The Gator Country Hot 50: Quarterbacks

The after-glow of a third straight top five recruiting class is still bright up in the coaching offices at the University of Florida but nobody is resting on their laurels. Recruiting is already hot and heavy for the class of 2009 and every day we get a new report of another player receiving or wanting a scholarship offer from the Gators. This is a good time to offer our first Gator Country Hot 50 and over the next couple of weeks we will be introducing each player by position. As you would expect, we’ll start with the quarterbacks.

The Gators are looking to sign at least one quarterback in the class of 2009. They skipped on signing one for the class of 2008, a year that was down at the position anyway. This year there are many more quarterbacks capable of playing at the highest Division I levels and the Gators are actively recruiting several of them.

Currently the Gator Country Hot 50 has three quarterbacks among the list: Tampa Plant’s Aaron Murray (6-1, 198); Houston (TX) Cypress Ridge’s Russell Shepard (6-2, 195); and Miramar’s Eugene Smith (6-2, 175).

Here are individual profiles of the quarterbacks on our first list:

AARON MURRAY: Murray will have his choice of all-star games to play in for the post season. He is as good as it gets when it comes to throwing the deep ball and he had a superb junior season in a program that is rising up the charts in Tampa. Murray put up Tim Tebow-like numbers in high school — 4,012 passing yards and 51 passing touchdowns in 2007 along with 932 rushing yards and 12 rushing touchdowns.

Murray probably looks to be more passer and less the bulldozing runner compared to Tebow but he definitely has all the skills the Florida staff is looking for. Like Tebow, he also was a Gator fan as a youngster. He showed a ton of interest even before he had an offer from Florida.

“Living in Florida I’ve always had a huge interest for the Gators,” Murray said before receiving an offer in late January. “My parents cheer a little for Florida.”

Heisman Trophy winner Tebow will be a junior this season at Florida and either a senior or a first rounder in the NFL by the time Murray hits a college campus. Whichever it is, Tim Tebow is certainly someone Murray pays attention to.

“I like Tim Tebow a lot,” Murray said. “I like his competitiveness, his toughness, and he’s a great leader. There are a couple of practices I went to and I like the way he handles himself on the practice field with different players. I admire his work ethic and everything he does.”

After receiving the offer during a Junior Day in late January, Murray talked a little more about the situation and how he can see himself fitting in.

“I have gotten a lot of good vibes from them and like their quarterback situation and where I would fit in,” said Murray. “It’s a good situation for me because if I go there and red-shirt, I’d be two years behind (John) Brantley and would have at least two years to start. It’s a really good situation if I end up going there, but we are going to look at that in a month or two and focus on what I really want to do.”

RUSSELL SHEPARD: After talking to the ESPN Scouts about Shepard, they believe he is Percy Harvin with an arm. Shepard is so dynamic with his feet you hate to take the ball out of his hands when he wants to throw it, yet that extra dimension of the pass is why every staff that runs a spread offense wants him. He is a true dual threat.

His junior season stats show exactly what the scouts are saying about him: 794 passing yards with eight touchdowns and four interceptions to go with 1,525 rushing yards and 18 touchdowns.

Shepard also liked the Gators early but it seems that LSU has really pulled out in front now on the strength of a national championship and the fact his girlfriend goes to school there. Still, his early respect for Florida, followed by what is looking to be a strong season by the Gators, could mean he continues to look long and hard in the direction of Gainesville. Here is what he said about the Gators just last month.

“I’ve built a relationship with Coach (Dan) Mullen and Urban Meyer,” Shepard said. “I’ve got Coach Meyer’s number in my phone and I give him a call when I have a question about anything like the quarterback position or my grades. Of all the coaching staffs in the country, Florida is the only one where I talk to every coach on the staff. I talk with Coach Meyer, Coach Mullen and the receiver coach (Billy) Gonzales and have real relationships with them all. They come here a lot to talk with my coaches and see how things are going with them. They’ve offered me as a quarterback and want me to play quarterback for them.”

It certainly looks as if the Gators have the young man’s respect.

EUGENE SMITH: He is definitely the least publicized of the three on this list, but Eugene Smith is a dynamic and talented quarterback prospect from south Florida. The ESPN scouts passed on that he looked a lot like Virginia Tech’s Tyrod Taylor in that he is really a drop back quarterback, but has the skills to break away and do some things with his feet if necessary. He has the tools to run the offense at Florida.

A superb passer, Smith passed for 1,597 yards and completed 70 of 115 passes with 21 touchdowns and only three interceptions as a junior. The touchdown to interception ratio certainly shows what a heady player Smith is as he stays out of trouble and does not throw the ball away.

Smith hasn’t talked up the Gators like the other two quarterbacks but did say his father likes the Gators. Regardless, he is an exceptional talent that the Gators will be recruiting hard until the end.

BLAZING A TRAIL TO THE HOT 50: One quarterback that missed the Hot 50 by a fume or two is Chesapeake (VA) Western Branch gunslinger Kevin Newsome (6-3, 210). Newsome is a true dual threat quarterback in that he runs and passes equally well. As a matter of fact, he is absolutely great at doing both. He is also a very intelligent and personable person when away from the game.

As a junior, Newsome had 1,800 yards (1,300 passing and 500 rushing) and 24 touchdowns. He doesn’t have an offer from Florida just yet, but it really seems to be on the short horizon.

He does seem to have some interest in the Gators. He is willing to make a trip on his own dime to see if they are a school he could end up at. The rumors around Gainesville are that Newsome has moved up the board and so, his interest may be even stronger than what he indicated here a couple of weeks ago.

“I am kind of hearing from Florida but they haven’t offered me,” he said. “I think they are going to offer me sooner or later … if Coach (Dan) Mullen (Florida offensive coordinator) wants me to come down there I would be glad to come down and watch some spring ball or do whatever,”

There is our first installment of the quarterback prospects in the Gator Country Hot 50. Keep reading as we go position by position through the other 47, plus the prospects that are ever so close to making the list.