Florida football recruiting: Dan Mullen talks hot topics, strong close to National Signing Day 2019

By Adam Silverstein
February 6, 2019
Florida football recruiting: Dan Mullen talks hot topics, strong close to National Signing Day 2019
Football

Image Credit: Tim Casey / UAA

Believe it or not, the Florida Gators on Wednesday closed with a top 10 recruiting class for the first time since 2014. When you consider the prestige of Gators football and the quality of players Florida has produced over the years, that is astounding. Still, credit head coach Dan Mullen for righting the ship in another area of the program that began to sink.

With 2019 National Signing Day now in the books, UF checked in with the No. 9 overall class in the nation. The Gators went from No. 21 before the Early Signing Period in December 2018 to No. 11 entering the day and moved up two spots after adding the two primary prospects they were looking to sign — four-star top 100 recruits in defensive back Kaiir Elam (North Palm Beach, FL) and defensive end Khris Bogle (Fort Lauderdale, FL).

Just moments after Elam’s announcement in the mid-afternoon, Mullen took the podium to address the class he signed and what’s ahead for Florida. As Mullen spoke for a full hour, we truncated his comments and singled out some of the hottest topics he touched on during his availability.

On the overall recruiting success: “A really great day for us when you look at some of the additions we had today are huge for us, huge for the future, big pieces for the future of how we continue to build this program. And not just in guys on the field but the character of guys off the field. … As guys talk about what a family program we have and how the families are very involved in the decision, I’m really excited about that because I think that when you look and a lot of the stuff that goes on in recruiting, parents come up here and see what our program’s about, how their sons are going to be treated and taken care of, treated as part of our family, but also see beyond the field at the University of Florida and what the University of Florida means to them. Not just about playing football on Saturdays in The Swamp, but the education that you’re going to get, which is the best education in the Southeastern Conference, with the alumni base, with the connections, the networking that it’s going to give you for your future beyond football is so special.

“And I’m really excited. And the character of what guys believe in in[side] the program. When you look at a Diwun Black that comes out and says [when asked] what do you feel about your commitment to Florida? ‘I’m committed for infinity.’”

On beating Georgia and Alabama head-to-head for signees: “We are here to build and bring back a program that competes regularly for championships and you’ve got to have good players to do that. If you go back and you look at the championships in the mid-2000s here, there were an awful lot of talent on those rosters. So recruiting is a major part of it. Developing, coaching, all of that is a big part of it. But also having the talent and a lot of that comes into recruiting. So I think that’s huge for the program and it just shows the direction that we’re headed as a program. …

“So I think that’s huge for us and those are, right now those are the teams that played for the SEC championship this year, and that’s the level we want to be on. So being able to win those recruiting battles is going to help to hopefully beat them on the field as well.”

On being able to boast a top 10 class: “Recruiting rankings, part of it is good, but it’s also what, you know, it’s more important what they become. … So within our evaluations, I kind of trust our evaluations. … [Teams winning championships are] in the top 10 consistently … so we want to consistently be a top 10 program in every aspect.”

On losing assistants at positions UF was recruiting and signing those prospects anyway: “I think it shows about the two assistants we hired, maybe. I’m really excited about the guys that we have brought in on our staff. And you get the early signing, you have a high position need, and you bring in new coaches at that position and you immediately you address that.”

On how he got the idea to hire cornerbacks coach Torrian Gray: “I’ve never been in a situation where we lose a coach and basically every player on the team starts texting me, ‘Is there any way we can go hire this guy?’ And I’m like, ‘OK,’ and then I’m like, ‘You know, kind of, I had never met Torian.’ But every one of our players was like, ‘But we have to get him, we have to get him.’ And I’m like, ‘OK, well, he’s currently the secondary coach of the Washington Redskins, so that sounds like a really good idea, but you know he was here and he went to the Washington Redskins.’

“So I love the thought process behind that from our players. But as I started to research and as I talked to people, both in college and several people in the NFL about him, I thought, well, wow, it’s a really unique deal of how highly everybody spoke of him.”

On whether he was concerned about getting Arjei Henderson’s signature: “Well, until the papers come through, you’re always checking on things. But Arjei is a guy that we recruited early, had shown interest early, had committed elsewhere, and but we would always stay in contact with. I think one of the things that he wanted, that helped is him getting around some of our players at the all-star game and communicating and talking to those guys. And he really came out and came out strong and said, ‘Coach, I really want to commit to Florida.’ And I’m like, ‘OK,’ but having — he committed places [before], I kind of went through more the why. And he’s a guy that jumped.

“When he said he jumped all in, the great thing is from the second he committed he’s been awesome. He’s been solid as can be in everything. Helping us recruit and what he does, obviously he’s a very, very talented player, got tremendous ball skills as a wide receiver, and big play potential. One of the things to me that was huge is, as you said, like how confident do you feel when that happens. And from that day he and his family have been all Gator.”

On what four-star DB Chris Steele brings to the class: “Chris has done a really good job since he’s been here, and especially with the opportunity to enroll early for him, [he] is going to get him invaluable experience. When you look, especially with Marco [Wilson] still going to be coming back in spring, and not 100 percent, he’s going to have an opportunity to very much run with the ones. And if you look at last spring, with Trey Dean coming in and getting reps with the twos and getting a lot of reps with the ones during spring ball, if you would have asked me this time last year, ‘Do you think Trey Dean’s going to start 10 games or 11 games for you as a true freshman at the corner position?’ Probably would have said, ‘Boy, that would be a stretch for us.’ But the opportunity he would have would be there for him to get that experience and get ready to go play.

“And I think Chris walks into that same situation right now where, because of some injuries, because of how we’re going to move some things around, with the departure of Chauncey [Gardner-Johnson] at the star position for us, that Chris is going to have that opportunity to get reps that are going to prepare him to be ready to go play and it was really good that Trey got all that experience in spring because lo and behold after three plays of Game 2, he was the guy. And so I think Chris is really walking into that situation. Trey’s a guy we’re going to looking to move to the star position potentially to fill that void. … And I think corner depth moving forward in spring is we need that depth.”

On whether there’s actually 1,400 names in the transfer portal: “I know there’s been over 1,000 in the portal. Which, I don’t know, it will be — it would be interesting to see how all this shakes out for everybody. There’s a lot of little details to it that I don’t think everybody’s experienced yet that go into that. That it will be interesting to see how that all continues to play out in the future. I saw there’s a kid in the portal one day and out the next.”

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