I’ve always been a big proponent of judging a class as a whole, not just Signing Day. For example, who here remembers when and how Percy Harvin committed to Florida? How many remember Vernon Hargreaves’ commitment? If you do, that’s great, but 99.9% of Gator fans likely remember them for what they did on the field rather than how and when they committed. When and how you land a commitment is ultimately irrelevant; Signing Day does, in my eyes, garner more attention than it should for a lot of fan bases.
But it also serves as a sort of judgment day, a last call, and a chance to make one last push. And boy did the Gators take advantage of it.
Florida enjoyed a sparing amount of success on the recruiting trail this past year, with really just four commitments of note. First, quarterback Jake Allen and big play wideout DaQuon Green committed within about 24 hours of each other. Then there was Marco Wilson, a top corner, and Zach Carter, the playmaking linebacker. Four big time recruits that can make an impact at the next level is a solid foundation for a recruiting class. Then there were a couple of borderline three/four stars that didn’t get a lot of hype but certainly can play, like James Houston and Kemore Gamble. I’ve been excited about getting those guys on campus, too.
But that was all the Gators really did this past cycle, unless you want to count the commitment and then decommitment of top corner Elijah Blades. With just a few days to go until Signing Day, the synopsis of Florida’s class read something like this: a few top notch players but not nearly as many as the Gators should be reeling in every year. In other words, Florida’s class was comparable to, say, Indiana’s. The Hoosiers pull in a few really good players every year, but not nearly enough to compete for anything worth celebrating. Thus, Florida appeared to be in big trouble with Signing Day just around the corner- even with the commitment of defensive back Brad Stewart.
And then Jim McElwain closed out the 2017 class with one of the most successful Signing Days of all time both by filling needs and grabbing an incredible amount of pure talent.
Florida’s Signing Day actually got started a few hours before most other schools’. Just a few minutes before 4:00pm, on January 31, top defensive lineman Elijah Conliffe committed to Florida over Tennessee and Penn State. The Gators have a real problem on the defensive line right now with the departures of tackles Caleb Brantley and Joey Ivie, and Conliffe could very well find himself in a starting role right away.
The sun rose on Signing Day, and the LOIs from the Gators’ commits began to fly in. In the midst of all that, the Gators picked up their second big time target in offensive lineman Tedarrell (TJ) Slaton, who chose Florida over Miami. You can never have too many offensive linemen, period, but given the Gators’ relative lack of depth there, they really needed Slaton.
Another big need the Gators looked to fill in this recruiting class was in the secondary. With Quincy Wilson, Marcus Maye and Jalen Tabor all gone, Florida was looking to sign up to five defensive backs. They had three solid ones already locked up in Marco Wilson, Shawn Davis and the recently committed Brad Stewart, but given the complete overhaul the secondary is currently in need of, they were hoping to get at least one more with a pair of South Florida DB’s set to announce just after noon. And they got them both- Christopher (CJ) Henderson out of Miami and then Brian Edwards out of Hollywood each picked Florida over the hometown Miami Hurricanes.
Everything you’ve read so far, if it were all, would have been just fine. Florida filled needs on the defensive line, offensive line and secondary with a quartet of highly touted players. They landed three of the top 300 prospects in the country in every rankings system in America (except for ESPN, which for some reason refuses to recognize Conliffe’s ridiculous offer list). And in the process, they handed the Miami Hurricanes a beating on the recruiting trail they won’t soon forget, snatching a pair of defensive backs and an instant impact offensive lineman from the Canes’ backyard. I can’t remember the last time one team swept its rival (or psuedo-rival) on Signing Day by grabbing every single player both schools were in the running for.
And yet Florida saved the best for last.
The Gators, who had just two days ago pulled the offer from wide receiver James Robinson, suddenly re-offered him. At 3:30pm on Signing Day. Right before Jim McElwain was about to stand up and announce his class to the media.
The back story for Robinson is a crazy one, though it’s been well documented by now. He held several dozen offers from top schools (Alabama, Clemson, Oklahoma, Ohio State, etc.) and was taking an official visit to Ohio State to see if he would want to be a Buckeye. Then the fun stopped, quite abruptly, when he was cited for marijuana possession at an OSU party, which resulted in Urban Meyer pulling his offer. But no worries, because Florida maintained that they were still recruiting him. Until they were’t, and UF administration forced McElwain to pull his offer too, just two days before Signing Day.
Which had to make for two sleepless nights and two miserable days for Robinson, a guy with incredible talent and what all accounts say is a good heart. In that last hyperlinked article, I got on Florida pretty good for yanking his offer, too; you don’t have to go too far back in time to realize that UF has allowed players on their active roster to get away with far worse without banning them from the program, which is essentially what pulling a kid’s offer equates to.
So it came as both a tremendous surprise and an occasion of joy that Florida realized its mistake and re-extended their offer to Robinson, who had it signed and sent in at warp speed. While this wasn’t really a recruiting victory over other schools (Robinson was at one point considering Clemson and Oklahoma) because of the last few days’ happenings, it was a big addition to the class nonetheless given the off the charts talent Robinson brings and Florida’s lack of production at the wide receiver position over the years. Yes, Florida coaches and administration are now wary of Robinson, and probably have a much shorter leash on him than the average recruit, but they signed a kid that few, if any of us thought they were even still considering three days ago.
And yet Florida still wasn’t done. Adarius Lemons, who had a similarly wacky recruitment process that included decommitting from North Carolina, flipping to Florida and then “decommitting” from Florida because of concerns over his grades, worked his way back into good academic standing and was given the green light to sign with Florida. Like Robinson, Lemons is someone to keep an eye out for with non football related things, but he can play. Jordan Scarlett appears to have the starting tailback job locked down, but behind him, the competition is wide open, and Lemons figures to be a factor in that competition.
So to recap: Florida grabbed seven players, five of whom hold offers from 10 or more schools that finished in last year’s top 25 rankings (on the field, not recruiting) and all of whom held at least four offers from those 25 schools. They filled needs on both sides of the line of scrimmage, and reloaded their secondary all at once. They took chances on two extremely talented but mildly troubled recruits, both of which I think will pay off. And while they were at it, they robbed Miami of all three players from the greater Miami area that both schools were in contention for.
As Jim McElwain would say, that’s pretty cool, isn’t it?