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*


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