahamas is a full academic qualifier, but the issue lies in securing his visa. The Gators simply have to wait and let the legal process play out.
While at least two of the names above seem to be in good standing, all five were in question academically at some point. That begs the question, why take that gamble by signing them in the first place?
It’s not like Mullen and staff didn’t know about their poor grades. He even admitted he did not expect them to qualify, but if they do, it’s a pleasant surprise. Some are just worth the risk.
“There’s a chance for them to make it,” he said. “They want to be Gators. They can still go to junior college and qualify there. They can go to prep school depending on their situation and NCAA eligibility numbers. You know, a lot of it is a guy that you start recruiting a little bit later in his career and you look at his freshman and sophomore grades and they really don’t have much of a chance. But all of a sudden, they pick it up as they move on and you say this guy is going to figure it out and is going to be a good player. I’ve had success with that with junior college players in the past as a head coach.”
He had one notable success story in his back pocket.
“You go back to a Reggie Nelson when I was at Florida,” Mullen said. “He was a guy that wasn’t going to qualify, signed with Florida and went to a junior college and came back to Florida and had a pretty good career.”
So, all hope is not lost for those who haven’t yet made it to Gainesville, but they have a long road ahead.
As far as the deficient scholarship numbers, Mullen did not rule out the possibility of bringing in a transfer, and he also plans to award scholarships to a couple of walk-ons as he did last year.
It may not be ideal, but the Gators must learn to evolve in the new era of college football.