Five-star prospects are back at Florida, just not by the most traditional means

By Adam Silverstein
January 27, 2020
Five-star prospects are back at Florida, just not by the most traditional means
Football

For all of the significant strides that head coach Dan Mullen has made inside the Florida Gators football program — and there have been plenty — recruiting is one area in which fans believe there is still plenty of room for improvement. In order to compete with the nation’s top teams — Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State, Georgia, LSU and others, in whatever order you wish — Florida needs to recruit alongside them.

The Gators’ Class of 2020 is currently ranked eighth nationally, which would be the team’s best finish since 2013 if its ranking holds or improves. Still, as of the end of the early signing period, Florida was one of only two teams in the top nine that did not have a single five-star commitment with the top six teams all having more than one: Clemson (six), Alabama (four), Georgia (five), LSU and Ohio State (three each), Texas A&M (two).

It simply is tough to compete with that kind of roster talent no matter how good your coaching, especially when you consider the high-level recruiting has been going on elsewhere for years. Recruiting may not guarantee victory, but it sure helps.

Dating back to 2002, every program that has played in a national championship game had at least one five-star player on its roster with most featuring a significant number (Alabama once had 18). Only one program (Oregon) did not have a top 10-ranked recruiting class among the four that made up most of its roster, according to 247Sports.

A funny thing has happened for the Gators once the year turned to 2020. Defensive tackle commitment Gervon Dexter (Lake Wales, FL) received a bump from Rivals, which now rates him as a five-star prospect and the No. 23 overall player in the nation. As such, Dexter was shifted to No. 17 in the 247Sports Composite with a five-star rating in the most comprehensive recruiting database.

It may seem like a small change, but perception is often reality off the field when it comes to recruiting. On the field, Dexter’s rating will not matter one iota in the long run. His new rating makes him Mullen’s first five-star signee at UF and the program’s first overall since 2015.

What’s more important is overall team talent, which is an area Florida has been lacking despite having plenty of exceptional players as part of the program over recent years. Mullen is focused on improving that aspect of the team no matter the circumstance, which has led even more five-star prospects to the Gators.

Since the end of the 2019 season, Florida has added not one but two five-star undergraduate transfers in running back Lorenzo Lingard and wide receiver Justin Shorter. Both among the highest-rated members of the Class of 2018, they must sit a year in residence (per NCAA rules) but will apply for waivers to play immediately. Shorter will be the highest-rated player on a UF roster since 2015.

Those two are not alone. Five-star 2018 linebacker Brenton Cox transferred into the program last August after one season with Georgia. Though his immediate eligibility failed last season, Cox was the lone five-star player on the roster in 2019 and he will be ready to suit up for the Gators in 2020.

Florida finished with the 14th-ranked Class of 2018. After now adding three transfers from that year — all five-stars among the top 25 prospects in the nation — the Gators’ class would be ranked No. 6 if the 247Sports Team Rankings were recalculated from that cycle.

This is certainly not traditional roster building, but with the introduction of the transfer portal and players feeling more empowered than ever to take control of their college careers, Mullen has found a way to overcome a few recruiting shortfalls and fill in roster gaps — particularly on the offensive side of the ball where prior transfers like wideouts Van Jefferson and Trevon Grimes have already worked swimmingly.

Mullen has accomplished this while simultaneously reducing transfers from within his own program. Most notable, of course, is rising redshirt sophomore quarterback Emory Jones appearing to be comfortable waiting for his opportunity to start for Florida while rising redshirt senior Kyle Trask looks to have taken over the job after a stellar performance in 2019. Of course, spring practice still has to play out, but there has not been any indication that Jones is particularly restless.

It will be interesting to see how the Gators’ overall team talent looks at the conclusion of spring practice and where it ranks nationally once more transfers are announced and rosters are finalized. No matter the numerical results, Mullen has fund a nontraditional way to build Florida’s roster while his staff continues to work on making a major impact on the recruiting trail.

One Comment

  1. Ray Chapman says:

    We finally have the right coach. The right quarterback. Looks like a real offensive line, maybe? For a change.
    Leave , alone and he , Mullen , will shortly get it done.
    Gators needed , Mullen, for sure.
    And ,Mullen, needed the ,The Gators.
    And the Gators, are doing nicely.
    Five years here it comes!
    Somebody remember o.k.

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