Gators unveil latest high-tech weapon in the war to win hearts and minds of recruits | Whitley

David Whitley
The Gainesville Sun
UF gymnast Rachel Baumann poses for Media Day in the university's new  wraparound digital studio.

Music critic Jon Landau went to a small concert almost 40 years ago and wrote some prophetic words:

“I saw rock and roll future and its name is Bruce Springsteen.”

A few days ago, I went to a converted storage area at Florida’s indoor practice facility and saw football recruiting future.

It was Billy Napier’s 6-foot-tall nose.

I came face to face with a giant Napier standing in the tunnel before a Gator game. Then came a floor-shaking rumble, a dizzying visual swoop away from UF’s coach and into the sky. It was as if I were storming onto Florida Field, only better.

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The camera whisked through a kaleidoscopic new world. The Vū world. It’s the latest weapon in the war to win the hearts and minds of impressionable recruits.

“We think this is a game-changer for us,” said Kevin Camps, UF’s assistant athletics director for creative media and branding.

What exactly is Vū?

To truly understand, you have to experience it. But the basic explanation is it’s a wraparound digital studio. The LED-encrusted walls are 13 feet high and form a virtual-reality cocoon.

Enter it, and you can be transported just about anywhere via video on the walls. The demonstration we got featured drone footage of the football team’s grand entrance.

UF gymnast Trinity Thomas knows all about a perfect 10 and some are saying the Gators' newest recruiting tool should get that score, too.

It’s a mesmerizing trip that leaves you so awash in Gatordom, Kirby Smart might want to grab the nearest pen and sign a letter of intent with UF.

“You're walking into something that you're not really sure what it is,” Camps said. “You just know and feel that it’s something different.”

Florida sort of lucked into it. Some alums are investors in Vū Technologies, which has studios in Orlando, Tampa, Nashville and Las Vegas.

They gave UF a small-scale version of their contraption, which has been dubbed SwampVū. Camps won’t say what the price tag would have been. My guess is it’s tons more than your snazziest big screen from Best Buy, but less than the $13.8 million the Gator Collective was going to give Jaden Rashada.

Gators' new toy will be a 'recruiting component'

God knows it’ll be a better investment. UF can produce eye-grabbing video content for all sorts of things, but there’s one primary driver.

“The recruiting component,” Camps said.

A visiting prospect used to be lured with a steak dinner, their name on a locker and a hot coed showing them where the biology lab is located. Now, players are enticed by photo shoots they post to increase their online clout.

The flashier, the better.

“It’s very important how we’re branding them,” Camps said.

Recruits typically go to a studio to find jerseys, pants, towels, wristbands, helmets and cleats laid before them. Their favorite song starts pumping.

Lights start flashing. The player prances and preens for the camera.

There usually are props, the favorite being a high-end sports car. But how many Lamborghinis can Johnny 5-Star sit in before they all look the same?

“What’s the separator?” Camps said. “What’s the difference? What’s setting you apart?”

Based on UF’s recruiting ranking vis-à-vis SEC big boys, not much. But with Vū, recruits can not only be put in a Lambo. They can virtually win the Monaco Grand Prix.

They can plant a Gator flag atop Mount Everest. They can fly an F-18 next to ex-Gator Tom Cruise.

OK, Tom Cruise is not really an alum. But this is virtual reality.

“My guess is we’re only scratching the surface of what the utilization of this thing can be and what the SwampVū can be,” Athletic Director Scott Stricklin said. “It’s really limited only by your imagination.”

And perhaps your dancing ability. LSU did a photo shoot last year featuring a 6-foot-5 tight-end prospect, strobe lights, a 360-degree spinning camera and coach Brian Kelly dancing to the recruit’s preferred rap song, “Right Foot Creep.”

If you look it up on YouTube, you’ll understand why the recruit signed with Alabama. And why Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin couldn’t resist tagging Kelly on Twitter.

“Did you lose a bet or something?” he wrote.

Bear Bryant didn't need gimmicks to recruit at Alabama

Truth be told, a lot of coaches hate the whole photo shoot circus. They say things like academics, relationships and tradition still matter most in recruiting. They point out Bear Bryant never, as far as we know, tried to impress a recruit by dancing to “Right Foot Creep.”

Alas, that’s how the recruiting game is played these days. And for now, UF has a toy unlike any other.

That by no means guarantees a top-five recruiting class. It does mean the technology is so good, it could potentially sway an indecisive linebacker or two. Even more impressive, it might make Napier seem capable of dancing like James Brown.

LSU should be so lucky.

David Whitley is The Gainesville Sun's sports columnist. Contact him at Follow him on Twitter @DavidEWhitley