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Zook has time to gain ground

Florida's commitment list isn't rated highly but this week could alter that.

By ANTONYA ENGLISH, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 3, 2002


GAINESVILLE -- From the moment Steve Spurrier announced his resignation one week before spring recruiting season, the biggest concern for Florida was how the decision would affect the program.

Especially recruiting.

Keeping the players already on the roster and convincing others who were considering the program to maintain their interest became a top priority.

It was one of the primary factors that drove athletic director Jeremy Foley's decision to find a replacement within one week of Spurrier's departure.

"There was one week left in the dead period (when coaches are not allowed to visit recruits) and that's why we had to have a plan," Foley said. "When Steve told me he was leaving, I felt it was crucial to have a coach on board quickly, for the players who were already here, and by the time the recruiting period began."

When Foley hired former Florida defensive coordinator Ron Zook, who has no head-coaching experience, longtime Gators panicked, worried that potential recruits would immediately head for rival schools.

Now, with three days until national signing day, at least one national recruiting analyst said the Gators are in good shape though they have commitments from just 11 players.

"It's definitely shaping up to be close to a top 20 class, which is all you can ask for," said Tom Lemming, a national recruiting analyst who writes for ESPN and USA Today.

"They are one of the teams that could wind up a surprise, because they still have some big names they are in on and you just never know where they are going to fall until the end. Some may even change their minds and switch to Florida by Wednesday. Almost all of the (big-name) players wait until the last few weeks of recruiting."

Zook, who hosted his first group of recruits two days after he was hired, made trips to his former recruiting base in Jacksonville and convinced wide receiver Reggie Lewis, to switch from LSU to Florida. Tallahassee Lincoln quarterback Gavin Dickey made his official visit while Spurrier was at the helm, but Zook convinced him Gainesville was still where he wants to be.

"I've known Ron Zook a long, long time," said David Wilson, Dickey's high school coach. "He came in and really made a good impression on Gavin."

Florida's class is currently ranked No. 44 in the Rivals100.com school rankings, but that's mostly because the Gators have signed so few players, Lemming said.

Florida's class can be considered more quality than quantity.

The Gators have received commitments from four of Rivals100.com's top 100 players. Of UF's 11 commitments, Rivals100.com rates one a five-star, six are four-stars and three are three-stars. DeShawn Wynn of Cincinnati, considered one of the top five running backs in the nation, is among those.

But the Gators have lost some big names too, most recently Jacksonville White defensive tackle Chris Turner, who chose Florida State.

"I had predicted in USA Today back the day (Zook) got the job that it won't be a typical great class because when you have a coaching change that late, especially losing a guy like Spurrier, it's going to have an affect on a lot of the top kids," Lemming said. "And it did; they've lost some top guys, but they've gotten some back."

Of the 16 recruits scheduled to visit Florida Saturday and today several had committed to other schools. But they were reconsidering after meeting with the Gators staff. Quarterback Patrick Dosh of Richmond, Va., committed to Virginia Tech, but because new Florida offensive coordinator Ed Zaunbrecher was recruiting him while at Marshall, Dosh agreed to make a visit to Gainesville.

While Florida must replace standout receivers Jabar Gaffney and Reche Caldwell, who left early for the NFL, it also has defensive holes to fill: cornerback Lito Sheppard, end Alex Brown and tackle Andra Davis, to name a few.

Only two of its commitments are on defense, but several defensive players made visits this weekend.

"Even now, their class is good," Lemming said. "But now they still have to fill out. They are definitely not top 10, probably not even a top 15, but they are close to a top 20 team and if they get five, six or seven more big-time players, they will be right up in there."

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