Just call Mississippi “no man’s land” for Florida. The Gators haven’t signed anyone out of the state since the Ron Zook era — and those guys played at community colleges.
What’s so wrong with my home state? Is the talent not there? Well, that can’t be it because a chunk of Mississippi-born folks are playing in the NFL and that’s been the case for a while. Is Florida’s staff concerned about travel expenses? Heck no! These guys fly out to California, Texas and around the northeast. Maybe, it’s the dialect. I don’t have twang in my voice — my mother made sure of that — but I can understand Florida staff members being a little uncomfortable with some of those “southern drawls.” It can get pretty thick where I come from.
Don’t ask Urban Meyer why he’s not doing a whole lot of recruiting in the Magnolia State. He doesn’t know either.
“We don’t (recruiting in Mississippi),” he said. “I’m not quite sure why.”
Meyer was probably just being polite, since I’m sure he’s aware I call Mississippi my home (sarcasm). But there’s got to be a reason Mississippi doesn’t scream, “Recruit me out-of-state schools that don’t border me!”
Meyer’s staff has figuratively dipped its toes in the state, but not literally. Here is a quick look at some prospects from Mississippi Florida has offered scholarships since Meyer arrived:
Jimmy Johns — QB — Brookhaven — Alabama
Josh McNeil — OL — Collins — Tennessee (No. 1 tackle in the country)
Allen Walker — S — Olive Branch — Mississippi (Top player in the state and recruited by Billy Gonzales, came down to UF and Ole Miss)
Chris Strong — DE — Batesville, South Panola — Ole Miss (Third-best defensive end nationally)
Derek Sherrod — OL — Columbus, Caledonia — Mississippi State (Third-best tackle nationally, recruited by Steve Addazio and John Hevesy)
DeAndre Brown — WR — Ocean Springs — Southern Miss (Recruited by Gonzales and he mentioned UF as a favorite for a while)
Chad Bumphis — WR — Tupelo — Mississippi State (UF was a suspected leader for a while)
So, the numbers are pretty low. The talent is decent, but still not enough to entice Florida, I guess. Meyer did hint that because of the high number of kids who stay close to home, he’s tentative about putting much effort there.
“I always do a breakdown of how many kids leave the state,” he said. “For whatever reason, we haven’t spent much time there.”
Well, coach, I’ve done my own breakdown. I mean I got out, why can’t they? You know what my findings told me, sir? … You are pretty much right. Not a lot of kids leave the state. An average of 17 out of the top 25 kids each year from Mississippi attend college there. That’s close to 70 percent. Obviously, more kids play in-state across the country, but for 70 percent of your best players not to leave for traditionally better programs around the country? Something’s up.
So then I looked harder and it hit me. I hate to say it, but grades could be an issue. A handful of Mississippi kids have had to go the junior college or prep school route over the years. It’s perfectly understandable that Meyer wouldn’t want to deal with iffy grade issues. Especially, with kids that far away who could easily be influenced to return to the state with a couple years to think about it.
In the end, I can only point to two things that would deter Florida’s coaches: grades and talent. Oh, if anyone from home reads this, I’m done for. In all seriousness, the state just doesn’t produce the type of players Florida wants. I don’t have these guys’ grades, so who knows what’s really happening on that end, but like I said, take chances with guys who will be closer to you if they have to attend a prep school. Speed and athleticism just aren’t there. If it was, Meyer and his staff would be traveling there, and they’re only doing that for ball games these days. That staff is obsessed with speed and it will look everywhere for it. Even Canada! They signed Stephen Alli! From Canada!
“I have not contacted very many guys out of Mississippi,” Gonzales said.
“We have our recruiting areas in a base that we want to be. Obviously, if there’s a great one in that area we’ll go in there and see if we can battle for them. Other than that, we haven’t been in that area.”