For six years, Urban Meyer searched for it.
He looked high and low. East and west.
Still, one of the best recruiters in college football couldn’t haul in the elusive big running back to save his life while at Florida. He certainly came close a few times.
There was the last-second change-of-heart by C.J. Spiller, who shocked everyone with his decision to pick Clemson over close-to-home Florida. We all know how his career turned out.
A year later Florida signed the 6-foot-1, 203-pound Bo Williams, but he eventually transferred to Iowa State.
Florida had been in the race for a few bruisers, but had yet to reel in a true every-down back.
Florida currently has rising junior Mike Gillislee and redshirt freshman Mack Brown, neither of whom crack 6-0 or more than 210 pounds. While talented, they might not be considered big, bruising backs.
Well, what Meyer annually missed on, new coach Will Muschamp has secured only months onto the job.
On Monday, Seffner Armwood running back Matt Jones, who stands 6-3, 215 pounds, committed to Florida, making him the third Gator commitment of the 2012 class.
On Wednesday, Jones, whom Scout.com rates as a five-star prospect and who made Rivals.com’s Rivals250 Watch List, had a public ceremony at his high school to discuss his early commitment.
“I chose the University of Florida because I love the coaching staff and I love some of the players on the team. Gator country felt like home to me,” Jones said. “I truly believe that I will rock the Gator Nation. By getting this commitment behind me now, I can give all my attention to my academics and football.”
That last sentence truly is refreshing to read.
Jones went on to say that he is done with the recruiting process, saying he won’t miss looking at the 14 missed calls on his cell phone a night (some from me I’m sure) and the massive amount of text and Facebook messages he hated replying to (me as well).
“I’m a Gator for life,” he said. “I’m not taking any other visits.”
So how huge is this pickup for the Gators?
No. Really, it is.
Notice how almost every team in the SEC, except Florida, has a tank-like running back to carry most of the offensive load?
It had to be frustrating for Gator fans to not see a Florida running back reach the 1,000-yard mark under Meyer. In fact, Ciatrick Fason (6-0, 215) was the last Gator to eclipse 1,000 yards in a season way back in 2004 when he finished with 1,267 yards and led the SEC with 105.6 yards per game.
While running the spread, Florida never really needed a bigger back, and Florida’s running game was just fine.
However, with a bumbling offense on display in 2010, the Gators would have benefited greatly from a stronger running game. Injuries plagued Florida’s backfield, and while Florida finished sixth in the SEC in rushing (166.5 yards per game), there was no short-yardage guy. No one big enough and strong enough to get the Gators critical yards.
Brown could be that guy, if he can gain the weight, and Gillislee showed he’s got the skills to be an every-down back. But, like Brown, weight could be an issue. It’s still unclear if either will be durable enough to withstand a full season of pounding in the country’s most brutal conference.
Eight of the nine top SEC running backs weighed 215 pounds or more in 2010. The top three rushers were at least 6-0 and each surpassed the 215-pound mark and eight had double-digit rushing touchdown numbers.
Jones is already taller than any of the top rushers and weighs the same as five of them. He immediately fits the profile as that bigger SEC back Florida has been missing since DeShawn Wynn (5-11, 238) helped the Gators to the 2006 national championship.
“They told me they need a big back in their pro-style offense,” Jones said. “They are going to work on their guys and get them better, but they need a bigger guy to come in and run with the ball downhill.”
It didn’t hurt Florida that new running backs coach Brian White, formerly the tight ends coach, coached Heisman Trophy winner Ron Dayne at Wisconsin as the offensive coordinator/running backs coach. Dayne is also the Football Bowl Subdivision’s all-time leading rusher with 6,397 yards (bowl games not included).
As a junior, Jones rushed for 1,438 yards and 26 touchdowns and claimed around 30 offers before his commitment to Florida.
Though Jones has more than a year until he graduates, he said he won’t give coaches — outside of Florida’s — any feedback when they try to get a hold of him. He strongly insists his recruitment is over.
Verbals mean hardly anything these days in recruiting, but since Armwood coach Sean Callahan took over, he’s had just one decommitment from one of his football players and he doesn’t intend to see Jones fall into that category.
“We don’t want Matt to be the second,” Callahan said. “We need to bring some honor in recruiting.
“Matt’s word is good. Our word is good. And I really believe that the University of Florida’s word is good, too.”