One would think a highly regarded prospect with familial ties to the Gators and the NFL would be an easy close for the University of Florida.
But that was anything but the case when it came to Hampton (Ga.) Dutchtown safety Trey Dean.
Ranked the No. 21 overall safety in the 2018 class by 247Sports, Dean appeared set to sign with the University of Alabama as early signing day approached.
After backing off an initial commitment to Tennessee, Dean had official visits with Kentucky and Florida lined up, sure, but the Crimson Tide are still the premier program in the Southeastern Conference, and it wouldn’t be easy to fend off Nick Saban.
Plus, Dean has family who played for both Alabama and Florida, meaning his connection to both programs – his cousin, Ahmad Black, starred on Florida’s 2008 BCS National Championship team and now works as a graduate assistant for the Gators while his other cousin, Oakland Raiders star wide receiver Amari Cooper, had pushed the Crimson Tide as an ideal destination – was essentially a moot point.
However, with the early signing period approaching, Dean said the Gators and coach Dan Mullen weren’t even in the mix to land him.
“This is crazy. A week before signing day, Florida isn’t even in the mix,” Dean revealed. “One of my (Dutchtown) coaches went to Mississippi State and he asked if I was interested in Florida. I said ‘I’m locked in to Alabama, I’m going to Alabama’. The next day he asked again, and I said I’d give them a chance. Coach Mullen came to my school and the d-line coach came to my school, and they were just like ‘Give me a chance’. I wasn’t going to take anymore visits, but something felt right.
“The hotel I stayed at when I was at camp I stayed at for my official visit. When I walked in, it started bringing back memories, because that was my first offer. I stayed in the hotel that I got my first offer in, and they lined up everything the same.”
#Gators signee @__TD3 grew up a Florida fan, discusses not being pressured by @ahmadblack35 into making a decision. Later said Emory Jones jokingly told him he would only go to UF if he did. pic.twitter.com/vZrN3SX9EB
— Graham Hall (@GrahamHall_) December 30, 2017
Dean said Black didn’t pressure him to make a decision one way or the other, while Cooper let it be known he wanted Dean to join his alma mater. Still, he said his family undoubtedly respected his decision.
“No, Ahmad Black, he didn’t pressure me at all, he said whatever decision I was going to make,” Dean said. “You know, Amari Cooper wanted me to go to Alabama, (Black) wanted me to go to Florida, my uncle wanted me to go to Florida. So it was just like, they didn’t really pressure me at all. Wherever school I went, they were going to respect my decision.”
Yet once he signed with the Gators during the early signing period, Black made clear to his younger cousin that he feels he ultimately made the right decision.
“He’s real happy,” Dean said of Black. “I don’t think Amari knows yet, because he’s in season. When I tell him, he’s probably going to be like ‘Ah, man!”
With family on UF’s staff, it would feel like Dean felt he was in good hands no matter what, but that’s not how college football works. Florida had yet to hire defensive backs coach Charlton Warren when Dean took his official visit to UF, meaning he could only take Dan Mullen’s word that the Gators would soon have someone in place to coach Dean.
“That was real crazy. I’m on the visit, right, and we still don’t know who the DB coach is. The next day they wake me up, give me a wake-up call on the official visit and I go downstairs. They said ‘The DB coach is here’, I say ‘OK, where is he?”, Dean recounted. “They was like ‘You know him’. I’m thinking in my head that a couple coaches had texted me, but I don’t know who it is. I walk to my table and it’s got our names on it and I see Coach Warren. I’m thinking ‘Are you supposed to be here?’. He had a Gator shirt on and I didn’t even know nothing. I said ‘You’re the DB coach they’re talking about?’. I thought they was playing, I didn’t know until I got down there but I was really excited.”
Now it’s time for Dean, who had a 3.7 grade-point average at Dutchtown and plans to major in Business Management at UF, to do the recruiting. A participant in Orlando at the Under Armour All-America game, Dean said he plans to spend the week trying to sway other prospects to join him in Gainesville.
“Oh, I’m going to do a lot (of recruiting), I’m gonna do a lot,” Dean said. “This is my chance to shine.” In fact, he has two targets from his home state in mind: Crisp County (Ga.) outside linebacker Quay Walker and Brookwood (Ga.) wide receiver Matthew Hill.
“Keep this on the low, we gonna get Quay. We gonna get Quay Walker,” Dean said with a smile. “Half of it was Quay was going to Alabama because I was going to Alabama, but now I’m an early enrollee so I’ll be there when he visits on the 12th (of January). We’ve known each other since like the 10th grade.”
— Gerry Hamilton (@HamiltonESPN) December 31, 2017
With less than two weeks until he’s set to enroll at UF, Dean has his sights set on getting in the building and beginning his improvement. He foresees the Gators continuing to field a youth-laden team, and that starts with quarterback Emory Jones.
The two announced their intentions to sign with UF in the same venue Dec. 20, and it turns out there was slightly more forethought than anyone let on, and one might consider the Peach State products to have been a package deal.
“Coming down with Emory, again (it was) Florida and Alabama. Before the flight we were sitting in the waiting area just talking about what we’re going to do,” Dean said. “We sat on the same plane before we went to visit Florida. He commits before me, but he says he’s only going to go there if I go there. But I told him ‘Man, you sign before me, so how’s that gonna happen? He was like ‘I don’t know.
“I think we’re going to do big things. We have Emory at quarterback and we’re going to start a lot of freshmen. A lot of freshmen.”
Projected as a safety, Dean is excited to get in the building and display his wide-ranging skill set. With advanced coverage skills for a player his age, Dean said UF foresees himself playing multiple spots in the secondary.
“They want to move me all around. I play all the positions,” Dean said. “I mean, everybody wants a 6’3” corner, why not start at corner? I’ll try anything to start. The more positions I play, the more money I can make in the league. You can move me anywhere.”
As he reflects on the entire process and its conclusion, Dean still seems shocked that he rebuffed the Crimson Tide and ended up at Florida.
“It’s just crazy how things circled right around. Starting day one being committed sophomore year, and then coming back on the last day,” Dean said. “It was hard (turning down Alabama). Alabama is going to win on and off the field. My mentality, I just know that they put their pads on the same way I put my pads on, and I knew that whatever school I was going to I could be great. It was hard turning them down. Talking to Nick Saban one day and I’m thinking like ‘Man, I’m turning this guy down?’ Then I see them in the college playoffs and I’m like ‘That could be me’.”
Dean didn’t mince words on the deciding factor, however.
“Would I have landed at Florida without Coach Mullen? No sir.”