Florida football recruiting: Gators set tone on Dan Mullen’s first National Signing Day

By Adam Silverstein
December 21, 2017
Florida football recruiting: Gators set tone on Dan Mullen’s first National Signing Day

Image Credit: @UFGatorBand / Twitter

The adjustment of the college football recruiting calendar to include an Early Signing Period is still an adjustment, but the Florida Gators salvaged a once-crumbling class by adding a pair of top prospects and making a simple statement on Wednesday.

That statement? Florida should once again be considered a legitimate threat to recruit — and swipe away — some of the nation’s top prospects. That’s what new head coach Dan Mullen proved at the start of the 2018 National Signing Day.

Let’s take a look at what transpired on Wednesday and what it means for the Gators.

Where Florida stands

Despite his previously significant recruiting issues, Jim McElwain was on his way to building a potential top-five class this cycle. But his departure, coupled with a variety of different needs and evaluations by Mullen, led Florida’s class to slowly crumble as the signing period approached. Some players decommitted either due to scheme fit or lack of staff familiarity; others did so because they were kindly told that better opportunities existed for them elsewhere.

With all said and done (for now), the Gators stand with the nation’s 14th-ranked class, No. 4 overall in the SEC only behind Georgia, Alabama and Auburn. Considreing the Bulldogs are in contention to be the nation’s top class and already have six (yes, six) five-star prospects in the fold — and the Tide have had the top-ranked class each cycle seemingly forever — UF should be thrilled with its standing.

With five fewer commitments than AU ahead of it and LSU behind it, Florida is in a nice place. It has its quarterback of the future, two potential starting running backs, a top-flight tight end, two defensive backs likely to be immediate contributors, the nation’s No. 1 kicker and a bevy of offensive linemen to rebuild what has long been a lackluster unit. (Check out the full class — signed and committed — at the bottom of this post.)

Have a day, Gators

Florida would not be in this position if Mullen and Co. did not take care of business on Wednesday. UF flipped four-star quarterback Emory Jones (Franklin, GA) from Ohio State and beat out Florida State for his services, making a national statement in doing so. It then added a pledge from four-star safety Trey Dean (Hampton, GA) to respectively take the No. 40 and No. 250 players in the nation out of the Peach State.

Adding in Ole Miss transfer wide receiver Van Jefferson, No. 1 overall kicker Evan McPherson (Fort Payne, AL), three-star DB John Huggins (Daytona Beach, FL), three-star offensive lineman Chris Bleich (Plymouth, PA) and three-star junior college OL Noah Banks (Council Bluffs, IA) — all players who committed over the last two weeks — the Gators signed seven new players since Mullen was hired 24 days ago.

Where things stand now

There is still plenty of work to do for Florida, primarily at wide receiver, defensive line and linebacker, though needs remain on the offensive line and in the secondary as well. The Gators will be unable to recruit until January during the so-called “dead period” — no face-to-face meetings, only calls, texts and DMs — which can be a lull for some teams but actually works towards UF’s benefit this year as it gets an opportunity to rehash its recruiting board.

Mullen does not have his full staff in tow just yet, and between celebrating the holiday season, he will have an opportunity to plot a course for filling vacant spots and recruiting so Florida can hit the trail hard and make the most of its opportunities. There are a vast array of prospects that the Gators will target — and candidly, it’s tough to have a handle on all of them without being fully invested in the recruiting process (hard to do following a coaching search and with basketball season in full swing) — but here are the names you absolutely need to know.

» Five-star DB Patrick Surtain Jr. (Fort Lauderdale, FL): Yes, he’s the son of the NFL star. The No. 5 overall player in the nation is expected to head to LSU, but Florida has always been in the hunt for his services (as has Florida State).
» Five-star OL Nicholas Petit-Frere (Tampa, FL): There are few who have an inkling of where Petit-Frere is headed, but even during the upheaval in Gainesville, Florida has appeared to be a legitimate option for the nation’s 17th-ranked prospect.
» Five-star DB Tyson Campbell (Fort Lauderdale, FL): Teammates with Surtain, he is expected to ultimately pick Miami, but there’s a ways to go until that is official. The No. 26 overall player in the nation, Campell would be a similarly big addition.
» Four-star WR Jacob Copeland (Pensacola, FL): A former Gators commit, Copeland was one of two top-flight wideouts to jump ship when McElwain left. He made it clear that Florida was still in contention for his services, and though Alabama is pressing, UF should have a legitimate chance to win him back.
» Four-star DE Andrew Chatfield (Fort Lauderdale, FL): The No. 210 player in the nation, Chatfield has long been deciding between Florida and Miami. He was closer with the Gators’ former staff and the new one will have a long way to go to to win him over.

Notes and quotes

» Trinity Jones, Emory’s mother, told Florida quarterbacks coach Brian Johnson on Tuesday that there would be “good news,” and Emory Jones himself tweeted Johnson at 1:47 a.m. “Can’t wait for this” with a crocodile emoji, according to Yahoo Sports’ Pete Thamel.

» Mullen on getting Jones: “We were his first scholarship offer [at Mississippi State]. I told him, sitting in the house with he and his mom, ‘God works in funny ways sometimes.’ We were the first and we were the last. … He knew what he was getting with us, and we knew what we were getting with him. … He’s not just coming to play quarterback; he’s coming to play quarterback at the University of Florida. There’s a lot of responsibility that comes with that — the history of the position here. You have to find somebody that can handle … that scrutiny, handle that pressure, handle those expectations. And really not handle it but thrive on it, and that’s what he was looking for is to be a quarterback at really the premiere quarterback school in America.”

» Mullen on having time off for a change: “I’m really not used to not playing football this time of year. … I can promise you this: I hope this is the last time that we’re not preparing for a bowl game.”

» Mullen on the Early Signing Period: “I like it. Obviously we were put in a tough situation this year, but I do like having the opportunity to have an Early Signing Period. These are guys that knew they wanted to be Gators, and so why extend it out for another six weeks, why all these visits and all the craziness in their life and having to get out of class and that deal?”

» Mullen on a dinner with Jones: “I had dinner at his house. I think there was another school outside; I made sure we ate all the food so there was nothing left for them to sit down and eat before they got in there.”

Answering your questions

Remember: Transition classes are tough. McElwain’s checked in 21st. Ron Zook (10th), Urban Meyer (12th) and Will Muschamp (11th) fared much better but none of them cracked the single digits despite being stellar recruiters. Mullen is on a solid pace already and could well find himself in the same range as the three aforementioned coaches did with their respective first classes. So far, so good. Grade: B+

Yes, absolutely. Though perhaps more likely on defense to start.

No, the Gators are done with “signings” until early February.

That depends on remaining attrition (NFL Draft declarations and transfers). There are 13 signed and two verbally committed at this time. I’d assume anywhere around 8-10 more 2018 prospects will be in the class in the end.

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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