Ask anyone to name the three hot beds of college football recruiting and you’ll hear about Southern California, South Florida and the eastern half of Texas (Houston and the Dallas-Fort Worth area). And there’s something to be said for concentrating a program’s recruiting initiatives in those areas, particularly for in-state teams.
The Florida Gators tripled down in this regard recently, adding two premier South Florida-area recruiters in running backs coach Ja’Juan Seider and defensive backs coach Corey Bell to Mr. South Florida himself in defensive coordinator Randy Shannon.
Both South Florida natives, Seider and Bell began their careers returning home to coach high school teams. They have a combined 23 years coaching in the South Florida high school ranks with Bell remaining in the area to spend four years as Miami’s director of football operations under Shannon and three years as defensive backs coach at Florida Atlantic in nearby Boca Raton.
Shannon, of course, is a Miami native who played for the Hurricanes and coached in South Florida for 20 years (1991-2010), including three with the NFL’s Dolphins and his last four as head coach of the Canes.
Round that all up and you’re talking 50 years of coaching and working — not to mention growing up — in one of the nation’s premier recruiting hotbeds, a fact not lost on 2 Live Crew frontman and long-time UM supporter Luther Campbell (who you may know better as Uncle Luke), now an area high school coach himself.
“With those three right there, they have an all-star team now,” Campbell told SEC Country’s Zach Abolverdi. “The commitment Florida has in hiring all those guys, that shows you they want players from South Florida. You know me, I’m a die-hard Miami fan. But we might not have a chance to get the top players now. That’s how serious that crew will be at Florida. It’s a crazy all-star team.”
Under Shannon, the Gators have seen a resurgence in recruiting the South Florida area, which was a major reason he was hired in the first place. Shannon and head coach Jim McElwain have hauled in 23 prospects from the area over the last three cycles compared to 22 from Urban Meyer in six (nine in 2010) and 16 from Will Muschamp in four. The average star ranking of those players, however, does not match either of McElwain’s predecessors.
That does not make the achievement something to thumb one’s nose at, but it’s important for Florida to remember that there is plenty of talent throughout the rest of the state. In many cases, some of the best players in the nation are from Florida but not the narrowly defined area including the Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties.
Among the top 25 in-state prospects in 2017 (not counting those that attended the private IMG Academy in Bradenton), only 11 were from South Florida. The Gators missed the top six players in the state overall, signed four of the 11 aforementioned and just one of the remaining 14 from outside the area.
In 2016, eight of the top 25 were from South Florida. The Gators missed the top three players in the state overall, signed one of the aforementioned eight and three of the remaining 22 from outside the area.
In 2015, the transition class from Muschamp, nine of the top 25 were from South Florida. The Gators signed two of the top four players in the state overall (both from outside the area) and one of the aforementioned nine.
In other words, Florida could spend every day of the year in the 561, 954 and 305 — and having one-third of its staff focusing on one-third of the state’s population is not a bad thing — but the Gators cannot be missing on highly ranked prospects much closer to home as they have over the last two years.
Looking ahead to 2018, 11 of the top 25 players in the state are from South Florida and four are already committed: a pair to Miami and one each to Alabama and FSU. With five-star cornerback Patrick Surtain Jr. likely off to LSU and four-star CB Al Blades Jr. almost assuredly following in his father’s footsteps at UM, that’s two more top South Florida players — both are out of Fort Lauderdale — gone.
Recruiting changes by the day and nothing is close to set in stone for 2018, but the Gators have to make sure to remember that they haven’t put a fence around South Florida by any means, and even if they do one day, there’s plenty more area to cover. Two of Florida’s three new hires ahead of the 2017 season were brought on board not only for their coaching ability but for their South Florida recruiting chops. It would be in McElwain’s best interest to ensure the rest of his staff hits the remainder of the state hard, and if they can’t deliver, realize more changes may need to be made.