Gator recruits sold on UF brand
Published: Wednesday, February 5, 2014 at 1:40 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, February 5, 2014 at 10:09 p.m.
In the natural order of things, losing football seasons are usually followed by disappointing recruiting seasons.
But Florida’s Will Muschamp has managed to flip that troubling trend.
“Flip” is the operative (and appropriate) word here because this is what Muschamp seems to do so well when it comes to recruiting. He has a track record of continuing to recruit prospects committed to other schools and getting them to flip to Florida.
The Flipper did it again on National Signing Day, getting four-star FSU quarterback commitment Treon Harris to shun the Seminoles and sign with the Gators.
Harris’ Wednesday switch was perhaps UF’s biggest highlight of the day, and helped the Gators close out a well-rounded recruiting class that is a consensus top 10 in the nation, according to recruiting services and analysts.
“You know, we had a miserable fall, and to have the staff come together, three new coaches in Kurt Roper, Mike Summers and Coleman Hutzler, and change a little bit, not philosophically, but schematically offensively, adjust some things that we need to do in midstream as far as some of the guys we were recruiting and to put together this class, I'm really proud of that,” Muschamp said.
"Being here and building those relationships now with some of these young men, they also saw us win 11 games the year before, and they understand that."
“They are close to our program, and I think they kind of understand where we're headed with the program and they're excited about our future.”
Fans and alumni look at Florida’s 4-8 record in 2013 and see a disaster. Recruits look at it and see something else, apparently.
“Opportunity,” said four-star cornerback Quincy Wilson, one of five top cornerbacks signed by the Gators. “A lot of guys are realizing they can come in and make an early impact. The Florida coaches have done a great job selling that — and selling the fact that it was only one bad year and the Gators are going to bounce back.”
Despite coming off the school’s first losing season since 1979 — and with Muschamp on the proverbial hot seat — the Gators put together a class of 24 that is ranked No. 6 in the nation by ESPN and No. 8 by Rivals.
The Gators’ class appears strong at quarterback, on both lines of scrimmage and in the secondary, led by five-star cornerback Jalen Tabor, the jewel of the class.
The big news Wednesday was UF’s ability to flip two Florida State commitments — Harris and wide receiver C.J. Worton. Harris gives the Gators a second quarterback to go along with highly rated Will Grier, who is already enrolled at UF.
“The Gators have to be happy,” said Mike Farrell, the national recruiting analyst for Rivals. “Getting Harris to flip is a home run. He gives Florida two very good quarterbacks.”
In all, 11 members of the class were flipped by Muschamp and his staff, including Tabor and elite defensive tackle prospect Thomas Holley (Penn State) and standout wide receiver Ryan Sousa (FSU), who caught 89 passes for 1,164 yards and 23 touchdowns in his senior season at Lake Nona.
Worton, the other wide receiver in the class, said he made the switch to Florida to play in Roper’s new spread offense, and with the expectation the Gators will have a big turnaround coming off the losing season.
“They had an off year, that’s all,” said Worton, who had six receptions for 159 yards and three touchdowns in Homestead South Dade’s victory over Apopka in the Class 8A state championship game in December. “Their coaches are real people; their coaches and their players. It was an off year, and I don’t think it’s going to happen again.
“The Florida coaches did a great job getting all the recruits to buy into what they were selling — which was that last season was a mistake and the Gators are going to be very good again. I’m really happy about my decision, and so is my family.”
UF’s class is comprised of one five-star prospect (Tabor), 12 players with four stars and 11 with three, according to the Rivals’ player rankings.
The Gators filled their needs on both lines of scrimmage and in the secondary, where UF must replace four starters — cornerbacks Loucheiz Purifoy and Marcus Roberson and safeties Jaylen Watkins and Cody Riggs, who is transferring.
UF signed six offensive linemen and five defensive linemen, three who are considered elite prospects — Holley, tackle Khairi Clark and end Gerald Willis III.
“You look at the class, 15 kids from the state of Florida, 14 big-to-mid-skill players,” Muschamp said. “We’re getting our numbers back on the offensive line. We're right at 15. You'd like to have 15 to 17.
“That's a developmental game, but that's a huge developmental position, and that's where you've got to have guys in your program, so it's good to see that.”
Some might say it’s strange to see the Gators with a top-10 recruiting class coming off the 4-8 season. But Muschamp and his staff managed to make it happen.
“I think a lot of hard work, and again, we're talking about a season. We're not talking about seasons,” he said. “We won eleven games the year before. A lot of those guys we were recruiting then, and they saw that and they saw us go through that time.
“But then they come up and they see our weight program, they see our training program, they see our academic programs on campus, and that's very attractive to a young man. It's very attractive to a young man's parents to have their son in that environment.”
In some cases, it’s even enough to flip over.