For the first time since 2014, the Florida Gators signed a top-10 recruiting class. All Coach Dan Mullen had to say about that was “good.”
While busy building the foundation of the Florida football program, Mullen is not one to harp on success. But, when you consider the one-year jump in recruiting, it’s hard not to say something as a by-stander.
Now that the Gators have the ninth-ranked class in the nation, let’s take a look at the class and how it got to be.
“Mullen Can’t Recruit”
mississippi state days
The amount of times I saw those three words when Dan Mullen was announced as the new Gators head coach was staggering. However, naysayers had some evidence to back up their assertion.
In nine years at Mississippi State, Mullen’s highest-ever class had an average player rating of 87.69, or a high three-star. The Bulldogs’ classes averaged a national ranking of 27th, excellent for Mississippi State and much better than previous coach Sylvester Croom (42nd), but certainly not good enough for Florida.
But, you have to consider the circumstances. Starkville, Mississippi isn’t Gainesville, Florida. It is more than 5-times smaller (26,000 people to 132,000). The average high is in the 50’s in January (66 in Gainesville). I’m from Tampa and I think Gainesville is tiny. But Starkville has the same population as Temple Terrace. Biiiiiiig difference.
And while Mullen was able to get Mississippi State to the number one ranking, Florida has been able to finish there.
Regardless, Mississippi State ended the 2019 recruiting cycle ranked 24th nationally with an average player rating of 88.64. Mullen equaled or bettered that ranking for five of his nine years at Mississippi State.
So maybe Starkville is just a tough place to get elite recruits to come play?
Mullen showed real promise in his first recruiting cycle after coming on as the head man at Florida.
Dealing with the added challenge of the first roll-out of the early signing period, Mullen was able to piece together the 14th ranked class. That class included major contributors Trey Dean (starting CB by the end of the year) and Dameon Pierce (6.2 yards per rush on 68 carries).
He then took basically the same group of players from the 4-7 2017 season and turned that into a 10-3 season that energized Gator Nation. Now, a year and a Peach Bowl trophy later, he has the ninth ranked class.
And with the transfer portal lighting up at places like Georgia (Justin Fields, anyone?), none of Mullen’s recruits (and barely any Gators at all) have decided to leave what he is building in Gainesville.
How’s That for a Gator Standard?
Florida failed to sign a five star
again, but 17 4-stars out of 25 commits gives the program a 68% blue-chip percentage. Only Alabama has more 4-star players signed (23).
Now, this stat is a little skewed because the Gators are the only logo in the Top-10 without a five-star signed. (For reference, Alabama has three 5-stars, Georgia has five, and LSU has three). But still, almost a 70% blue-chip percentage shouldn’t be taken for granted. There’s a school in Tallahassee (45% blue chip if Nick Cross signs) that would gladly switch places.
Besides the everlasting stars debate, Florida did do something significant. The staff managed to keep all of its verbal commits, preventing any players from flipping on either signing day. At the start of the early signing period, South Carolina sent both Jaydon Hill and Tyron Hopper Letters of Intent. Both players faxed their LOIs to Gainesville.
To add a cherry on top, the Gators went toe-to-toe with the big boys and came out winners. First, the Gators flipped Khris Bogle, an Alabama commit. Then later that afternoon Florida nabbed legacy Kaiir Elam over Georgia live on ESPN. No matter what Tide or Dawgs fans may tell you, their schools wanted both of them but Mullen brought them home.
“Come Be Great”
These are the new three words you hear surrounding Gator football. During Elam’s signing ceremony, his “This isn’t a 4-year decision, it’s a 40-year one” might have come straight from the mouths of Florida recruiters.
But, when asking other players about Mullen’s message, I don’t get grandiose answers. Sure, they tell me they’re going to compete for national titles in a few years. Sure, they tell me no other school is doing it like the Gators. In the end though, “Come be great,” seems to be the simple message the staff is selling.
And that sales pitch didn’t just work on guys who grew up an hour from Gainesville. It worked all across the country, against programs that typically get the players they target, so it’s worth looking at the players who could have (or even should have) gone elsewhere but instead are reppin’ the Orange and Blue.
For the second consecutive year, Dan Mullen bested Nick Saban for athletes he genuinely wanted playing for the Crimson Tide. Alabama is known to send out a lot of offers. The school is also known for actually recruiting a fraction of those offered players. And boy, do they recruit those players hard.
In 2018, Alabama native Malik Langham was a top-10 DE. His Tide recruitment was highlighted by an official visit and three in-homes. Langham told reporters that he had a “great” relationship with Saban and even named Bama his leader late in the game. In the end, he signed with Florida.
Langham’s now-teammate WR Jacob Copeland also had a Crimson Tide hat on the table on National Signing Day. His family was also decked out in Bama gear. Why would he not choose Alabama? Nick Saban literally did the wobble at his house… that’s how badly they wanted him. Gator.
In 2019, Khris Bogle committed to Alabama at the All America Bowl in early January. It isn’t hard to see why. Multiple in-home visits stemming back months from the then-reigning National Champions sounds pretty good to me. However, after a slew of coaching changes, Bogle decided to take an official to Florida. The visit apparently went so well that not even next weekend’s official to Miami (about 45 minutes away from his hometown) was enough to sway him away from the Gator Nation.
OLB signee Mohamoud Diabate had an offer from Bama, but it was Auburn that pursued him hard. The Auburn, AL native even gave Tigers staffers his last in-home visit. But, a “real” Gator, Diabate signed with Florida.
Alabama offered TE Keon Zipperer and allowed him to take an official, but he did not seem to be a priority there. However, he probably topped the list at the University of Miami. The second-ranked tight end in the country would fit perfectly at a program that has boasted Jeremy Shockey, Kellen Winslow, Jr. and Jimmy Graham, right? Wrong.
Despite Mark Richt saying he “love[d] recruiting in Lakeland, Florida,” Zipperer was all Florida. In fact, his Twitter was so pro-Gators before his commitment that many thought he was trolling. But, when he gave the staff a silent commitment during his last official to Gainesville (before taking one to Miami the next week), the commitment stuck. Now, Zipperer is posting on Twitter about championship rings.
Another Lakeland Dreadnaught who spurned the ‘Canes was DE Lloyd Summerall. Like Zipperer, the four-star took plenty of visits down south and took pictures in the uniform. Also like Zipperer, he pulled out a blue hat on Early Signing Day. The Gators also got OL Deyavie Hammond over FSU that day. It looks like the Lakeland pipeline to Gainesville, that played an integral role in 2008’s National Champuonship, is officially open again.
Now, how about 2020 five-star RB Demarkcus Bowman?
How did we get them?
Yes, I’m talking about Chris Steele and Kaiir Elam.
Steele, a California native, was always supposed to be a USC Trojan. He even committed to the school during his senior year and it made perfect sense. Top Cali kid playing in his backyard. The fifth-best corner in the nation maintained a close relationship with coaches Mullen and Grantham, but even after he de-committed from the Trojans.
It seemed implausible that he would go cross-country to join the Gators, but that’s exactly what he did. At his signing ceremony, he called Florida “the real DBU” and is now one of the most prolific recruiters on the roster. I’ve spoken to a good amount of five-star 2020 prospects and three of them mentioned Steele as playing a big role in their recruitment to UF.
Elam is a legacy and that certainly played a role in his decision. But, his uncle playing at UF is almost certainly not the only reason he is now a Gator. Even with those close ties to the program, the decision was still not made until late in the process.
His recruitment was a clear Florida-Georgia battle for a long time. And when the Bulldogs hired Charlton Warren during Elam’s official visit to Georgia, considering Warren recruited Elam way back when he was at Tennessee, the waters got a little bit murky. When he first reached for the Georgia hat at his signing ceremony, I was upset but not surprised. After all, almost nobody turns down Georgia. Now, Elam is a real Gator, too.
All in all, the 2019 recruiting cycle was a roller coaster. Florida was ranked in the 40’s at one point and just made it to 16 after the early signing period.
But the floodgates started to open with the top-tier talent just in time. The Lakeland Trio (Zipperer, Hammond and Summerall) solidified the depth of the class. Then the top-100 players (Steele, Elam and Bogle) finished it up.
There is still room to improve (there always is) and any slips in recruiting moving forward will still bring angst to the fanbase. But this was a solid step forward for Dan Mullen and company.
Sure, the Gators lost out on a number of guys throughout the process. But, in the end, they finish with the ninth-ranked class in the nation and a whole lot of excited Gators.
Both players and fans.