To me, the 2011 recruiting season officially began Saturday. Florida hosted its first Junior Day of the year and while these days are more for rising seniors to get an up-close-and-personal look at the ins and outs of the Florida football program, kids get to talk a little football with coaches and other players. This is a chance for prospects to take a campus tour, learn about the academic aspects of the program and mainly get to relax with players and coaches. It’s definitely an important way to start the year off.
There were a couple of obstacles Florida’s coaches had to manage around this weekend. For starters, Urban Meyer wasn’t in town. He’s officially on his leave of absence, meaning assistant coaches were left to do even more work with kids. That certainly isn’t a bad thing. Everyone gets to hear from the head man in charge, but a lot of kids develop great relationships with position coaches. The more these coaches get into the ears of kids now the better for UF. It also shows the strength of Florida’s program when it can perform just as well without Meyer around.
Weather, however, did hinder Florida’s Junior Day. With a ton of snow in parts of Georgia, some of the top prospects from the state weren’t able to make it down to Gainesville. Most notably were, Gainesville, Ga., East Hall defensive end Sterling Bailey and McDonough, Ga., Union Grove defensive back Avery Walls. It wasn’t the end of the world that they didn’t make it, but when you have to battle with an in-state power like Georgia, it’s always nice to get these guys on campus early.
I was told that Valdosta, Ga., defensive back Malcolm Mitchell did make the trip to Gainesville Saturday. He doesn’t have an offer from Florida, but he will be an athlete to watch this year, especially if he makes it back to Florida for summer camps.
Of course, Gator fans are all abuzz about Oviedo Hagerty quarterback Jeff Driskel, who could end up being one of the best dual-threat quarterbacks in the country this fall. He was on campus this weekend, and from what I’ve been told he had a great time with quarterbacks coach Scot Loeffler. The two have developed a solid relationship so far, and Driskel has to be one of the top guys on Loeffler’s radar this year.
Another top prospect in town was Groveland South Lake cornerback Nick Waisome. Waisome looked like one of the best corner prospects on the field during one of Florida’s summer camps last year, and when I first saw him I thought he was a senior. He told me had a good time getting back to Florida.
“It was good,” Waisome said. “I really enjoyed it (and) had a great time chilling around with (assistant defensive coordinator and safeties) coach (Chuck) Heater and (defensive line coach Dan) McCarney.”
Florida figured to be a leader because of his strong relationship with former teammate and current Gator lineman Jonotthan Harrison. He also was very close with former cornerbacks coach Vance Bedford. With Bedford gone, Waisome said his interest in Florida hasn’t changed much.
“I have developed a fairly good relationship with Chuck Heater,” he said.
Waisome currently has no leader but a boatload of offers.
Current 2011 Gator committs A.C. Leonard (Jacksonville Ribault) and De’Ante “Pop” Saunders (Deland) were on hand, but more about them later this week …
One guy in attendance who is kind of flying under the radar was Marietta, Ga., Kell safety Brian Randolph. First off all, nice kid. Called me back immediately after I texted him. Now that’s the way you start off your recruiting career. He’s got a few offers, but came away from Junior Day with Florida as his top school.
“I like that (Florida) is an elite program,” Randolph said. “You have a chance to win the national championship (at Florida) every year.”
Randolph said Tennessee, Georgia and Georgia Tech are his other top schools.
The thing that sticks out for Randolph is how personable Florida’s coaches were. He said that there was a little talk about football, but he got to know about the academic side of the program more, and that really impressed him.
Defensively, Randolph said he can play either free or strong safety.
Though Florida’s defensive line looks to be stockpiled for years to come, Gator coaches seem to be high on Tampa Alonso defensive end Anthony Chickillo. He was in town and told Rivals.com he had a good visit. McCarney seems to be leading the charge in his recruitment, which can only mean good things for Florida.