Florida football recruiting: How the Gators closed 2018 National Signing Day

By Adam Silverstein
February 7, 2018
Florida football recruiting: How the Gators closed 2018 National Signing Day

Image Credit: @UFGatorBand / Twitter

2018 National Signing Day has come and gone, and though the Florida Gators may have a piece or two fall into place over the next couple of days, most of the heavy lifting for the Class of 2018 has been completed by head coach Dan Mullen and Co.

Let’s take a look at how Florida fared and where things now stand for the Gators.

1. It wasn’t great, but it was good: Though it is exceedingly difficult to put together a super-strong transition class with a first-year coach, other teams proved it could be done this cycle alone. And though Mullen did pick up a number of quality players down the stretch, Florida could have (and perhaps should have) done better. As I posited back on Dec. 20, 2017, the expectation was for UF to finish in the 10-12 range based on the tremendous job Mullen did locking up the Gators’ commitments and adding a couple solid names in the Early Signing Period. Florida finished the ESP at No. 14 and ends NSD … No. 14.

Of course, in order to maintain its position, UF had to add a number of pieces. But the Gators also lost out on a couple major battles, mainly a class-changer in five-star offensive tackle Nicholas Petit-Frere — who Ohio State and Urban Meyer stole out from under him — and four-star cornerback Noah Boykin, who looked for sure headed to Florida only to commit to Notre Dame without much warning. Mullen noted in his press conference that the Gators need talented offensive linemen, so missing on Petit-Frere was a tough one. Boykin’s was more of a surprising loss, but it adds to the fact that Florida was unable to haul in some of the top defensive backs in the nation, most of which came from inside its own state.

As such, Mullen’s transition class (No. 14) is the second-lowest ranked since the departure of Steve Spurrier, ahead of only Jim McElwain (No. 21, 2015) but behind Ron Zook (No. 10, 2002), Urban Meyer (No. 12, 2005) and Will Muschamp (No. 11, 2011). However, per the 247Sports Composite, Mullen’s average rating of .9069 is the highest of any of the four aforementioned transition classes, even ahead of Muschamp’s 2011 haul (.9051).

2. The getting was good late in the day: What especially stung for the Gators on signing day was all of their early defeats. It put them behind the eight-ball despite adding four-star defensive end Andrew Chatfield, but Florida nevertheless closed strong with a pair of verbal commitments from four-star wide receiver Jacob Copeland and four-star DE Malik Langham along with four-star offensive tackle Richard Gouraige reaffirming his pledge. Copeland (No. 69 overall) became Florida’s top-rated commit for the cycle with Gouraige (No. 81 overall) placing second. The Gators finished with four top-100 signees as four-star quarterback Emory Jones (No. 85) enrolled early and four-star WR Justin Watkins (No. 89) also signed Wednesday. It was a nice finish giving UF a good amount of momentum particularly with it being a program in the national spotlight. In other words, Florida salvaged what was looking like a pretty down day with enough to help it avoid being classified as a signing day “loser.”

3. Another signing day with controversy: There are always a couple NSD moments that go viral, and for the second time in a few years, the Gators were involved in one. There was some smoke Wednesday that Copeland, despite being a former Florida commitment and long-time lean despite his decommitment, may choose Alabama or Tennessee over UF. When ESPN aired his announcement, his family was wearing Bama and UT colors.

Following Copeland’s commitment to the Gators, his mom — donning a Tide sweatshirt and Vols beanie — immediately picked up her bag and walked across the camera shot. Copeland was immediately asked about it on the air and said he went with his heart over his mom in picking Florida despite the wishes of his family. After a few minutes, his mom returned and hugged a crying Copeland, signing his National Letter of Intent. He later tried to play it off on Twitter: “What my mama did today was hilarious. if you knew her personally that’s her job. PUT ON A SHOW!” Copeland wrote. The entire incident went from being a total shame to a decently sweet moment in a matter of minutes, but it was nevertheless yet another one of those “events” that the Gators have become all too familiar with on signing day.

4. Space left for 2019: In his press conference late Wednesday, Mullen made a point to note that the Gators were not looking to fill every available scholarship this cycle just because they had them open. In fact, he said Florida purposely left some scholarships available so the coaching staff will have an opportunity to carry them over and sign more players in 2019 after they get a full year to recruit a signing class. “We’re not going to be at 85 next fall, but that’s partly by design. We’re going to have a full year with this staff to go recruit,” he said. “We weren’t going to take players who we weren’t sure would fit our program just to take a roster spot.”

Numerous factors will determine how many prospects Florida will actually be able to sign in 2019, but this does give it tremendous flexibility next season to go all-out landing a top-tier class. Mullen made it clear Wednesday that he knows he needs to deliver better top-to-bottom classes than the Gators have this year. For now, he’s just excited to actually spend some time with the players who were already in the Florida program as he’s been using much of his available daylight trying to close strong on signing day.

5. The Gators are hiring: Interestingly enough, a job posting went out early Wednesday before National Signing Day officially began with Florida looking for multiple recruiting staff members to be hired immediately. Whether those are purely to replace departures from McElwain’s team or UF is staffing up remains to be seen, but the timing was certainly curious.

Jacob Copeland (69)
Emory Jones* (85)
Richard Gouraige (81)
Justin Watkins (89)
Kyle Pitts* (161)
Amari Burney* (177)
Trey Dean* (195)
Dameon Pierce* (201)
Andrew Chatfield (213)
David Reese* (296)
Iverson Clement*
Malik Langham
John Huggins*
Chris Bleich*
Randy Russell*
Dante Lang^
Evan McPherson*
Griffin McDowell
Noah Banks*


  1. Brian says:

    Found a typo: Meyer’s first class in 2005 was ranked “12” not “2”.

  2. Fatback says:

    What Copeland’s mother did was horrible. I’m sure it’s an emotional time for all but you do not embarrass your child on national television at what should be the biggest moment of their life, even if you disagree. Doing it for show is even worse. I’m glad she came back and I suspect she regrets it. She should. She should also be proud she raised a young man of great conviction and composure who is trying to do what he feels is right despite conflicting outside influences and who’s hard work has earned him an opportunity for advancement and education that most could never dream of. I’m glad he’s a Gator

  3. Michael L. Jones says:

    You make a really good point about the rating of the class, Adam. There were only 8 teams that finished with an average rating of 91 or higher. As a matter of fact, looking at the rankings and trying to figure out how they placed the schools is a bit of a head scratcher. It seems to be based on a combination of quality and quantity . . but even then, some of the placings don’t seem to make any sense. Miami was #7 at 90.99 and Bama was #9 at 92.49 . . all because Miami got 5 more players? What if Bama didn’t need as many as Miami did?

    Bottom line, I think we could throw the next group of teams–those in the 90+ average rating–from #10 Notre Dame at 90.05 to #15 LSU at 90.11–in a bag and shake it up and the way they fell out would make just as much sense as the current rankings.

    Petit-Frere was a bummer and Boykin too but, given the circumstances, I think we did alright. Give Mullen time now to build relationships and show we can score some points and play “with relentless effort,” with fight and pride like Gator teams of old, and hopefully they’ll come.

    • Sir James says:

      According to Rivals, which also uses quantity of athletes in their ratings, Florida Finished 18th. However, only Georgia, Ohio State, USCalif, Penn State, and Alabama finished with higher star ratings. Florida finished ahead of Miami and Texas.

      Was UF actually 6th? Maybe. In my mind, If UF had gotten the OT, CB, and DT they wanted it would pretty much would have been perfect.

      As a transition class, it was great. UF’s new footballers had an average of 3.78 stars. That is 3rd best in the SEC.

      Now, I’m NOT touting Rivals. I’m just using them as an example.

      Mullen’s belief is if he wants you, you should come to Florida,…and he is going to tell you why. He expects you to come. He is just what Florida needs!!

      • Sir James says:

        I did make one error. Clemson finished higher than Florida also. I guess we were 7th.

      • The 247 Composite is a better rankings system. Not sure what the point of all this is.

        • Sir James says:

          I’m not saying the 247 Composite rankings aren’t better. I’m saying when you take all of UF’s signee’s together, It’s a really, really good class. For a transition class, it’s great.

          I think there is quite a bit of talent coming back. I’m really curious to see how the QB’s shake out. I do think talent wise, UF needs a QB, and upgrades at LB. We certainly need some more elite players at LB, DT, and at Corner.

          I’m hoping some guys who have not played or did not play well last year will have the light go on. I also think a lot of the young secondary guys in the last class will improve.

          Last year the QB & LB play was beyond terrible (even Reese took some wrong angles). Our young, but talented secondary got scorched. …and let’s face it, our O-Line was not strong or tough. Hopefully, much of this gets fixed this year, or the next recruiting cycle.

        • Michael Jones says:

          It seems to me that Sir James is just pointing out the subjective and debatable nature of these rankings. It is one of the points I was making and he is elaborating on that further. In other words, even looking at the 247’s sometimes puzzling rankings, the argument can be made that we finished better than 15th. In reality we never how good a class really is until a couple of years—at least—down the line.

          I didn’t get that Sir James was knocking 247.

          • 1974Gator says:

            Considering the varying sizes of the recruiting classes, weighted star average is the way to go. There may even be a justification to create a computation that analyzes each teams positions of need and determines how well their results addressed their needs.

  4. 1974Gator says:

    I can’t get too down about Nicholas Petit-Frere. He’s 280 now. He needs 40 lbs of muscle (60 lbs when they burn the baby fat off) to play OT at the Div 1 level. The rating services don’t always get it right. Boykin will regret not coming down. UF’s program is the fast lane for DBs into the League. The exciting part of what we now have is that Mullen is used to coaching up and winning with 2 and 3 star players. Now his talent is a full star better. I’m excited about our prospects and chances to beat everyone we play from this point on.

  5. Intuition says:

    “…other teams proved it could be done this cycle alone.”

    Adam, I’m curious which teams with coaching transitions you believe finished with super strong classes? Appreciate your work!

  6. Walter says:

    We Will be a very good team going into the 2018-2019 season. We have alot of talented young players and an experienceed florida team. Our squad is stacked other teams watch out because florida is a team that will be hard to beat.

  7. DeAndre says:

    GO Gators!!! Now im not saying we’re going to be 11 and 1 or 10 and 2 but YEAH we will be good and we will hopefully win alot of games. Our first 5 games well win easy.

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