Very excited to be writing my first edition of Zach’s Mail Stack, this blog’s weekly mailbag that was one of my favorite reads as an aspiring journalist years ago (back when it was “Ask Aschoff”).
Unfortunately, there weren’t many questions in my inbox this week.
Others could still be suffering from Saturday’s loss to South Carolina and just don’t feel like talking. I understand the frustration, but if you’re a long-time Gator fan I can’t feel your pain. The last time Florida had a losing record in SEC play, I wasn’t born and my parents still had lives.
But recruiting is going strong for the Gators despite a 5-5 season. They continue to land the nation’s top prospects and are in position for several more, including wide receivers Stefon Diggs and Nelson Agholor, offensive lineman Avery Young, defensive end Noah Spence and cornerback Tracy Howard.
An official visitor and a handful of UF commits plan on taking in the Furman game this weekend, but next week’s rivalry matchup against FSU could potentially be the biggest recruiting weekend of the year for head coach Will Muschamp. Some of the top targets I listed above will be in attendance, along with several others prospects whom the Gators will be wanting to make a big impression on. I will provide a visitors list for both games, so be on the look out for those and the updates afterward.
On to the questions!
Are we trying to get any JUCO players on both lines with any size? The ones we have get pushed around alot. — Shannon
With the misses on offensive lineman Adam Bisnowaty (Pitt) and defensive tackle Carlos Watkins (Clemson), the coaches were forced to start searching for options at the JUCO level and they have found some in Mississippi.
On the offensive line, the Gators have targeted Donald Hawkins out of Northwest Mississippi C.C. in Senatoba, Miss. The 6-foot-5, 315-pounder was unsigned during the 2011 recruiting cycle after parting ways with Mississippi State. He committed to Oklahoma State on Aug. 4. but is now open to Florida, Georgia, Notre Dame and Texas, who all offered in October. Hawkins plans on visiting for FSU, where offensive line coach Frank Verducci will likely put on the full-court press to try and sway him before his official visit with the Cowboys on Dec. 3.
At East Mississippi C.C. in Scooba, Miss., there are three defensive lineman who received offers in October and could provide an immediate impact next season. UF has the best chance with Brandon Moore, a 6-foot-5, 325-pound tackle who signed with Alabama in 2009 but transferred after his freshman season. He is currently uncommitted, but the Gators were his second choice in high school and appear to be his leader now. He is taking an official visit for the Florida State game and could be on commitment watch if things go well.
His teammates, defensive tackle Damien Jacobs and defensive end Denico Autry, will be in Gainesville this weekend for Furman. These two will be harder for the Gators to grab, as Jacobs is committed to Tennessee and Autry has the Vols as his leader. Jacobs, a former Florida State commit, is visiting officially and could be swayed by Florida’s opportunity for playing time (his top priority).
Do you think UF will improve next season and actually put Jeff Driskel or Jacoby Brissett in better positions than they did this season? I believe they have the coaches to win championships. — Ryan
Although this is more of a football question, it’s definitely related to recruiting. For Brissett or Driskel to have a successful sophomore season, it’s the players who need to put them in better positions.
I know this point has been beat to death, but the Gators don’t have the offensive pieces to run Charlie Weis’ offense. He’s having to work with running backs, wide receivers and offensive linemen who were recruited for Urban Meyer’s spread option attack. And it doesn’t help that he has a one-legged quarterback and a starting tight end who came to UF as a passer.
Florida has a lot of replacing and reloading to do on the roster, and it can’t be done with just one recruiting class. I don’t expect the offense to improve much next year because its best players will be gone in John Brantley, Chris Rainey, Jeff Demps and Deonte Thompson, who leads the team in receptions among wide receivers (for better or worse).
Make no mistake, the 2012 offensive recruits will help and could be the reason for championship’s down the road. But there’s no telling how they will fare in their freshman campaigns. The Gator offense needs players who are fit for the pro-style system, can pick up Weis’ playbook fast and be difference-makers right away. That’s been a tough task for the guys already on this team — imagine how hard it will be for a group of 18-year-olds.
Football comes down to recruiting, coaching and player development. Florida will always get the top-flight prospects and, for what it’s worth, some former players have said this is the best coaching staff UF has ever had. That leaves player development, where the coaches will need a couple years to bring in who they want and develop them in all phases of the game before the Gators can contend for championships again.
Could you catch us up on any commitments by possible Gator recruits? — Bill
The only recruit who was scheduled to make a decision soon was Buford, Ga., tight end Kurt Freitag. The three-star was originally going to commit in October, then pushed it back to this month and now says he will announce his college choice on Dec. 9 at the Georgia state title game (assuming his high school team makes it there). He officially visited UF for the Alabama game and there was some chatter that he would pick the Gators along with Kent Taylor, the nation’s No. 1 tight end. That didn’t happen, and with Taylor now committed to Florida, it looks like Freitag will go with the Crimson Tide. But this could pave the way for Sean Culkin (Indian Rocks Christian School, Largo, Fla) to join the 2012 class. Culkin doesn’t have a UF offer, but he continues to speak with tight end coach Derek Lewis and would commit on the spot if one came along.
Unless Muschamp gets someone to pull the trigger this weekend or the next, don’t expect too many verbals for UF until the high schools break for the holidays and prospects who want to make announcements at the All-American games or on National Signing Day starting taking their official visits.
That’s all I have for this week. Leave your comments on this blog for next time!