In new age of transfer portals, recruiting classes will be judged on who stays

UF football coach Dan Mullen answers questions from the media during the Gators' National Signing Day news conference Wednesday at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. [Lauren Bacho/Gainesville Sun]

Remember when it used to be such a big deal. This DAY. Not Signing Days but DAY.

Instead, the second one with the new early-signing period had only a little more drama than a Globetrotters game result.

We now have a Signing Day and a Signing Sprinkles. You get your class in December and then finish it off with the toppings in February.

Dan Mullen did just that Wednesday, some whipped cream and crumbled Twix bars for the top of a strong recruiting class foundation laid before the Peach Bowl.

Not that I miss the chaos of Signing DAY.

(A sign that it’s really different was that I listened to 30 minutes of local sports talk on the way to the Mullen presser/infomercial and heard nothing about recruiting but plenty of calls complaining about basketball).

While we all know that things have changed in the world of recruiting in Year Two of the split signing days, we also have to understand how much they have changed in the world of the college football player.

And that’s why the adage needs to be updated.

Coaches used to say that they would know about their classes in three years.

Now, they should say they will know about their classes when they see who is still around in three years.

As the NCAA and conferences get more lenient with transfer rules and have even established a mystical portal to help the athletes find schools and vice versa, you look at a class these days and wonder as much about the patience of an incoming recruit as his drive.

Wednesday’s flipped recruit could be tomorrow’s early exit.

I’d tell you how many kids are in the transfer portal, but by the time I finish the sentence there will be a half dozen more. Mullen said Wednesday it’s over a thousand. USF coach Charlie Strong said the number is around 1,400.

“It’ll be interesting to see how that works out,” Mullen said. “I saw one kid who was in the portal one day and out the next.”

So we can evaluate all we want based on composite stars and highlight videos. But who knows what any team’s recruiting class will look like in three years?

“You gotta have good players,” Mullen said about competing for championships.

And you gotta keep them.

Mullen hopes that part of the evaluation in going after players is their desire to be Gators. And that the family atmosphere he’s worked to create in the UF program will matter to a young man not getting playing time.

This was a long-winded way of getting to my point.

On paper, Mullen may not have hit a grand slam with his second recruiting class, but he certainly brought some runs home. Florida’s class is the best the Gators have had since Will Muschamp’s final year of full recruiting.

Wednesday was another small step in the direction of greatness, a step that comes with no guarantees.

I know, I know. That’s the cliché that grumpy old writers use to dismiss the importance of young men putting hats on in front of school assemblies.

Nobody would be dumb enough to say recruiting isn’t important. It’s vital. But there is so much more to it. Not only in developing a player’s mind, but his attitude.

“It’s all about developing and parenting (as coaches),” Mullen said.

You do the best you can in evaluating. You hope a guy like Diwun Black, a young man who moved from Mississippi to Kissimmee to get more structure in his education so he could qualify at Florida, blossoms in the UF environment.

“He’s an amazing story,” Mullen said. “I can’t wait to get him on campus.”

Eventually, they will all be here, the 16 who will join the nine already enrolled.

And as Florida won two more heavyweight recruiting battles with Khris Bogle and Kaiir Elam, I couldn’t help but think about something Scott Stricklin said after Mullen’s introductory news conference.

Stricklin said a friend back in Mississippi told him, “I knew it was only a matter of time until some AD realized what Dan could do with elite talent.”

Already we’ve seen what he did with a collection of none-top 10 classes.

“In theory, we shouldn’t have finished sixth in the country,” he said.

We wait to see what’s in the future, both for this program and these players. If only we had a portal to gaze at.

Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at pat.dooley@gvillesun.com. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.

" Pat Dooley : @@pat_dooley ."