By Scott LaPeer, Correspondent
OCALA — In the end, Michael Tarquin couldn’t wait to be a Gator.
On Wednesday morning, the first of college football’s three-day early signing period, Tarquin, a 6’6”, 290 pound offensive lineman from North Marion High, was the first Florida Gator signee to submit his national letter of intent.
“Welcome to the family, Mike Tarquin,” Florida head coach Dan Mullen tweeted Wednesday morning. “First signee of the day!”
With that exclamation, Tarquin’s journey, which included visits to and from many of America’s premier college football programs over the past couple years, concluded with the Ocala native choosing The University of Florida. After all the road trips and recruiting pitches, Tarquin found his optimal destination was just up the road in Gainesville.
“It’s a very happy day,” Tarquin said Wednesday evening at his signing ceremony at Healthy Harts Gym in Ocala. “I’m excited. It’s a dream come true. I’m very glad to be a Gator, and glad I made this decision.”
One month ago, the 17-year old, who will enroll early at Florida and begin classes on January 4th, was headed in a different direction — South.
Tarquin initially announced, on April 21st, he had committed to The University of Miami. The decision was as big as it was early. But where the previous coaching staff at Florida never quite made Tarquin feel like a valued prospect, Mullen and Florida co-offensive coordinator and offensive line coach, John Hevesy changed the Gators’ tune.
On November 26th, those two coaches paid a visit to the Tarquin home in Ocala to make their pitch. One week later, on December 3rd, Tarquin announced he’d changed his mind and was going to be a Gator.
“(Coach Mullen) told me, ‘If you come here, you’ll work harder than you ever thought possible,’” Tarquin said. “I knew then that’s where I wanted to be, because I want to be great, and they’re going to push me to reach my full potential.”
For Tarquin, even at his young age, Wednesday’s signing was the realization of a lifelong dream.
“Ever since I was a little kid, I’ve been going to games in Gainesville,” Tarquin added. “I’ve been a huge Gator fan. It’s been my dream since I was a little kid.”
It’s going to be very demanding, but I can’t wait to get to work. I know I have a lot of work to do, and I’m very ready to take it on.”