Mullen’s momentum gains more fuel on early signing day

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Florida coach Dan Mullen talks about Wednesday's early signing day and the new recruiting class Wednesday at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. [Alan Youngblood/Gainesville Sun]

A year ago, Dan Mullen could only offer recruits his vision of where he plans to take the Florida football program.

This time around, the second-year UF coach could show them visible proof where the Gators appear to be headed with a turnaround 9-3 season that has led them to a New Year’s Six bowl berth and a return to the top 10 nationally.

Big difference.

“I think a lot of our fortunes changed during the season when a lot of these prospects out there were looking where Florida has been the last couple of years,” Mullen said. “Now, looking at being a top-10 team playing in a New Year’s Six bowl and seeing that Gator standard coming back.

“That certainly helped us close well down at the end.”

The significant momentum Mullen, his staff and the players generated this fall has continued to surge in recruiting, with the Gators signing 20 prospects and closing strong on the first day of the early signing period Wednesday.

UF’s class is currently ranked just outside the top 15 nationally, but the Gators will have a chance to rise in the rankings with another strong finish on National Signing Day on Feb. 6. UF is looking to add four or five more prospects to the class, including four-star linebacker Diwun Black, a longtime Gator commitment.

“A good start to this signing class,” Mullen said. “We’ve still got a bunch of work to do. A pretty solid day. I still think there’s additions we’re going to make to this class.

“Come ask me in two to three years and I’ll let you know if we had a good recruiting class or not.”

Heading into Wednesday, the Gators had 18 verbal commitments (including Black) and 17 of those prospects made it official by signing. The late surge came out of Lakeland, where the three four-star Lakeland High players — offensive lineman Deyavie Hammond, outside linebacker Lloyd Summerall and tight end Keon Zipperer — announced for, and signed, with the Gators.

The Lakeland pipeline is nothing new at Florida. Back in 2007, when Mullen was the offensive coordinator, the Gators signed seven Dreadnaughts, including Chris Rainey, Ahmad Black and the Pouncey twins. Those players went on to win a national championship in their sophomore season.

“Hopefully, (Hammond, Zipperer and Summerall) will have an opportunity to win a national championship in the future,” Mullen said. “They were young and growing up and looking up to guys like Chris Rainey, the Pouncey brothers and Ahmad Black, and all the success those guys had.

“Now, they’re carrying on the tradition to come here. Hopefully, they get the opportunity to win a national championship here as well.”

Based on what the three Lakeland prospects told him on their official visit and throughout the recruiting process, Mullen was fairly confident all three would sign with UF on Wednesday. When they did, it gave a late boost to a class that was already pretty solid.

The highest-rated offensive players in the class are quarterback Jalon Jones and Zipperer.

Jones, a dual-threat QB, is a four-star prospect out of Richmond, Va., who committed to Mullen in April and never wavered. Zipperer is considered one of the top tight end prospects in the nation. He also had offers from Alabama, LSU, Miami and Oklahoma.

Mullen started recruiting Jones when he was a sophomore in high school and is familiar with his skill set and how he might fit into the offense.

“He’s very athletic, got great size,” Mullen said. “He’s a guy that always works very hard on the discipline part of being a quarterback. He’s always improving himself.

“He works hard to play the position technically at a high level, but he also has the athleticism and the skill to improvise and make plays on his own.”

The Gators appeared to meet one of their biggest needs in this class by signing seven offensive linemen, led by four-star prospects Hammond, Wardrick Wilson, William Harrod and Michael Tarquin.

UF still has work to do on the defensive line and at cornerback. The Gators have signed only one defensive lineman (four-star tackle Jaelin Humphries) and two corners (four-star Jaydon Hill and three-star Chester Kimbrough).

“It’s a great start. We strengthened a lot of certain areas with talent and depth,” Mullen said. “We still need to fill several spots. The main areas that we have to focus on (between now and national signing day) are the secondary and the defensive line.”

Of the 20 prospects signed Wednesday, 10 are on schedule to enroll in January and participate in spring drills — Jones, Summerall, linebacker Mohamoud Diabate, Hill, offensive lineman Michael Tarquin, offensive lineman William Harrod, offensive lineman Wardrick Wilson, offensive lineman Ethan White, offensive lineman Kingsley Eguakun and linebacker Jesiah Pierre.

“They’re going to get a jump start in the classroom. I think that helps,” Mullen said. “It certainly helps in the spring to have depth and repetition for guys to get that work in. It helps jump start their career.”

 

21 COMMENTS

  1. This cuts both ways. This is no 2006 signing class (2nd for Meyer). There is no Percy Harvin. There is no Tim Tebow. There is no Brandon Spikes. This is a class that fits needs, probably long term needs than short. It’s a well rounded class that hits all positions besides maybe safety and a little light on DL. I’m ecstatic that 7 OL were signed. I’ve always said “you can’t coach an empty shirt.” Better to have a player that might not be a stud than no player at all. The other positive I can take away from this class so far is probably no player that signed yesterday thinks they are a 3 year and out type. Think that’s been a big problem for UF as lot of juniors recently have been turning pro if they were even draftable. The one thing that shouldn’t be expected is an instant impact by any player that was signed. The only player that I think has a good job of being in the 2 deep next year is Zipperer. He probably is the closest to college ready (physically) of any player signed plus there is no clear starter or backup for TE. I think he could be the Trey Dean of this class. I don’t think there should be any clear excitement for a much different year this coming year than last year. Could we win another game? Sure. But remember, without Percy or Tebow there is zero chance we would have won the SEC title much less the MNC. Unless Jalon Jones turns out to be a complete freshman stud, just don’t see a big record difference next year.
    The big concern I have is that right now it appears that UGA and BAMA essentially come in and take whoever they want from the state. BAMA wouldn’t have won any of their last 3 national titles without florida players and they continued their trend of cherry picking the state. Heck, their number 1 receivers(Cooper, Ridley, and Jeudy) for the last 6 years all came from South Florida. That’s bad for all florida schools.

    • David, I take your point but I would have to say that the 2006 class did not come to a Gator program that had just spent the last 8 years wandering in the desert either, during which time it went from elite to mediocre.

      Mullen said, “Come ask me in two to three years if we had a good recruiting class or not”. Fair enough, and exactly what any good coach would say if he were honest — and so would the “experts” from talking heads to armchair, if they were really interested in the truth. So let’s see.

      He also said that this is a good start, meaning that there’s more to go before spring.

      • I’ll add on to that by saying Urban Meyer also wasn’t recruiting against juggernauts like Nick Saban, Jimbo Fisher, Dabo Swinney, and Kirby Smart, who have all been entrenched in recruiting the state of Florida for years. It was much easier to recruit in 2006 than it is now. David as far as your thoughts about next season, I’ll just throw this out there. Was there anyone in college football, especially the Dawg fanbase that thought they’d be playing for a national title in Smart’s second season after going 8-5 in year one, especially with a true freshman QB? Never say never.

    • Great analysis David.

      I agree that this Gator recruiting class is foundational, but so far NOT immediately impactful. Other than Zipperer, they all need at least a year of bulking up and/or mental development. We may yet pick up a couple more immediately impactful recruits if Steele and Elam sign on in February.

      As far as out-of-state schools raiding South Florida recruits, it presents Mullen with an opportunity. Those recruits that went to Alabama and Ohio State in the past made logical decisions. To play with and for the best, they had to go all the way to Tally under Jimbo, or leave the state of Florida entirely. Under McElwhiner, the Gators were no better than the Canes as a program that had a realistic chance to win championships. That dynamic will change now with Mullen in Gainesville. We can already see his positive influence on the 2020 and 2021 recruiting classes.

      What Gator Nation needs now is a little PATIENCE.

      Go Gators!!!

    • David, with the coaching we had before Mullen (for the doubters I’ll even say Mullen hasn’t proven himself here… YET! though I think that is not going to be an issue) I can’t blame any currently eligible recruit to not have had us high on their list. 4 win seasons don’t look good for draft prospects. And yes a pessimistic view would say we are getting beat in recruiting. Looking at the recruits that changed their minds and came here I think that attitude is changing and it comes part and parcel to the teams record. They went 9-3 in regular season after a 4 win season. I have said this several times the main difference is the coaching staff. Call these guys foundational but I think 4 or 5 will be solid in rotation and maybe even have a significant role in 2019. The guys coming in early will have the Savage program behind them and spring camp I fully expect a few to shine. These guys have seen what is happening here and want to be here look at the lineman that came because Mullen told him he will be working harder than any where before and still picked UF. He’s got the guys that know the requirements and are willing or think they are willing to get their feet wet. We did not recruit a lot of skilled position players but I think the OL and DL positions are more technical today than at any time. Mullen talked about never letting go of the rope. I say bend never break. He’s got a lot of weapons now and depth to go around. OL will not be an issue next year and DL is bolstered as well. We should have 8 RB with Davis back. solid depth at TE and WR. We will have a QB battle this year to rival all others and the winner will lead Mullen’s offense. I don’t know anymore about football than anyone else on here. But I do see big differences in the Muschamp, Mac years. And even the Meyer years. Meyer did great but had flaws at that time. Mullen will learn and use the mistakes made by others to build us into a solid program.

    • Devil’s advocate….any receiver that signed with UF in those lean years did themselves a disservice with the offenses we trooped out, so the reality of that means that we have to show and prove a few years before landing the Jeudy’s of the world again.

  2. Hopefully between now and spring we can add some more help, but so far so good. i guess the newspapers believe the best players are all from interstate 20 these days, but lets in the coming years see how much more important coaching, development, retention, transfers and injuries are than newspaper’s opinions.

  3. In the end Mullen will be measured in championships(not the recruiting kind). He didn’t have the horses at MSU to win championships. At UF he has a much better chance of getting the horses but MSU is only 3 recruiting positions behind UF right now and only has 1 more commitment. It’s not where you start or what point you get to, it’s where you finish. The 1995 was the first regular season undefeated team at UF, yet they are remembered for the thumping they took at the hands of Frazier and Nebraska.

    By most FSU fan base standards, Florida fan base standards and Miami fan base standards; FSU had a horrible signing day. Yet, FSU ranking is higher than UF with 2 fewer commits. By Muschamp standards this class is lacking star power even though it is more well rounded. By McLoser’s standards, it isn’t much better.

    This may be a rebuild effort but often in the second year or the second class you see whatever difference that is going to happen happen or it doesn’t tend to happen at all. There isn’t normally a building process in any of the major sports unless the program is absolutely a nothing. UF is not nothing. Billy Donovan was a great recruiter out the gate. We were worse in basketball before Billy got here than we ever were in our football history.

    Nick Saban’s second class was all world at BAMA after his first was ho hum. Kirby Smart’s class was #3 after the first was Eason heavy. Meyer’s second class was all world at UF after stinking the first. Fisher’s second class at T A&M is the best they’ve ever had. His second class at FSU was ranked #2. You can say all these coaches were great recruiters but then you’re talking about all the guys with National Titles. The only guy without national title on that list is Smart who is 1 play away from winning the National title last year and 1 play away from the SEC title this year. Literally 1 play away from beating SABAN for both.

    The coach you need hope Mullen emulates is Swinney who couldn’t recruit worth a darn his first few seasons an even now has a hard time putting together top 5 class.

    Those are the guys who have won the titles and dominate the College Football. Other than 1, they can all recruit lights out.

    • David the comparisons you’re trying to make don’t translate. That’s like saying who’s better Jordan or Lebron. Different times, different scenarios. Meyer was the hottest coach on the market coming off an undefeated season at Utah, that came to the Gators with as much buzz as Saban going to Bama, and didn’t take over a program coming off 2-4 win seasons. Florida was only a few seasons removed from Spurrier and still very much a destination program for top recruits. A far cry from the program Mullen took over. You didn’t have the heavyweight recruiters to compete with, as I said before, that Mullen’s having to compete with now. You didn’t have other schools poaching from Florida like you do know. Top Florida recruits basically only picked between the big 3 and FSU and Miami were down in the dumps, making it much easier for Meyer to get his pick of the litter. Recruiting is a different animal now compared to back then. Smart came to a 10 win program after being the main recruiter for the biggest college football powerhouse for 9 years, where he was building relationships with the best players in the country for years. Not hard to transition to an already successful program. Saban was already a national champion coach coming from the NFL so he was a known commodity that players wanted to play for immediately. Fisher is the same thing, a known national champion commodity that already had well established relationships from his time at FSU making it an easy transition. Mullen came from MSU and is far from carrying the same resumes and popularity as those guys. He certainly wasn’t in the houses of every 5 star recruit there is since they were in 8th grade like the rest of those guys were. He has more to prove then they needed to when they first took over, so it’s not going to turn around as quickly. You can already see it turning though with the 20 and 21 classes. Right now the Gators are sitting 6 spots higher than UGA at #3 in the country for 20 and sitting at #2 in 21. You just need to have a little patience.

  4. David, you are rivaling Sly Sylvester for application of pure logic — so no argument here. I would just say, to borrow a line from the famous sportscaster, Dan Cook — “The oprey ain’t over ’till the fat lady sings”. Or, in this case, signs. Put differently, there is no way in hell that we can honestly expect a Top-5 class in Year Two….but given steady improvements on the playing field over the next couple of years, coupled with some facility improvements — our time will come. As 65 put it so pointedly the other day, Rome wasn’t built in a day.

    Good post tho, bud, and thought provoking to say the least. I will quibble c one thing, however……I don’t want Dan Mullen to emulate anybody. He’s plenty fine being Dan Mullen.

  5. This class adds depth. Some of the o linemen may have to step up and play next year but all these other guys are probably projects. I think one thing everybody needs to consider is the Gators got better as a team as the year progressed. I think with another year with Mullen, Feleipe Franks will become a star. I could just see things slow down for him and his confidence increase at the end of the year. With all his receivers coming back and a solid group of running backs returning, I think the offense will be even better next year.

  6. There’s a huge potential upside hidden inside the 2019 Gator recruiting class. Nearly half of this class (9) are linemen and 7 of them are OL. Lack of measurable high school stats for their positions makes linemen notoriously difficult for recruiting services to rate. That’s especially true for the big uglies on the OL.

    We have examples of what I mean right on the Gator squad. Martez Ivey and Cece Jefferson were consensus 5* recruits, played 4 years, yet neither will go in the 1st round of the NFL draft. On the other hand, Jawaan Taylor and Jachai Polite were consensus 3* recruits that are now being touted as potential 1st rounders even though they’re only juniors!

    Judging by the job they did turning our OL from a liability to an asset in one season, it’s safe to assume Mullen and his staff know what to look for in high school linemen. If 3 years from now, just 4 of these 2019 OL recruits land in the 1st two rounds of the NFL draft, the value of this recruiting class will go through the roof!

    Go Gators!!!

  7. I wonder if CDM’s time at State has actually hurt his ability to bring in high level (top 100) recruits these first two recruiting classes (yes, I understand we still have a few more spots and are still in the hunt for a couple top 100’s this year). If you’re a talented recruit and the sexiest thing you know about CDM is that he consistently had above average teams at State, then it’s no wonder they aren’t busting down our door. Even if they consider how difficult that was at a place like state, it still isn’t as sexy as say going undefeated at Utah (Urban) or UCF (Frost). And let’s just be real, kids know that when he was here as OC, that was Urban’s team and Urban’s offense and Urban’s players. Being a part of that fantastic ride is no guarantee he can duplicate that just because he was here the last time it happened.

    I just think what we see as an incredible accomplishment at State, the recruits see as, “meh”. He’s going to have to win win and win some more to prove to them that his consistently above average program from State will translate to a championship program at UF. His 2020 and 21 classes so far seem to be believing.

    What gives me hope is I don’t believe Chip Kelly ever had consistently “elite” classes and still managed to have a top 5 program. He also had a transcendent player at QB which helps even out the playing field. I’m not sure we have one of those on our roster just yet.

    • Key words, Dallas: “Just yet”.

      For what it’s worth, I suspect that your analysis is exactly right. You know, we all — or most of us anyway, including some otherwise very good football minds — seduced ourselves both early on and mid-way on into believing that we’d be a playoff team or something in CDM’s first season. Well, thanks to a couple of reality checks, we got serious and began watching (a) what Mullen was dealing with, and (b) what he was doing about it — and wound up with a pretty good season. It’s going to take some time. This year’s class is better than last year’s, and if we have another improved season then next year’s will be better than this year’s on so on……until we hit the championships. About 4 years total time, I think. So no, Dan Mullen wasn’t a sexy hire, he didn’t come from a sexy school, and OK, maybe he does look a little like Cousin Eddy — but he’s exactly the guy we need to bring us back. And stay there. Then he’ll have plenty of sex appeal, I’m sure, some NFL team will try to steal him away, and……

      Hope you have a Merry Christmas up there, bud — Go Gators!

  8. Big picture: Bama, TA&M, GA, LSU…Rivals top four. With all the new improved coaching staffs, the SEC is going to be a slug fest like we haven’t seen! Dan Mullen and staff will have to develop players to knock off GA and UT, then hopefully have enough to take on the West Champion. Other conferences will have a tough time staying up at playoff time.