When Gator fans gloat over Florida’s 2013 recruiting class this February, chances are most will use ESPN as their reference.
The four-letter network released the ESPN150 Tuesday, and the Gators were well represented in the rankings. Seven of UF’s 15 commitments made the initial list, which tied Texas for the second most (Michigan has 11).
Each one of Florida’s commits in the ESPN150 rank in the top 10 at their position:
No. 18 — Caleb Brantley (No. 4 defensive tackle)
No. 22 — Kelvin Taylor (No. 1 running back)
No. 38 — Daniel McMillian (No. 2 outside linebacker)
No. 44 — Ahmad Fulwood (No. 6 wide receiver)
No. 58 — Nick Washington (No. 4 safety)
No. 64 — Keanu Neal (No. 7 safety)
No. 109 — Quinton Powell (No. 9 outside linebacker)
UF has seven verbals in the Rivals250, but only five are in the top 150. Neal and Powell didn’t make the Rivals250, but linebacker James Hearns (No. 157 overall) and receiver Rodney Adams (No. 234 overall) did.
Florida has nine verbals in the Scout300, but only three fall within the top 200. And other than McMillian, none of the commits are rated higher at their positions on Rivals or Scout.
So at this stage, ESPN thinks very highly of the future Gators. Florida has more recruits (30) in the ESPN150 than any other state, and UF has commitments from seven of them. Corey Long, ESPN’s recruiting coordinator for the state of Florida, said Will Muschamp and his coaches have hit the ground running in 2013.
“They’ve done a good job of getting after things early,” Long said. “They’re doing great in the state of Florida. Right away, they went out there and got some very good defensive players to rebuild their defense. They also needed wide receivers and they got two very good ones. So I think they’ve hit on the spots of need early and they’ve gotten quality players.”
Despite landing the nation’s top running back and fourth-best defensive tackle, Long identified two other recruits as Florida’s most important thus far.
“The two that jump out the most to me are Rodney Adams and Ahmad Fulwood,” Long said. “Florida doesn’t have receivers right now. They’ve got a couple, but they don’t have any depth at the position at all. You can’t get a passing game going without receivers. That’s one of the issues with their offense, and this year they’re probably not going to be very explosive because they don’t any competition between several high-level players.
“So getting those two is a huge deal. Ahmad Fulwood is a big, possession receiver. He probably doesn’t have top-end speed, but he’s tall and he’s a big target that can catch. And Rodney Adams is just a big-play kid.”
The Gators lost out last year on five-star receivers Nelson Agholor and Stefon Diggs, who were both predicted to pick Florida for months. Muschamp put former offensive coordinator Charlie Weis in charge of their recruitment, hoping his NFL pedigree would win them over. They were being sold on Super Bowl rings more so than Florida’s football program. But once he left to become the head coach at Kansas, the talented wideouts decided to go elsewhere.
Long doesn’t see Muschamp making that mistake again.
“This is a class that has his fingerprints on it,” Long said. “I think he is starting to impose his philosophy on the program. Last year, a lot of the fans moped over the guys they didn’t get. But they did do a very good job of getting tougher and upgrading on both sides of the line of scrimmage. And that was very important to coach Muschamp. But he still missed on the two big receivers, Agholor and Diggs. They were very attached to Charlie Weis, who ended up leaving late (in the recruiting process).
“I think the reason Florida tailed off at the end last year was because coach Muschamp did not impose enough of his will on the class. He let Charlie Weis handle some things that he probably should not have let him handle. But now, this class is all him and I think he’s in complete control of their recruiting board. He’s the last line on any of the commits they accept. So I think he’s putting himself at the forefront of the program, and the players he’s bringing in are ones that he feels will help get him on the right side of the scoreboard.”
The Gators signed nine ESPN150 members in 2012, and they’re on pace to surpass that total this year with almost half of their commits in the new rankings and several other prospects with Florida at or near the top of their list.
Those include offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil (No. 3), cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III (No. 4), cornerback Mackensie Alexander (No. 6), defensive end DeMarcus Walker (No. 24), wide receiver Stacy Coley (No. 30), safety Leon McQuay III (No. 34), quarterback Cooper Bateman (No. 61) and safety Marcell Harris (No. 66), among others.
When all is said and done, the Gators could have the top class in the country if they pick up some of the prospects deciding around National Signing Day.
“This year they’ve done a good job of identifying kids that want to commit early and get the process out of the way,” Long said. “They’ve still got some big (names) that I’m sure they’re going to have to wait up until signing day for. But you always want to open strong and close strong. They’ve opened strong, so now finishing is the key.”