Despite Florida’s struggles the past couple of years, the Gators have still been able to successfully recruit the Sunshine State.
However, when UF or any school can recruit on a national level, it shows the football program is thriving.
Florida coach Jim McElwain has yet to coach a game in Gainesville, but he and his staff are already attracting elite prospects from across the country.
Two of them, Houston (Texas) Westfield teammates Dillon Sterling-Cole and Tyrie Cleveland, visited UF for the first time Tuesday. Sterling-Cole (6-3, 183) is a consensus four-star quarterback and an Elite 11 finalist, while Cleveland (6-3, 189) is an Under Armour All-American wide receiver who is ranked a top-100 overall recruit by ESPN, Rivals and Scout (247Sports ranks him 114th nationally).
Out-of-state prospects of that caliber showing interest in Florida and visiting on their own dime is a positive sign for McElwain, especially considering that the Gators historically have had little to no luck recruiting talent-rich Texas.
And their overnight stay in Gainesville wasn’t merely a trip for fun. Both Sterling-Cole and Cleveland are seriously considering Florida.
“Coming down here (to UF), there’s lot of tradition and they’re used to winning. That’s important,” said Dillon’s father Chris Cole, a former wide receiver for Texas A&M and the Denver Broncos. “I think he and Tyrie are both looking for a place they can feel at home, and this type of environment at Florida is great for them. It’s a college atmosphere, and they’re looking forward to being at a place like this.”
Sterling-Cole and Cleveland did not take part in Tuesday’s summer camp session, but they were scouted by offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier during the spring evaluation period. The Texas duo spent most of their time on campus touring the facilities and being around the Florida coaches.
“Hanging out at the Swamp with coach Nussmeier and coach McElwain was great,” Sterling-Cole said. “Just being able to speak to them and see where I would fit into their system.
“They’re in need of a quarterback. Seeing what I do at my high school and what they do there at Florida, the transition would be easy. They would prepare me to play at a high level, and it would easier for me in the future as far as the NFL goes. The data speaks for itself. Most quarterbacks are drafted higher who play in a pro-style offense. So going to Florida would really benefit me.”
For Sterling-Cole and Cleveland, the biggest factor in their recruitments is being comfortable with the coaching staff. It appears McElwain, Nussmeier and receivers coach Kerry Dixon, Cleveland’s primary recruiter, have developed strong relationships with the offensive playmakers.
“It was great coming down to Gainesville for the first time,” said Cleveland, a Jacksonville native. “All the coaches were really cool. I feel like I have a great bond with Kerry Dixon and Jim McElwain.
“They told me I have the opportunity to come in and play and be a big part of their offense. I liked everything they’ve shown me. I just really want to watch them play this season and see how it goes. Right now I’m just trying to build my relationships with the coaches.”
Sterling-Cole, who released his top 8 schools earlier this month, will name five finalists in the coming weeks and plans to take all of his official visits before choosing a college. Cleveland, a former Texas A&M commit, wants to visit a few more schools and said his decision could as soon as August or as late as the Under Armour All-America Game in January 2016.
There’s a chance they could pick the same school.
“We’ve been talking about it,” Cleveland said. “Playing in high school together has been great, and I would like to do it in college. We’ll see what happens. We’re just taking our recruitments slow and trying to make the best decision for ourselves.”
Sterling Cole’s father said his son has a special connection with Cleveland on the field, but added that they won’t be a package deal like some high school teammates.
“Any time you’ve played with someone for X amount of years, it’s sort of your go-to-guy. Dillon feels comfortable passing the ball to him,” Cole said. “Tyrie is going to come down with it and he can run after the catch.
“If Tyrie wants to follow his quarterback, that’s fine. But Dillon is going to go where he wants, and vice versa. Florida might not be a good fit for Tyrie if the depth chart is loaded, just like if Dillon were to follow Tyrie to Texas A&M where they got three quarterbacks. That wouldn’t be good for him. So at the end of the day, they have to think about themselves and they know that.”
If Sterling-Cole and Cleveland do end up as college teammates, UF may be the most likely destination. Cleveland said returning to the Sunshine State for school is “definitely” a possibility, and Sterling-Cole’s father said distance won’t hurt Florida’s chances.
“No, no, no, no, no,” Cole said. “This is a 10-hour drive. That’s not long. Logistically, it makes sense. Plus they’re in a competitive conference that will give him lots of exposure. That’s important to me and Dillon. So getting here wouldn’t be a problem.”
Sterling-Cole said the Florida visit exceeded his expectations, although he did experience some discomfort.
“The weather kind of blew away,” he joked. “In Texas it’s hot, but it doesn’t get like Florida.”
Despite the humidity, Sterling-Cole said he could see himself calling Gainesville home for the next four years.
“I like them enough to where distance doesn’t really factor in too much,” he said. “I like the rich tradition of players being put in the NFL and what they do as a program as far as how they build their players for the NFL. Just that process and the way they go about doing things not just as a program but as a university, seeing that was really big for me.”
— Dillon Sterling Cole (@PassDMC) June 16, 2015