*From Florida Media Relations*
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – The first year was about survival and the quest to retain as many players as possible while trying to land a few new ones amidst a coaching change.
In Will Muschamp’s second recruiting class at Florida, the theme centered on the Gators’ desperate need to build depth, especially along the offensive and defensive lines.
Based on the vibe from National Signing Day on Wednesday, Year 3 focused on solidifying the foundation built the past two seasons and adding some key parts to what Muschamp hopes results one day soon in an SEC Championship and national title.
“I’m very pleased with being able to identify the players we wanted to get,’’ Muschamp said. “We didn’t lose many and we took shots at a lot of really good players. People talk about closing – what’s the difference between closing in March and closing on Signing Day. Does it lessen the player’s value because you got him early?
“I don’t buy into this idea of closing maybe as much other people do. You go out and you do your due diligence. It’s about building relationships and building trust. Maybe some of our guys weren’t into the glitz and glamour of signing day. We want blue-collar guys who are going to come in here with the right kind of character and integrity and do it the right way.”
According to those analysts who spend the entire year ranking and re-ranking recruits, Muschamp and his staff took a step in the right direction. ESPN.com ranked Florida’s class No. 2 overall, Rivals.com ranked the Gators’ class third, and Scout.com ranked Florida’s 2013 recruiting class eighth overall.
The Gators signed 20 players on Wednesday in addition to the eight early enrollees that joined the program in January. The breakdown of the class – seven defensive linemen, five offensive linemen, five wide receivers, four linebackers, four defensive backs, two running backs and one quarterback.
“The thing I’m pleased about the most in the class is the balance,’’ Muschamp said. “You also have a class, other than for a few guys, who committed to the University of Florida and took one visit – and that was to Florida. I think that says a lot about the guys in the class. That is something I’m pleased with.”
In his two-plus seasons as Florida’s head coach, Muschamp and his staff have gained a reputation at identifying talent early, working to develop relationships, and come National Signing Day getting those players to sign without some of the drama that often is associated with one of the sports world’s craziest days.
That was the case for Florida on Wednesday as the National Letters of Intent starting to pour in. When the day ended, the Gators’ class looked pretty much as expected when it started.
The final two additions came early in the afternoon when St. Lucie West Centennial defensive lineman Jay-nard Bostwick and defensive lineman Jarran Reed (East Mississippi Community College) were officially added to the class.
One area of emphasis the Gators addressed was receiver. Florida added five receivers in this class: Alvin Bailey (Armwood High), Ahmad Fullwood (Jacksonville Bishop Kenny), Marqui Hawkins (Columbus, Ga.), Demarcus Robinson (Fort Valley, Ga.) and Chris Thompson (Gainesville High).
While Florida returns veteran receivers Quinton Dunbar, Andre Debose and Solomon Patton next season, the Gators need help in the playmaker department. All five receivers showed that ability to some degree in high school, which is why they were recruited heavily.
“I'm excited to get those guys,’’ first-year receivers coach Joker Phillips said. “We definitely have some talent here. The thing I've got to do is massage it and get it to a level that I think can help us take the next step in the passing game.
“But these young guys, I'm excited to get a chance to work with these guys. All of them bring something different and I think that is what you have to have. We've got some guys who are physical, we've got some guys who are fast and can stretch the field, and we've got some guys who can do the things you have to do underneath.”
Perhaps the most notable player in the class is defensive back Vernon Hargreaves III of Tampa’s Wharton High. Hargreaves was ranked the top cornerback in the country by various recruiting analysts and is considered a player that could make an impact his freshman season.
Muschamp said “we will find out in August” when camp starts whether Hargreaves or any of the newcomers can step in and play right away. Muschamp’s philosophy is that the best players will play regardless of class.
“I’m not ready to label anybody the next anything,’’ Muschamp said. “All these players need to prove their mettle at the University of Florida and learn to compete in this league and compete in this environment.”
One point Muschamp made sure to emphasize at his press conference on Wednesday was that the Gators are confident they have added a recruiting class of high-character players. These are players the coaches got to know on the recruiting trail, and for the most part, players who committed early in the process and stuck by their commitment.
“A lot of times when you are recruiting a young man, [you wonder] if it’s a commitment or a reservation,’’ he said. “You make reservations at the Marriott but you may change and go to the Hilton.”
Fortunately for the Gators, they got commitments instead of canceled reservations. As far as National Signing Days go, this one has the look of a winner off the field. The next test will be to win on Saturdays.
One of Muschamp’s favorite expressions in his time at Florida has been “we are building a program here, not a team.”
The builders delivered more players to help the cause Wednesday.
“We have an idea of what we’re looking for. I don’t care where they are ranked or how many stars they have by their name. That has nothing to do with us taking a player,’’ Muschamp said. “There are some college staffs that do look at that. I don’t. We have a formula we’re looking for and the guys we get excited about are the guys we feel can fit in our systems offensively, defensively and special teams.
“We feel very strong about it.”
Click here for list of Gator signees: