For much of a nervous day, it appeared Florida’s final storyline from Wednesday might end up going something like this: Dan Mullen and his coaching staff followed up a strong early signing period with a dud of a National Signing Day.
But thanks to some late-breaking news, it turns out to be this: Mullen pulls off big recruiting wins over Nick Saban and Dabo Swinney in the 11th hour to put the finishing touches on a successful first Florida recruiting class.
“It’s been a crazy day,” Mullen said. “Even guys you feel comfortable with … until you get that picture on the phone, the picture of that fax, even the guys you feel good about and you know are coming, you’re still worried about it until it’s official.
“Our coaches were grinding. They were working all night, they were working all day, they’ve been working since the day we got here to put this class together.”
Mullen and his coaches pulled it off just when it appeared panic had firmly gripped Gator Nation on Wednesday. There had been some early success with the signing of three prospects, followed by some disappointing misses that led to a sinking feeling that the Gators could actually strike out in the rest of the day.
Instead, they hit a home run.
In the space of about an hour, the Gators went from gloomy to gleeful with the signing of three of the highest-rated players on their board — Pensacola Escambia wide receiver Jacob Copeland, Tampa Cambridge Christian offensive lineman Richard Gouraige and Huntsville, Ala., defensive lineman
Malik Langham, all four-star prospects.
Copeland chose the Gators over Alabama and Tennessee. Gouraige picked UF over Clemson and Auburn. Langham put on a Gator hat instead of one for Alabama or Auburn.
So, it turned out to be a feel-good day and feel-good finish for the Gators, who ended up with a transition class that cracks the top 20 nationally, which is quite an accomplishment for a new staff that had so little time to work with.
“A good day for us,” Mullen said. “Our coaching staff did a great job, worked their tail off. I’m excited about the guys that are coming to join our family. Our coaches did a really good job identifying guys who are going to fit what the Gator standard is and what our expectations are of guys coming into the program.”
The Gators got off to a good start Wednesday morning, getting signatures from four-star wide receiver/athlete Justin Watkins, four-star outside linebacker Andrew Chatfield and three-star offensive lineman Griffin McDowell.
Then they struck out a few times.
Then they struck gold with the late additions of Copeland, Gouraige and Langham that brings the total class number to 19.
In Copeland and Watkins, the Gators add lots of potential playmaking ability to Mullen’s offense.
“You’re looking at playmakers,” Mullen said. “You look at Jacob Copeland, one of the best receivers in America. He was obviously a top priority from the day we got hired here.
“He’s a mismatch problem. You can move him around. You can motion him out of the backfield, give him the ball, throw him bubble screens, throw him vertically down the field, work him over the middle on option routes.
“He’s a complete player and a great playmaker with the ball in his hands.”
Which is almost exactly the same way Mullen describes Watkins, who is listed as an athlete on UF’s signing day release.
“He’s electric,” Mullen said. “He’s an electric guy with the ball in his hands. You watch this year, anytime they put him at corner, he’s a lock-down cover corner. They put him at running back, makes things happen with the ball in his hands. Everything. He’s the type of player that we expect to have in our program.”
The Gators also helped themselves on defense Wednesday, adding two highly rated players in Chatfield and Langham, who was recruited hard by his home state schools, Alabama and Auburn, but said no to Saban and Gus Malzahn and yes to Mullen.
“It was important to get those guys,” Mullen said. “Having Malik come on board is huge for us. He’s a guy that I’ve known about for a while. He’s a guy that you’re really excited about.
“He’s a raw talent. Great student, great worker, great size, great growth potential. He has an unbelievable future ahead of him.”
Chatfield was a pass-rushing defensive end at Plantation American Heritage who projects as an outside linebacker in defensive coordinator Todd Grantham’s 3-4 scheme.
Mullen said Chatfield plays with relentless effort, a quality he has said he is looking for in all of his players.
“A guy that came in at 6-2, almost 240 (pounds) on his visit,” Mullen said. “He’s grown, he’s put on size.
“One of the things I love, you turn on that film and you talk to the people at American Heritage. You say describe him, and everyone will say he’s the hardest playing guy on the field. The effort to me is what is so important and impressive. I love having him come be a part of it.”
Now that signing day has come and gone, Mullen said he’s ready to turn his attention to his current players, who are in the middle of the offseason strength and conditioning program.
“I’ve spent more time away from Gainesville with recruits than I have with our current players,” he said. “I’m really excited to be back here. We had mat drills today and I had an opportunity to spend more time with our players.
“I want to get to know them, push them and get to develop them for the future.”
Contact Robbie Andreu at 352-374-5022 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Also check out Andreu’s blog at Gatorsports.com.