It is no secret that the Florida Gators have been out-recruited by in-state rival Florida State over the last few seasons. And as the end of the 2015 cycle approaches, it is obvious that the Gators have been out-recruited by the majority of teams in college football over the last year, a tide that new Florida head coach Jim McElwain was looking to turn before he even held his introductory press conference.
Due to a lack of overall success on the field, an inability to produce offensively and season-long instability at head coach, the Gators currently stand with just eight commitments for 2015, all of whom are three-star prospects and only half of which are from the state of Florida, one of the top recruiting hotbeds in the country.
That is where McElwain plans to begin his journey to turn the Gators into a recruiting powerhouse once again, perhaps as soon as National Signing Day in February.
“When you look from a historical standpoint, when Florida was really rolling, they controlled and had the majority of really good players out of [its home state]. First and foremost, we have to get back in and make sure we get the best out of that area as we build our team,” he told Tampa Bay’s WDAE 620 AM on Monday. “Obviously I’m a firm believer: we are the University of Florida, and it is Florida first – and then the rest of it is second. We’ve had to go back in, we’re reevaluating guys as we speak, making sure that we get the right fit, first and foremost with players from the state of Florida.”
Florida’s recruiting class has been a work in progress all season but only dropped to its current level once the Gators’ losses piled up and Will Muschamp was fired; Florida saw its top four commitments – all four-star prospects – withdraw their verbal pledges.
Now the Gators are looking to salvage a class that still has nearly 20 scholarships available. McElwain is seemingly taking a page out of the recruiting handbook of FSU’s Jimbo Fisher, who a few years ago pitched the Seminoles as a once-incredibly successful program turning over a new leaf following Bobby Bowden’s retirement.
With the failed Muschamp tenure now in the past, McElwain hopes to show recruits that things have changed at Florida with things looking up for the state’s flagship program.
“At the end of every chapter, another chapter can be written. This is an opportunity for a lot of young men, in this recruiting class, to make a difference at the University of Florida,” he explained Tuesday on Orlando’s 720 The Game. “We’ve been out doing everything we could during contact period to, just more than anything, say, ‘Hey, give us an opportunity here. Give us a chance to build some relationships and then make a decision that fits you.’
“At the end of the day, there’s a lot of guys out there that would love to wear the blue and orange of the Florida Gators, and we’re obviously going to give them that opportunity and give them the opportunity to come in and kind of be that first class to get us back where we need to go and get the Gators back where the fans deserve them to be.”
With a non-contact period existing during the holiday season, McElwain is stuck in limbo and unable to meet with prospects again until the new year. Once the calendar turns, McElwain is prepared to “hit the ground running,” which should be easier now that he appears to have both his coordinators locked up.
But what exactly is McElwain looking for out on the recruiting trail?
Explosive talent that will fill holes and build roster depth.
“There’s some really good players out there that have taken a look at us since we’ve got on board and some guys who haven’t made their minds up yet,” he told the Tampa Bay station. “Obviously for us, creating roster balance is huge and really it all starts with explosive playmakers at each position. When you talk about that, that doesn’t mean it’s got to be a guy who has the ball in his hands all the time. It can be a guy who can change the game, whether that be on the offensive line, it doesn’t matter what position that is. Obviously we need to get our numbers back up at the offensive line position, and that’s something we’re really pounding on right now.”
McElwain has a lot to accomplish and little time to get it done with plenty of prospects enrolling early in January and National Signing Day set for February 4. Nevertheless, he remains confident that Gators fans will be happy when they see the incoming class Florida assembles in the next six weeks.
“We will do a great job of salvaging this recruiting class,” he told Jacksonville’s 1010 XL on Monday. “There’s some really good players out there that have given us notice and some that haven’t made up their minds yet. Those are the ones we’re going to go after. And then we’ve got to get a great start on the evaluations for the 2016 and 2017 classes. For us, that all starts with capturing the state of Florida as much as we can.”