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UF staff established solidly in just a year

This year's recruiting class came together thanks to coaches who came to the Gators with a national base.

By ANTONYA ENGLISH
Published January 29, 2006


GAINESVILLE - In one year's time, the Florida football staff has become a textbook example of what college football recruiting is about.

Time. Strategy. Nurturing and building relationships.

By the time Urban Meyer assembled a staff, coached Utah in the Fiesta Bowl and made it to Gainesville last January, his primary mission was to keep any players that were still interested in the Gators.

One year later, going into signing day on Wednesday, Florida is expected to land what many analysts say will be the No. 1 class in the nation.

"The most important thing is we've had a complete year to be able to put everything in place that we wanted to as far as recruiting," co-defensive coordinator Greg Mattison said. "We had ... our own clinic here where the high school coaches in the surrounding states and especially in Florida had a chance to get to know our coaching staff, which were all new other than Charlie Strong. We then had a couple of camps where the top kids in the state and in the area had a chance to come here and work with us and us to evaluate them.

"So this year all the things that are necessary to make sure you do a good job in recruiting, we had the time to do."

After Meyer was hired, he often spoke of the vast amount of talent in Florida and his desire to change from a coach who was forced to rely on nationwide recruiting to focusing primarily on his home state.

But in an interesting twist, this expected class is a national melting pot with 10 outside Florida.

"What's weird about Florida is they are a 9-3 team that went to the Outback Bowl, (yet) they're No. 1 and they're out recruiting Southern Cal for kids," said J.C. Shurburtt of Rivals.com. "Percy Harvin (receiver) was a guy USC really, really wanted and they beat USC for him. Also, Tim Tebow (quarterback), USC offered him a scholarship and he visited. I don't know how serious they were about him or how serious he was about them. A.J. Jones (linebacker) was a guy out of Tampa that had a Southern Cal offer. He could have gone there, had he committed early. I think in the end they were full at his position. That's not why he chose Florida, he was Florida all the way the whole time.

"Brandon Antwine (defensive tackle) - Southern Cal coaches were on their way to make their in-home visit with him when he committed to Florida. It's kind of interesting that Florida could go into Texas and outrecruit Southern Cal for a kid. You almost understand the Florida kids that grow up Gators or grow up admiring the program. But you look at Antwine, who's a Texas kid from Garland, that's kind of a battleground deal. So that was impressive. And of course, Harvin is from Virginia so he could have gone anywhere, too."

Mattison said relationship-building has helped Florida secure big-name players from other states this year. All but Strong coached outside of Florida last season.

"The thing is, because our staff has been a lot of different places and they have had the experience of recruiting other places, they had built relationships at other places," Mattison said. "So when kids saw Coach Meyer got the job down here and some of our assistants got hired down here, they had that trust factor already and they had that interest. So they would either contact us or when we would contact them, they would immediately be interested. Then from there, it's a matter of us evaluating and making sure that that player is better than what's here in the state."

As they grow accustomed to the high school coaches and their tenure grows longer, the Florida staff expects a lot more homegrown recruits.

"The No. 1 thing always will be is that our home state of Florida is where we want to recruit," Mattison said. "Two players being equal, we'll take the Florida young man every time."