McElwain on recruiting impact of UF-FSU rivalry: ‘It’s always big’

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Florida coach Jim McElwain understands the recruiting importance, history of the UF-FSU rivalry. (Matt Stamey/Staff photographer)

When discussing No. 14 Florida State and its best player Monday, the conversation naturally turned to recruiting for UF coach Jim McElwain.

The rosters of both teams always feature dozen of players who were wanted by Florida and FSU, and the on-field rivalry often carries over to the recruiting trail in each cycle.

“They’ve got a great ball squad,” McElwain said with a surly look on his face. “You’ve seen their recruiting list, you know who their players are.”

Florida State’s best-known player this season is sophomore running back and Heisman Trophy candidate Dalvin Cook.

“That guy’s special now,” McElwain said of Cook. “Somebody told me he was committed here or something? Hmm. Wonder how he ended up there?”

Cook is one of the most recent and memorable recruiting battles between the two schools. The former five-star prospect was committed to UF for eight months before flipping to FSU the week of early enrollment.

In the last class, the Gators and Seminoles went head-to-head for the likes of Deondre Francois, CeCe Jefferson, Jordan Scarlett and Auden Tate.

This year, they’re battling for five-star wide receiver Nate Craig-Myers and top-100 defensive end Janarius Robinson, an FSU commit considering Florida.

“It’s always big,” McElwain said of the rivalry. “Any game you play against a team like Georgia or anybody in our footprint that you’re recruiting against, obviously.”

But unlike the 2014 and 2015 cycles, when UF’s struggles and instability helped Florida State land five-stars and childhood Gator fans such as Cook, George Campbell, Jacques Patrick and┬áTravis Rudolph, McElwain believes his direction of the program is resonating with recruits.

“The general consensus out there is they can see where the Gators are headed,” McElwain said. “Step back from this ballgame. It’s not going to turn (a recruit) one way or the other.

“They know the commitment we’re making at the administrative level. They know the commitment we’re making as organization to help them be successful in life with the (Florida) brand and Gators taking care of Gators when football is over.

“There’s a lot of important things that go into that decision, and now they can see that we’re committed to doing a lot of things to help them be successful. And that’s really what recruiting is all about.”