Update: See full 2021 verbally committed class here:
Florida’s recruiting efforts continue in spite of the global coronavirus pandemic – with several changes and adjustments, of course.
Gators football coach Dan Mullen, speaking to the media via Zoom, said the program has transitioned from in-person recruiting to virtual tours during the COVID-19 pandemic, in addition to the texts and phone calls Mullen and his coaching staff regularly deploy in their recruiting efforts.
It’s a change that, while unconventional and not the preferred method for a coach, does come with a few benefits.
“The recruiting aspect, I don’t have to be at my desk to do it,” Mullen said. “Wherever you have a phone and you can text kids or you can FaceTime kids, and you’re calling and doing all of that part on the recruiting side of things, it’s not that big of a deal.”
But when it comes to the evaluation process – where coaches typically come away with far more than just an assessment of a prospect’s talent – there’s no doubt Mullen and Florida’s coaching staff are, like all programs, in a tough spot in that regard.
And when it comes to imparting information to recruits about the program, Florida’s in between a rock and a hard place, too.
“You’re looking at guys that are making decisions on where they’re going to school and where they’re going to live, right? The difference is, between college and the pros, in college, players pick you,” Mullen said. “In the pros, you get picked. They don’t get to make any decision whatsoever about where they’re going; they get drafted.
“So for us, it’s trying to get virtual recruiting visits set up and what we can do, as much information as we can get to these recruits and help them make these decisions. That’s what we can do with the limits to get them here and in person on campus, so that’s always the thing that makes it tough.”
However, the harsh reality is the Gators have yet to land a commitment in the seven weeks since the NCAA suspended all on-campus and off-campus recruiting. Meanwhile, the program has seen four-star defensive back Kamar Wilcoxson and three-star all-purpose back Brashard Smith back off their commitments to Florida.
Wilcoxson – who has now twice committed and later de-committed from the Gators within the last year – quickly found a new home, joining SEC Eastern division rival Tennessee just a month later, as did former UF commit Terrence Lewis, ranked the No. 9 overall prospect in the 2021 class.
While the decisions of Lewis and Wilcoxson wouldn’t be cause for concern on their own, they’re just a small piece in the Vols’ apparent resurgence as of late on the recruiting trail.
Tennessee has added 10 commitments since the COVID-19 crisis, vaulting the Volunteers to atop the SEC in 247Sports’ 2021 class ranking, largely thanks to the efforts of head coach Jeremy Pruitt, defensive coordinator Derrick Ansley and wide receivers coach Tee Martin.
When put in perspective, Tennessee’s momentum has simply allowed the program to catch up to the head start UF made this cycle.
Florida is sitting comfortably at No. 4 in the nation with 14 commitments – although two are former signees Diwun Black and Deyavie Hammond, who therefore don’t factor into 247Sports’ ranking system. Although it remains very early in the process, Florida should sign close to 25 prospects by the conclusion of the 2021 recruiting cycle, meaning the Gators may still add double-digit prospects while already possessing a coveted top-5 ranking.
To top it all off, the Gators are weeks away from welcoming the majority of their 2020 signees to campus during Summer A – which will be conducted virtually when it comes to both educational and athletic pursuits.
“We’re able to have the virtual meetings, the Zoom meetings with the players. I think one of the benefits for me is I get to sit in on all those meetings,” Mullen said. “I kind of just come in with no video, not audio. I just sit, kind of like sitting in the back of the room. But I get to do it for, you know, usually we’re all always meeting with everybody at the same time. I can sit in during the day and I can sit in on three or four different position meetings every day. And, you know, so that’s pretty good learning for me and learning what our players do and what’s going on with all of them. So that’s kinda exciting. And it is.”
Another unprecedented issue for many to overcome in a time defined by the unexpected, it would seem.
“The ability to learn, we’re trying to make the most out of this. One of the things we talked about, the coaches and our players, was just worry about what we can control,” he continued. “And the big thing is, when this is over, are we gonna be the team that’s prepared? Are we the team that continued to stay in great physical shape? Are we the team that put in extra conditioning, extra training? Are we the team that spent extra time learning and maximizing what we can do, and maximizing ourselves of what we can do, so we’re a better football team when we get back together than we are when we left.”