First-year UF coaches close strong to complete Top-20 recruiting class

Florida coach Dan Mullen gestures as he speaks with members of the media during a news conference Wednesday to announce the Gators class on National Signing Day at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. [Brad McClenny/The Gainesville Sun]

For much of a nervous day, it appeared Florida’s final storyline from Wednesday might end up going something like this: Dan Mullen and his coaching staff followed up a strong early signing period with a dud of a National Signing Day.

But thanks to some late-breaking news, it turns out to be this: Mullen pulls off big recruiting wins over Nick Saban and Dabo Swinney in the 11th hour to put the finishing touches on a successful first Florida recruiting class.

“It’s been a crazy day,” Mullen said. “Even guys you feel comfortable with … until you get that picture on the phone, the picture of that fax, even the guys you feel good about and you know are coming, you’re still worried about it until it’s official.

“Our coaches were grinding. They were working all night, they were working all day, they’ve been working since the day we got here to put this class together.”

Mullen and his coaches pulled it off just when it appeared panic had firmly gripped Gator Nation on Wednesday. There had been some early success with the signing of three prospects, followed by some disappointing misses that led to a sinking feeling that the Gators could actually strike out in the rest of the day.

Instead, they hit a home run.

In the space of about an hour, the Gators went from gloomy to gleeful with the signing of three of the highest-rated players on their board — Pensacola Escambia wide receiver Jacob Copeland, Tampa Cambridge Christian offensive lineman Richard Gouraige and Huntsville, Ala., defensive lineman

Malik Langham, all four-star prospects.

Copeland chose the Gators over Alabama and Tennessee. Gouraige picked UF over Clemson and Auburn. Langham put on a Gator hat instead of one for Alabama or Auburn.

So, it turned out to be a feel-good day and feel-good finish for the Gators, who ended up with a transition class that cracks the top 20 nationally, which is quite an accomplishment for a new staff that had so little time to work with.

“A good day for us,” Mullen said. “Our coaching staff did a great job, worked their tail off. I’m excited about the guys that are coming to join our family. Our coaches did a really good job identifying guys who are going to fit what the Gator standard is and what our expectations are of guys coming into the program.”

The Gators got off to a good start Wednesday morning, getting signatures from four-star wide receiver/athlete Justin Watkins, four-star outside linebacker Andrew Chatfield and three-star offensive lineman Griffin McDowell.

Then they struck out a few times.

Then they struck gold with the late additions of Copeland, Gouraige and Langham that brings the total class number to 19.

In Copeland and Watkins, the Gators add lots of potential playmaking ability to Mullen’s offense.

“You’re looking at playmakers,” Mullen said. “You look at Jacob Copeland, one of the best receivers in America. He was obviously a top priority from the day we got hired here.

“He’s a mismatch problem. You can move him around. You can motion him out of the backfield, give him the ball, throw him bubble screens, throw him vertically down the field, work him over the middle on option routes.

“He’s a complete player and a great playmaker with the ball in his hands.”

Which is almost exactly the same way Mullen describes Watkins, who is listed as an athlete on UF’s signing day release.

“He’s electric,” Mullen said. “He’s an electric guy with the ball in his hands. You watch this year, anytime they put him at corner, he’s a lock-down cover corner. They put him at running back, makes things happen with the ball in his hands. Everything. He’s the type of player that we expect to have in our program.”

The Gators also helped themselves on defense Wednesday, adding two highly rated players in Chatfield and Langham, who was recruited hard by his home state schools, Alabama and Auburn, but said no to Saban and Gus Malzahn and yes to Mullen.

“It was important to get those guys,” Mullen said. “Having Malik come on board is huge for us. He’s a guy that I’ve known about for a while. He’s a guy that you’re really excited about.

“He’s a raw talent. Great student, great worker, great size, great growth potential. He has an unbelievable future ahead of him.”

Chatfield was a pass-rushing defensive end at Plantation American Heritage who projects as an outside linebacker in defensive coordinator Todd Grantham’s 3-4 scheme.

Mullen said Chatfield plays with relentless effort, a quality he has said he is looking for in all of his players.

“A guy that came in at 6-2, almost 240 (pounds) on his visit,” Mullen said. “He’s grown, he’s put on size.

“One of the things I love, you turn on that film and you talk to the people at American Heritage. You say describe him, and everyone will say he’s the hardest playing guy on the field. The effort to me is what is so important and impressive. I love having him come be a part of it.”

Now that signing day has come and gone, Mullen said he’s ready to turn his attention to his current players, who are in the middle of the offseason strength and conditioning program.

“I’ve spent more time away from Gainesville with recruits than I have with our current players,” he said. “I’m really excited to be back here. We had mat drills today and I had an opportunity to spend more time with our players.

“I want to get to know them, push them and get to develop them for the future.”

Contact Robbie Andreu at 352-374-5022 or Also check out Andreu’s blog at


  1. Very pleased with this recruiting class, particularly under the circumstances (coaching staff transition – yikes)! I recall that one of our prospects decided to wait until Friday to announce where he will be playing football, but cannot remember his name – help? GO GATORS!!!

      • CO, I can’t for the life of me figure out why a guy would screen name himself after one of the greatest SEC coaches of all time, and then spend his time trolling on a Gator website. These guys certainly have differential personalities, that’s for sure. Would love to get a peek inside that head, but then again I have enough trouble figuring out what the hell is going on inside my own these days!

        Is this some new fad or something? Even in my very callow youth it wouldn’t have occurred to me to do something like that. And it was a very callow, no, shallow youth at that….I could have probably drowned in a damn mud puddle until I was 35 or 40. Not like that, though.

  2. Dorian Gerald the JUCO DT may announce for our Gators on Friday. Very pleased with this class & meeting most of the needs. Coach found several excellent playmakers on both sides of the ball. Looking forward to the spring game in April & seeing the TEAM. Go Gators!

    • Wow they finished a whole 3 spots lower then FSU, time to panic! First of all, FSU had one bad season that most people chalked up to being about losing their QB. They were national title favorites preseason, so hardly the same national perspective as where the UF program is. Not only does that make it much easier to recruit, but unlike Mullen, Taggart is fully entrenched with recruiting in the state of Florida as he’s from here and already has relationships with a lot of the HS programs. That simple fact was the only reason people were throwing his name around as a possible candidate for the UF job. Hardly a surprise he had success recruiting. The other thing is, the only reason he brought them 3 spots higher was because he had a lot of top recruits from Florida that were committed to Oregon’s top 5 recruiting class while he was still there. All he did was convince them to follow him to FSU. It doesn’t take a recruiting genius to convince top Florida recruits to follow him to FSU instead of going all the way to Oregon. All those things considered, even though FSU finished a few spots higher, I think Mullen did a far better job as not only did he convince one of the top recruits from Alabama to choose the Gators over both Bama and Auburn, but he brought back Copeland after Bama did everything they could to get him, even sending Saban to his house. That’s on top of the surprises he was able to pull during the early signing period. Taggart’s a great recruiter we all know that, but he won 7 games at Oregon last season. Let see how good he is at coaching those recruits.

    • Mike…what the hell is going on with you? You don’t sound the same at all, are you really you? Once I got what you do for a living, I got you. But now you sound so pessimistic overall that I can’t believe what I’m reading. If you’re still you, like I said last season, metrics and objectivity are fine….but don’t forget the variance either! The difference in the rankings this time around are very, very minor when you include the SD, probably not significant at even p=<.05.

        • Off base, Albert. Mike is a graduate, professional engineer and a UF guy all the way. He’s a good Gator, Al…..just a different perspective that’s based almost exclusively on crunching numbers. I’ve disagreed with him before, but his position on things make sense when you actually figure out who he is and what he does for a living.

  3. I think Mullen did a great job. Of course he lost to FSU and UGA. Both schools have been relevant on the national stage since 2009. Florida has not. So if you aren’t relevant, you sell your fancy facilities and weight rooms. Wait, we don’t have that either. If you can’t recruit on relevance or facilities, you show them all the titles on your stadium as the standard to return to. But wait, when they look over they see us gushing over our division title ties when we didn’t go to the championship game. All we can offer is an Outback Bowl appearance and 3 winning seasons every 5 years and we wonder why 5*s aren’t flocking to be part of it. Mullen and Strickland are finally paying attention to football and act like they actually care about the program and setting a new standard. Foley was a great athletic director but he hurt this football program. Muschamp made losing ok and Mac just poured gasoline on the fire. With all those factors and having absolutely no offense for nearly 9 years, I think Mullen did a great job to just be in the ballpark with Georgia, Alabama and Clemson.

    • Mullen has not lost to FSU or UGA, losing happens on the field. If you want to compare recruiting results then FSU had a barely higher rated class, a push at best and if you add our 2 WR transfers then UF came out ahead. Of course UGA had a higher rated class than UF and everybody else, so what. Comparing recruiting classes now is a losers game since you won’t know how any of these players turn out until the next 2 or 3 seasons.

  4. Thanks for all the great points. I want to feel better about things, I truly do. But I honestly think that with UM/FSU being more nationally prominent, UGA taking it to a whole new level, and the media’s continued obsession with Bama, it’s more likely than not that UF will stay mediocre for the foreseeable future. Nothing against Mullen, I just don’t believe he’ll make a difference in 2-3 years, which is all the time he has before the fireronzook crowd starts chirping. Also, what is Mullen telling recruits that Pruitt, Fisher, Malzahn and Smart aren’t spewing in their respective schools? All are mere clones of each other. I hope to God I’m wrong, but I feel like the media and Saban have ruined the SEC and college football in general to where it’s all now a rather predictable and unfortunate cycle. Go Gators!

    • Boyfriend, you are one of the most bizarre posters I’ve ever encountered on a Gator Sports site. And between my medical degree and many years of Gator fanaticism, that’s saying a whole bunch.

      Hence, my suggestion to see Dr. Winters in Daytona. Skip the Therapists and Psychologists, go straight to the Psychiatrist. Your case could make a major Psychiatric medical journal.

    • For what it’s worth, I do think you’re wrong, Mike. Sure ’nuff though, UM/FSU/UGA are indeed more nationally prominent at this juncture in time, and living out here in Texas as I do, but for being on this site I almost came to the conclusion that Florida dropped football and nobody told me. Regardless, we all know why our status in the eyes of the sports media dropped off to where it is, but what we’re actually excited about right now is that the means are finally in place to bring us back to prominence.

      So much as pertains to what Mullen, et al, are telling recruits…….the difference is that Mullen actually means it. More importantly, he believes in it too. And, he’s always been a Gator at heart. I think the difference between us is that we’re both looking at the same data, but inferring different conclusions. Tell you what: If you’re right after the next three seasons, in 2021 I’ll fly out to Tampa and buy you a Cuban sandwich at the Columbia and all the black bean soup you can throw down. If you’re wrong, then you buy me a new Corvette. Deal?

      Hoping you’re still extending the invite to meet up at the O&B game this spring. Barring the end of the world, I’m getting there this year one way or another.

    • I think so too, bud, and really expect the same. Nevertheless, after browsing through national sports media last night, I am just astonished at the fawning, gushing, and drivel over FSU and in particular Willie Taggart’s results and how “energized” he has the team and their fans.

      On the positive side, I did find one article on Dan Mullen to the effect of him opining that Georgia still has to prove itself. Of course, in the end they made him sound like a dolt for suggesting that.

      God, the media.