Gators look to close deal


Urban Meyer came into the recruiting process late and will look to make up time over the next two weekends before National letter of intent day.

DOUG FINGER/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Friday, January 21, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 21, 2005 at 12:19 a.m.
Over the next two weekends, prospects will be arriving in Gainesville who were not even on Florida's recruiting radar screen less than a month ago.
Wide receivers and running backs from Texas.
A wide receiver from Syracuse, N.Y., a linebacker from New Jersey, a defensive lineman from Kentucky.
Players who have already committed to Florida State, Georgia, Auburn and North Carolina.
With national signing day (Feb. 2) now less than two weeks away, the perception is that new Florida coach Urban Meyer is scrambling at the end to put together his first UF recruiting class. The reality is, well, he is.
"It's just like it was at Florida when Ron Zook was putting together his first class (three years ago)," national recruiting analyst Jamie Newberg of Scout.com said. "They were scrambling. It happens. That's just the way it is when there's a coaching change.
"The player-coach relationship is so important in recruiting. The hard thing at Florida is there has been only a short window there. Even though Urban Meyer is the hottest coach around and Florida is on the verge of breaking through on the field again, the prospects don't know him. It's difficult to build relationships in only four to six weeks."
Newberg said this scenario is common when new coaches take over programs at the end of the season, which is months - sometimes years - after the recruiting process usually begins between the coaches and prospects.
Meyer and his staff have been behind from the start. They've had to repair relationships that soured with the firing of Zook (and the recent departure of recruiting coordinator Mike Locksley) and create relationships with the prospects the old staff had been recruiting and many it had not.
The late start has forced UF to broaden its recruiting base and go after many prospects who had not been considering Florida until Meyer or his assistants recently contacted them.
As a result, the Gators have a shot at many more prospects than they did a few weeks ago. Now, the question is will UF be able to close the deal after such a late start on so many of them?
"I don't know what to expect from Florida's class," Newberg said. "I think they'll find themselves in the top 25 (in the final recruiting rankings), but where, I have no idea. There are so many unknowns right now."
Newberg said the key for UF is to hold onto the top players who committed to the old coaching staff - Daytona Beach Mainland defensive back Avery Atkins, Sunrise Piper defensive lineman Vladimir Richard, Fort Lauderdale Boyd Anderson linebacker Gerald Williams and Columbus, Ga., linebacker Kalvin Baker. The Gators still are in a position to sign all of them.
"They've got a good base of commitments right now," Newberg said. "That's a good core base. If they can hold onto it, it looks like they'll have a chance to build on it and have a pretty good class. You just don't know right now."
Newberg says he has a better feel for how Meyer will do with his future UF recruiting classes.
"If they win at Florida like we think they can, plus the way he can recruit, Florida is going to be more than fine," Newberg said. "When Urban Meyer was an assistant at Notre Dame, he beat out Georgia Tech (for top Tampa prospect) Gary Godsey, even though Godsey's brother started at quarterback at Tech. He beat out Florida for (tight end) Billy Palmer (the younger brother of UF quarterback Jesse Palmer) and he beat out Florida for (future All-American center) Jeff Fain.
"The bottom line is this guy can recruit, and he can recruit Florida. He's a great coach and Florida has the right guy. He's going to put together great recruiting classes. The first class is always the toughest because it's all about relationships."
There is a recent history of top coaches struggling in their first recruiting effort, then rebounding big in the seasons that followed, according to Allen Wallace, the national editor for Scout.com and the publisher of SuperPrep magazine.
At national champion Southern Cal, Pete Carroll's first recruiting class was ranked 19th by SuperPrep. His last three classes have been ranked seventh, first and first.
Nick Saban's first recruiting class at LSU was 19th in the nation. The following year, he put together the No. 2 class in the country.
At Florida, Zook pulled in the nation's No. 2 class in 2003 after his first class drew a ranking of No. 26.
This season at Nebraska, Bill Callahan is putting together a top 10 class after his first Cornhusker class was rated No. 43.
"If you can sign a few difference makers in your first class, it can be huge," Wallace said. "In Pete Carroll's first year at USC, his class was filled with players who never panned out. But he did sign (2004 Heisman winner) Matt Leinhart (and star defensive players) Mike Patterson and Sean Cody.
"When you can sign some real difference makers like that, it can be the foundation for your program."
Wallace said the foundation is already in place for Meyer at Florida.
"It's tough in your first year, but this is not a critical recruiting class for him," Wallace said. "Florida is loaded with talent, with so many players who can play. He walked into the best situation in the United States in terms of talent and that's one of the reasons he took the job."
You can reach Robbie Andreu at andreur@gvillesun.com or by calling (352) 374-5022

TAKE A MEETING

The following prospects are expected to visit the UF this weekend:




PLAYER POS. HT./WT. CITY/HIGH SCHOOL

Kalvin Baker LB 6-3/225 Columbus, Ga./Pacelli
Quinton Brown OL 6-6/275 Orlando/Edgewater
Tommy Duhart OL/DL 6-4/255 Belle Glade/Glades Central
Matt Hardrick OL 6-5/340 Orlando/Edgewater
Jordan Hemby CB 5-11/175 Morganton, N.C./Freedom
James McKinney DT 6-3/265 Louisville, Ky./Central
Kestahn Moore RB 5-10/199 Arlington, Tex./Mansfield Summit
Dorian Munroe DB 6-0/185 Miami/Coral Reef
Louis Murphy WR 6-3/180 St. Petersburg/Lakewood
David Nelson WR 6-6/195 Wichita Falls, Texas/Rider
Jeffrey Owens DT 6-2/275 Plantation/Plantation
Vladimir Richard DL 6-4/255 Sunrise/Piper
Tyller Roberts DB 6-0/190 Orlando/Edgewater
Brian Roche OL 6-5/280 Ramsey, N.J./Don Bosco Prep
Antone Smith RB 5-8/185 Pahokee/Pahokee
Ryan Stamper LB 6-3/215 Jacksonville/First Coast

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