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Gators' recruiting class belies the late jump
A new staff has more than salvaged the season, shocking analysts.
By ANTONYA ENGLISH
Published January 27, 2005
GAINESVILLE - By the time Florida coach Urban Meyer and his staff officially took over Jan. 3, they had less than one month to try to salvage the recruiting class, and clearly Florida had issues.
Former coach Ron Zook was fired Oct. 25 but remained with the team until its final regular-season game, leaving recruits dangling with uncertainty until Meyer was hired Dec. 7. Meyer didn't officially take over until after he coached his former Utah team to a victory in the Fiesta Bowl and an undefeated season.
Two weeks ago it appeared to many recruiting analysts as if saving the class might be a lost cause. How quickly things can change in the world of college recruiting.
After a surprising weekend in which the Gators picked up five oral commitments, all of whom had committed to other schools, things are looking up for UF.
"I'll be honest. I've been covering recruiting since 1992 and you never see teams do that well in recruiting when they have that short a recruiting window," said Jamie Newberg, national recruiting analyst for Scout.com. "But Urban Meyer might dispel my little theory because I think they are going to finish up pretty strong, and perhaps in the top 10. I'm going to have to eat crow, but I call it like I see it and I might have been wrong on that.
"Last weekend was huge," Newberg added. "Not only did they get five kids, but they are going to get more commitments out of it. They've got a lot of momentum now that's been built up that's going to go into the final week and the final push of the season."
The momentum continues. Late Tuesday night running back Kesthan Moore of Arlington (Texas) Mansfield Summit became Florida's 16th oral commitment. Moore (5 feet 11, 196 pounds) chose Florida over Arizona State, Oklahoma State, Wisconsin and Texas A&M. In 11 games last season, he had 132 carries for 1,256 yards and 12 touchdowns, and he is rated the 29th-best running back in the nation by Scout.com and is a member of the Scout.com Texas and Southwest Top 100.
The Gators are ranked No. 17 by Scout.com and No. 15 by recruiting service Rivals100.com, both improved from last week.
But it hasn't been as easy as it might seem, the coaches said. All have jumped in late after spending the past months recruiting for other schools.
"It has been a little awkward, No. 1 because all this time I've been recruiting for N.C. State," said John "Doc" Holliday, former associate with the Wolfpack who has recruited the South Florida area for more than two decades. "Then all of a sudden ... you walk in and you've got on blue and orange, and trust is a big factor in recruiting. ... I've tried to be honest with the kids. I told them I'm here for one reason, and that's to win a national championship, and that's why I think they ought to come here, too."
Several of Florida's assistants said what has made the process easier is Florida itself.
"Recruiting is really all about selling a product," co-defensive coordinator Greg Mattison said. "When you're a recruiter, you have to believe in the product. You have to know all the ins and outs of the product to be able to sell it and believe it. So selling or presenting the University of Florida to young men is not a hard job."
New Florida receivers coach Billy Gonzales said having Meyer as head coach is another huge recruiting tool, which Newberg agrees with.
"They love him," Newberg said, referring to athletes he has talked with. "He has a lot of similarities of Ron Zook in that regard: his energy and passion for the game, for life, for the kids. The interesting thing is with those five verbals, all those kids had previously committed elsewhere. Usually you can turn a player or two, but to turn five all in one night, that was pretty neat."
Florida's approach also has been unusual. With one coach remaining from the previous staff (co-defensive coordinator Charlie Strong), its focus shifted.
"Yeah, they are recruiting a lot of the same players that the old staff was," Newberg said, "but they are also bringing in players that weren't necessarily on the Florida board before, but they were on the boards of where these coaches came from, so the relationship is there a little bit."