PD’s Postulations: Recruiting hits & misses

In the fourth and final installment of my “Breaking Down the Class” series that analyzed the 2013 Baby Gators, I reviewed the ones that got away — the players that Florida pursued and looked to have a good shot at signing but fell just short in the end. I tried to give solid educated opinion on whether these misses were critical losses or just foregoing some pieces that would have been nice to have but were not essential to the class or the program. The Gators’ past is littered with names of high profile recruits who had Florida fans drooling for their services, had Gators coaches convinced they were coming to Gainesville and had the terrible lack of judgment or common sense not to join the good guys in Title Town. Some have come back to haunt Florida; some have not. Following is a sampling of some of the more notable close misses or defected commitments over the years, and how the losses affected Florida.

Demar Dorsey was a Florida commit and part of the class of 2010 No Fly Zone until Florida pulled his offer following significant off-field issues. He then silently committed to FSU before publically committing to Michigan. The Wolverines however would not admit him when they investigated the same three felony charges that lost him his invite to Gainesville. He tried to commit to Louisville but they rejected him based on grades. He wound up at little Grand Rapids Community College where he only lasted a year before quitting. He then committed to play for Hawaii, but the NCAA would not clear him to play in 2012 so he fell all the way to Arizona Western College. Dorsey is the poster boy for missed stars turning out to be dodged bullets.

Kevin Faulk chose LSU after heavily flirting with the Gator staff in 1995, and went on to be the second-most prolific running back in SEC history in terms of total yards. But he went 1-3 against Florida. Three of Faulk’s years, the Gators had Fred Taylor in the backfield, and all four years of Faulk’s career, UF was handing off to Terry Jackson, so while UF could have used someone of Faulk’s talents, they did not want for great running backs. Faulk was not instrumental to LSU’s one win, rushing for just 78 yards and no scores — while Fred Taylor found the end zone three times that night.

Peyton Manning came down to UF vs UT, but chose Tennessee in 1994 ultimately because he wanted to start as a freshman and not sit behind Danny Wuerffel for three years. Though he backed into an SEC title in his senior year, he famously went 0-4 against the Gators.

Nick Maddux & Anquan Boldin Both committed to Spurrier over the phone the night before signing day in February 1999 and abruptly signed with FSU the next day without ever contacting the Florida staff again. Boldin said he chose FSU because they told him that he would play quarterback, whereas Spurrier was clear that he wanted Boldin as a receiver. But as is their wont, FSU was lying to him and switched him to wide receiver the day he hit campus. Though the pair went 3-1 against the Gators, Maddux never made a dent in Florida (or anyone else), and Boldin only hurt the Gators in 2002, grabbing eight passes for 101 yards and two touchdowns in a blowout that did not require his attendance.

Marcus Williams was the lone out of state commitment for Florida in the class of 1993. After raiding Georgia for its top-rated linebacker Dexter Daniels the year before, Florida had earned another big linebacker coup in Williams. That is until he de-committed on the last weekend and signed with Georgia. This was in the dawning of the Spurrier dominance of the UF-UGA series, so any border war at this time was reason for serious fan investment. However, Williams was never heard from again and the Dawgs went on to lose the next four in a row to Florida in mostly UGA-ly fashion.

Amp Campbell, Robert Newkirk & Plaxico Burress Campbell was a first-team USA Today All-USA selection at cornerback in 1994, and committed to Florida out of Sarasota Riverview, the school that also produced legendary Gators cornerback — and Amp’s cousin — Larry Kennedy. However, Florida could not hold his commitment due to his grade issues that projected him in the eyes of UF Admissions not to qualify by UF’s academic standards, which as many have been reminded the last few years are higher than the NCAA’s standards. Turns out Florida was right to be concerned, as Amp redshirted and then sat out his second year due to lack of academic progress. An injury before his senior year and a subsequent NCAA waiver allowed him to play the 1999 season to complete his career. Burress was an academic casualty for the Gators in 1996, telling everyone who would listen that he was Gainesville bound (in the process costing Florida a shot at a couple of big time receivers it was targeting) but he unable to ever get a committable offer or even a visit due to his grades. In the 1995 year between them, defensive tackle Robert Newkirk sought to continue Florida’s then-unbreakable Bell Glades pipeline, but his brief UF commitment was turned out due to bad grades as well. All three of them wound up signing with Michigan State, a poster child program for taking any good player that can’t gain admission to other schools. The latter of the two were signed by a coach well known for shady recruiting practices, Nick Saban. It is not often a Gator fan has to worry about ever facing a player who defects to Michigan State, but as luck would have it, the three faced the Gators in the 1999-2000 Citrus Bowl, less than a week after Saban skipped town to coach LSU, another repeated practice for which he is famous. Newkirk and Campbell both had average games, with Campbell’s main highlight being plowed under and flipped into the air by receiver Travis Taylor on his way to a Gator touchdown. However, future NFL and Super Bowl star Burress caught a career-high 13 passes for 185 yards and three touchdowns, vaulting the Spartans to a last-second victory and Plaxico into an early NFL draft entry.

Marcus Stroud committed to UF in the class of 1996, then flipped to UGA on signing day, a move made famous by the SI cover on which he appeared tearing off a Florida jersey to show a Georgia jersey underneath. He went 1-4 against Florida in his five-year career, 1-3 in his playing career and rarely made a play in the rivalry. He was not instrumental in the one win and was never the prolific defensive end in college that he was expected to be, though he had a nice NFL career.

Tony Cochran signed with UF in 1994, another big get from the state of Georgia, but did not qualify. Florida placed him at Middle Georgia Junior College, where he stayed committed to UF until flipping on the last weekend to Georgia in the class of 1995. He was another meaningless loss, going 1-3 against UF, and did not impact the one win.

Bert Reed was committed to Florida for the class of 2007 and told by the UF coaches not to visit FSU on the final weekend. But he did and summarily flipped to FSU. He was told by new FSU offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher that he was going to play the “Percy position,” which is ironic because the Percy position was only being used at the time at Florida…by Percy Harvin. Reed went 2-3 over his five-year FSU career, averaging two meaningless receptions in the two wins.

Greg Reid was Florida’s first verbal commitment in 2009, but a couple weeks before signing day he de-committed and eventually signed with FSU over Georgia and Alabama. He finished 2-2 in his career against Florida, though he never reached the final game after being kicked out of school last year. In the 2011 game, Reid had two Gator passes thrown right to him, one of which led to a touchdown, but that Gator team was determined not to score that day, so it hardly matters what he did. Reid’s biggest contribution to the Florida-FSU rivalry was his immortal whiffing of an attempted tackle on Aaron Hernandez, on A-Hern’s way to a touchdown in the 2010 Gator blowout victory. The comical display was further immortalized by a helpful fan who set the low-light reel to the Benny Hill theme song and posted it online. If you have not seen it, simply search YouTube with the phrase “Greg Reid vs. Aaron Hernandez, AKA “Oops- Forgot Something” and enjoy one of the greatest results of a lost commitment in Gator history.

David Boston Speaking of the greatest miss in Florida history. Most already know the story by reading the name. He was Steve Spurrier’s top receiving target for the class of 1996, but he slipped away to John Cooper and Ohio State. It was one of many hard cuts Spurrier took at the state of Texas without making contact, ultimately leading to his abandoning the state completely. Boston was seen as a huge miss in a year when the Gators were only able to sign Craig Dudley and Ian Skinner at the position. However, at the end of that same year, Florida was set up to replay FSU in the Sugar Bowl with a chance to win its first national title — poised in position to return the favor that FSU had dealt them in Tallahassee in November that dropped them from Number One in the land — if only Ohio State could knock off Arizona State in the Rose Bowl the night before. Well, as the minutes of that Rose Bowl contest wound down, Jake “The Snake” Plummer led the Sun Devils on an unlikely comeback to take the lead and apparently douse Florida’s chances. If the Gators beat FSU, it would be Arizona State flying the national title flag. But with what few seconds were left, Ohio State raced down the field and David Boston ended it all by cradling the winning touchdown in his hands in Pasadena. For the Gators, as they say, the rest is history. Boston, by the way, went on to play in the NFL, the CFL and then the PBCPL. That’s the Palm Beach County Penal League, where he served six months in jail for punching a woman.

Josh Harvey-Clemons was a five-star linebacker that Gator fans felt dealt a tectonic blast to UF’s recruiting reputation when the heavy Gator lean signed with Georgia last February. Just a few months later, he narrowly missed arrest on weapons charges that got Isaiah Crowell dismissed from the team. A physical ‘tweener, he played mostly on special teams in 2012 and is now a man without a position, being bounced around between outside linebacker, safety and inside linebacker.

James Wilder, Jr. was another Gator lock who somehow wound up going to FSU in the class of 2012. But if the 2012 UF-FSU game is any indication, Florida got the best of the running back battle that year, signing Matt Jones who ran wild in the late stages of that game. Meanwhile Wilder was given a number of carries and appeared to be at best serviceable but nothing special. And hopefully the blowout Gator win will repeat in the remaining three years of his career as well.
The Flip Side

So, while there have been mixed results over the years, the vast majority of the late flippers and National Signing Day “misses” do nothing to hurt the Gators over their careers and given the great success Florida has had over the last 22 years, their absence has not hurt the Gators too terribly much, either.

On the other side, here is just a sampling of Florida signees since 1992 that had been committed to other schools but were flipped to the Gators and went on to be excellent players to super stars for the orange and blue:

S Lawrence Wright, 1992 (signed with Miami in 1991; Thorpe Award winner)
RB Fred Taylor, 1994 (committed to FSU; All-SEC 1; Ray Graves Award, 1st Round NFL)
RB Terry Jackson, 1994 (committed to Duke; Academic All-American)
DT Reggie McGrew, 1995 (committed to FSU, signed with UF several days after signing day after a few nights of stomach pains and vomiting at the thought of not signing with Florida; 1st Round NFL)
LB Jevon Kearse, 1995 (committed to Notre Dame; All-American 1, SEC Defensive POY; 1st Round NFL)
OT Zach Piller, 1995 (signed with Georgia Tech in 1994, played there 1 year; James W Kines Award)
DL Derrick Chambers, 1996 (committed to Tennessee; 3-year starter)
WR John Capel, 1998 (committed to Miami; Olympics star)
OT Jon Colon, 2000 (signed a Letter of Intent to both Florida and Miami and needed an NCAA executive decision to release him to play for Florida; 3-year starter)
LB Travis Carroll, 1999 (signed with Alabama in 1997, played there 1 year; UF’s Most Outstanding Linebacker in 2000)
DT Marcus Thomas, 2003 (committed to FSU; SEC All-Freshman)
LB Ryan Stamper, 2005 (committed to Auburn; 2-year starter)
DE Justin Trattou, 2007 (committed to Notre Dame; 3-year starter)
C Maurkice Pouncey, 2007 (committed to FSU; Rimington Trophy, James W Kines Award; 1st Round NFL)
OG/C Mike Pouncey, 2007 (committed to FSU; 1st Round NFL)
DT Omar Hunter, 2008 (committed to Notre Dame; SEC All-Freshman)
S Matt Elam, 2010 (committed to FSU; All-American 1)
DE Dante Fowler Jr, 2012 (committed to FSU; Freshman All-America)

There were certainly some other Gator flips who had less impact on the program, but that is a very impressive list of players that Gator coaches spanning four different regimes turned to Gainesville. This year Will Muschamp’s crew flipped at least eight players who had been committed to other schools: Demarcus Robinson (Clemson), Trenton Brown (Georgia), Jarran Reed and Darious “Bear” Cummings (both Ole Miss), Alex Anzalone (Notre Dame and Ohio State), Jarrad Davis (Auburn), Matt Rolin (South Carolina) and Johnny Townsend (Ohio State). Those are all upper crust programs other than Ole Miss, and their new skipper Hugh Freeze clearly recruits like an elite program coach. What impact these players will have on the Florida program remains to be seen, but with so many in one year, and with resumes like theirs, it is a good bet we will see quite a few of these players making a big league mark on the Gator team. It will be fun to watch it all unfold. Until then, remember that every day is a gift, that’s why they call it the present.

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David Parker
One of the original columnists when Gator Country first premiered, David “PD” Parker has been following and writing about the Gators since the eighties. From his years of regular contributions as a member of Gator Country to his weekly columns as a partner of the popular defunct niche website Gator Gurus, PD has become known in Gator Nation for his analysis, insight and humor on all things Gator.