In his quest to return Florida football to a championship program, Dan Mullen knows he has to raise the Gators to the level of the two teams that are currently residing at the top of the SEC.
We’re talking about Alabama and Georgia, of course.
To compete with those schools for championships on the field, he’s going to have to beat them some times on the recruiting trail for elite prospects.
And that’s exactly what Mullen and his staff pulled off Wednesday on National Signing Day.
The Gators won two critical battles — one against Alabama, the other against Georgia — that helped vault Florida’s 2019 recruiting class into the top 10 nationally.
Florida flipped four-star outside linebacker Khris Bogle, an Alabama commitment, in the morning, then outdueled Georgia and Kirby Smart for four-star cornerback Kaiir Elam in the afternoon to put an exclamation point on UF’s National Signing Day.
“That’s huge for the program and shows the direction we’re headed,” Mullen said of the recruiting wins over the Tide and Bulldogs. “Right now, those are the teams that played for the SEC championship this year. That’s the level we want to be on.
“Being able to win those recruiting battles is going to help hopefully beat them on the field as well.”
Signing Bogle and Elam was the highlight of a positive day for the Gators. UF also added two other four-star prospects who had previously committed to the Gators — linebacker Diwun Black and wide receiver Arjei Henderson.
The addition of the four players brings the UF recruiting class to 25 prospects and helped move the Gators into the top 10 in the national recruiting rankings. It also continued the momentum the Gators have been riding coming off a win over Michigan in the Chick-fil-A Bowl and a No. 6 ranking in the final coaches poll.
“Exciting day for us,” Mullen said. “A lot of good things happened today. A really great day for us when you look at some of the additions we had today. They are huge for us, huge for the program, big pieces for the future of how we continue to build this program. Really talented players.
“And not just in guys on the field, but the character of guys off the field. Really excited for our future, for the guys that are joining the Gator family.”
Mullen’s main goal is to return Florida to a national championship program, something the Gators were when Mullen was the offensive coordinator under Urban Meyer and UF won two national titles (2006-08).
It all starts with recruiting. Given the class Mullen and his staff have put together, the Gators have possibly taken another step in that direction.
“What we’re trying to build here is a program that can compete regularly for championships,” Mullen said. “You have to have good players to do that. If you go back and look at the championships in the mid-2000s here, there was an awful lot of talent on those rosters.
“Recruiting is a major part of it. Developing, coaching, all of that. Having the talent. A lot of that comes into recruiting.”
Mullen attributes much of the recruiting success in this cycle to the family atmosphere that has been created in the program by the coaches, families and players.
“You talk about character off the field and you talk about the family and how important it is,” Mullen said. “Guys talk about what a family program we have and how the families are very involved in the decision. I’m really excited about that.
“Parents come up here and see what our program is about, how their sons are going to be treated and taken care of, treat as part of a family. And see beyond the field and what the University of Florida means.
“It’s not just about playing football on Saturday in The Swamp, but the education you are going to get, which is the best education in the Southeastern Conference.”
NOTE: Trey Dean, who started nine games at cornerback as a true freshman last fall, is moving to the star position this spring, Mullen said. The position is the same one Chauncey Gardner-Johnson excelled in last season. “Trey’s a guy we’re going to be looking to move to the star position potentially to fill that void (left by Gardner-Johnson’s early departure to the NFL).” Mullen said.
With Dean making the move and Marco Wilson still recovering from knee surgery, true freshman and early enrollee Chris Steele likely will get some reps with the No. 1 defense at corner, Mullen said.
“He’s going to have an opportunity to very much run with the ones,” Mullen said. “Chris is going to have that opportunity to get reps that are going to prepare him to be ready to go play (in the fall).”
2019 Football Team Rankings
4. Texas A&M
6. Texas A&M
3. Texas A&M