If you follow recruiting at all, or subscribe to any of the Gator pay sites and read message boards, you might have noticed one common theme on National Signing Day (NSD) last season. Namely, people questioning Will Muschamp’s “closing” abilities. “Closing” is a sales terms which basically means one’s ability to get people to “pull the trigger” and make a decision. In recruiting terms, it’s a coaches ability to get kids to choose their school. Too often recruitniks associate a coach’s “closing ability” with the ability to get kids to sign late, mostly on or near NSD. This somewhat of a fallacy, because their is nothing inherent in the term “closer” with regards to time. Does it matter if a guy picks the Gators on NSD or if he picks them a year earlier? Not really. A closer is a guy that gets his guys to sign regardless of when that happens.
With last year’s recruiting class, Muschamp’s second, the staff was still somewhat handcuffed. Recruiting is primarily about the relationships the staff builds with recruits. It takes time to build those relationships. Plus recruits kind of want to see what kind of product a coach is going to put on the field. A first year coach, particularly a defensive coach, doesn’t have a track record to sell to potential recruits like say an Urban Meyer or Nick Saban. With recruiting starting earlier and earlier there wasn’t enough time for Muschamp and company to build strong relationships with last season’s potential recruits and with little to show in the way of results, the staff was playing behind the eight ball.
For this reason, the staff had a somewhat small committed class on signing day. The good news was they were in on at least eight highly rated recruits who were signing day decision makers. The bad news was NONE of those recruits chose the Gators. Message boards lit up. And I mean lit up. Fans, the term of which comes from the word fanatic which message board posters tend to be, were in an uproar. They felt slighted, they were angry, they were hurt.
“How could recruits pick Georgia, and Alabama, and Miami, etc.. Don’t they know that Gainesville is the only place they can become better football players, win championships, and get to the league.”
As funny as that sounds that’s the attitude that message board posters have on average. Most reasoned that it couldn’t be that the players just didn’t want to play here.
So they blamed the only person they knew to blame. Will Muschamp.
“He must not be a very good closer.”
“Bowden gets a lot of NSD commitments, so does Saban.”
“Heck, the Gators even got played by lowly Miami with a new coach that came from Temple. It’s got to be Muschamp.”
“What was Jeremy Foley thinking when he hired him. Heck, even Ron Zook was a good recruiter and a good closer.”
“Muschamp must not be up for this job. Boy, he better win some games next season or he’s out of here.”
Have a good laugh if you have the better part of judgement here because I assure you that a lot of fans who post on message boards do not. These are all a few of the arguments that were laid out. There were many more even sillier.
So fast forward to this season, which realistically is Muschamp’s first full class. This class is the result of relationships begun when he took over the program. The staff has had time to not only build solid relationships with these recruits but actually had two seasons to show results. And what results to show. How’s this for a selling point. Muschamp and company took over a program that was admittedly “broken” (Urban Meyer’s words) and subsequently went through the pains of a 7-6 with a depleted roster and with players ill-suited for the schemes he was trying to employ. From there they made changes in staff and in technique which allowed these same players to become stronger, smarter, and better players leading to the best turnaround in Gator football in thirty years. Muschamp became the only first time head coach to lead a team to eleven wins the year after going .500 or worse. How’s that for a selling point?
To truly judge a first time head coach you have to wait until at least his third season to see what kind of recruiter he actually is. And so we’ll take a look at Muschamp’s closing ability in this class based on two separate factors. Overall success in the numbers and types of recruits he has gotten commitments from to date and how the numbers stack up positionally and in regards to need.
Going into the last full month of recruiting and the Gators have commitments from 27 players. I’ve been following Gator football recruiting since 1977 and I can’t ever remember a time when they had this many commitments almost a full month before signing day. Even as good as Zook and Meyer were they never had this many commitments this early. What this tells me is guys want to come here and play for this staff. They’re not willing to wait and possibly miss their spot, they go ahead and pull the trigger early. That’s what I call a closer. Sure there have been a few that have taken some trips, there have been a few decommitments but 27 kids solidly committed right now, that’s closing the deal.
Ok so Champ’s got a few committed, but what kind of players are they? Do they load up on three star athletes like Miami did last year? Nope. The ESPN 300 came out yesterday. This is a list compiled by ESPN recruiting analysts who rank kids positionally and overall. While the rankings are admittedly biased, all rankings are, this is probably the most widely accepted ranking currently. Out of the top 300 players in the nation, 16 of the Gators 27 commitments are on it. 11 of the Top 150 are Gator commitments. 19 of the Gator commits are considered four star or above. In case you’re not familiar with recruiting terms, four and five star ranked players are considered to have a high probability of college success with a strong likelihood of playing early and making significant contributions during their college careers. The 16 players in the Top 300 is the most of any school in the nation. Only Ohio State with the “great” Urban Meyer is close with 15. What that tells me is Will Muschamp and company are good closers. They not only seal the deal, they do it early, and they get the good ones to sign with them.
Coming out of this past season, the Gators have some significant needs roster wise. We’ll start with defense. Since the season ended, the Gators have lost all “three” starting safeties with Josh Evans graduating, Matt Elam leaving early for the NFL draft, and De’Ante “Pop” Saunders transferring out of the program. This is huge. Of course, they have some young guys returning that are pretty talented but numbers-wise they need at least three guys to replace the three that left. And they have commitments from three top rated safeties in Keanu Neal (#65 in the ESPN 300), Marcell Harris (#68), and Nick Washington (#154). The interesting thing is, of the three, one plays like Matt Elam (Neal), one plays like Josh Evans (Harris), and the third is kind a versatile, swing type of player who can fill in at safety, corner, or in the nickel slot (Washington).
At corner, the team is set with three returning starters in Marcus Roberson, Jaylen Watkins, and Loucheiz Purifoy, but the staff still had 1-2 targeted in this class as the Gators lose Watkins to graduation next season and possibly one of Roberson or Purifoy to the draft. Right now the staff has met their need in top rated safety Vernon Hargreaves III who is the number three overall player in the ESPN 300. Their still in on a couple of other good ones in USC commit Jalen Ramsey (#14), Mackensie Alexander (#4), and Shaq Wiggins (#39).
At linebacker, the Gators lost their top three players as well in Jon Bostic to graduation, Lerentee McCray to graduation, and Jelani Jenkins to the NFL draft. Coming in to the recruiting season the number of targeted linebackers was four to five. And they end up with four of the top linebackers in the country and a fifth that is, in my opinion, vastly underrated. Middle linebacker Daniel McMillan is ranked #31 in the ESPN Top 300, MLB James Hearns checks in at # 278, outside linebacker Matt Rolin is ranked #80, and Alex Anzalone is ranked #97. The fifth linebacker is MLB Jarrad Davis, a former Auburn commit who backed out when the staff was fired. On paper, this is one of the top linebacker classes ever brought in at one time at Florida.
On the defensive line the Gators lost both starting defensive tackles, Omar Hunter to graduation and Sharrif Floyd to the NFL draft as well as defensive end Earl Okine to graduation. Right now they have five defensive lineman committed including top rated JUCO defensive tackle Darius Cummings, a former Seminole who transferred out after suffering an injury two seasons ago. He should compete for a starting spot right away. Additionally, they have defensive tackle Caleb Brantley (#42), three star defensive tackle Joey Ivie, three star defensive tackle Antonio Riles, and four star defensive end Jordan Sherit. The staff is still in on defensive tackle Montravius Adams (#13), defensive end Elijah Daniel (#34), and defensive tackle Jaynard Bostwick (#285). Once again the staff is hitting their numbers with great talent.
So as of now the staff is sitting pretty in their defensive recruiting with a total of 14 players overall and likely two to three more. The most likely in my opinion to finish this defensive class out are defensive end Elijah Daniel, defensive tackle Jaynard Bostwick, and cornerback Jaylen Ramsey. Most of all though, the staff has met their needs or will by signing day at every position on the defense.
Offensively, the Gators lost backup quarterback Jacoby Brissett, a huge loss because there is no experience behind Driskel and with him being utilized as a runner, there’s a large risk of injury. The staff went after some big fish early in Cooper Bateman (#44) and Christian Hackenburg (#15). They missed on both, but that’s to be understood with a young first year starting qb who will likely be starting for two more seasons and with the staff having little to show offensively before the season when all the top qb’s committed. From there they searched through a number of second tier quarterbacks and settled for unheralded Max Staver, 6-6 238, who is pure pocket passer with a quick release and a strong arm. He performed well his senior year and actually moved into the rankings at # 263. The staff is high on the kid and feel like they got a steal with him.
The two biggest needs on offense and on the team as a whole were at wide receiver and offensive line. The target number at wide receiver was 4-5 and the Gators really loaded up at the position with five receivers who have a variety of complementary skills. The gem is Demarcus Robinson (#53), Alvin Bailey (#77), Ahmad Fulwood (#110), Marqui Hawkins (#199), and a three star in local Gainesville receiver Chris Thompson an underrated speedster.
On the offensive line, where the staff really needs some help getting the right type of guys to run this offense, the staff got really greedy. They brought in two transfers who previously had started as freshman at other FBS schools. Tyler Moore and Max Garcia are big maulers who should compete for starting positions right away. JUCO transfer Trenton Brown is massive at 6-7 356 and should provide immediate depth and a good presence in the run game. Behind them are three 3-star players in guards Roderick Johnson and Octavius Jackson as well as center Cameron Dillard.
At running back, where the Gators lose 1,000 yard rusher Mike Gillislee the staff brought in two of the best and certainly complementary guys in Kelvin Taylor (#8 and five star) who is perhaps the most complete back in this recruiting cycle and Adam Lane (#175). The staff would still like to bring in one more and are actively recruiting FSU commit Ryan Green (# 30) and Alex Collins (#57).
The staff has twelve offensive commits currently with room for one to two more which will likely be a running back, a fullback in Kennard Swanson, or a tight end.
So it’s obvious the staff has not only loaded up on numbers overall but hit their target numbers positionally and are bringing in top level talent. Overall, the staff has four commits that were previously committed to other schools, and brought back two of the guys that decommitted in offensive guard Roderick Johnson and defensive tackle Caleb Brantley.
Any way you look at it this staff has proven that they can close the deal on top recruits while maintaining their targets positionally and overall. The last two seasons may have been somewhat difficult, Muschamp’s first class has had eight guys leave the program, but in this third recruiting class fans are finally seeing exactly what this staff is capable of. The class is currently ranked number one in both ESPN and Rivals class rankings. This cycle Muschamp has outrecruited every head coach in the country including Urban Meyer and Nick Saban. Not bad for a guy that many fans complained couldn’t close the deal.