Where did all those players come from? A decade of recruiting: Q & A with Jason Higdon

Updated: Apr 2


By FRANZ BEARD

GATORBAIT SENIOR COLUMNIST


Once Urban Meyer left Florida after the 2010 season, Florida football went into a seven-year period of uncertainty before staging a dramatic recovery the last two years with Dan Mullen as head coach. Recruiting had much to do with the difficult years. Recruiting guru Jason Higdon of 1standtenflorida.com answers questions about recruiting from 2011-19.


Despite criticism, Jim McElwain came up with players like Antonio Callaway (photo Tim Casey, UAA)

Q: How would you assess the recruiting classes of Will Muschamp? What were the strengths? The weaknesses?

On paper, Muschamp and crew brought in some highly ranked players such as quarterbacks Jeff Driskel, Jacoby Brissett, signed in 2011. Muschamp turned it up a notch in 2012 with high-end players such as DJ Humphries, Jonathan Bullard, and Dante Fowler. Players like Marcus Maye and Brian Poole were a staple in the secondary. He also brought in the #1 TE in America in Kent Taylor, who didn’t pan out. In 2013 he landed Vernon Hargreaves, Kelvin Taylor, Alex Anzalone, Keanu Neal, and Jarrad Davis and followed that up in 2014 with Teez Tabor and Will Grier. Things did not work with Grier, but the most significant issue Muschamp faced during his four-year coaching career with the Gators was not the quantity he top-tier players he brought in, but the overall quality top to bottom.


Q. Who were the three biggest recruits of the Muschamp era? What is the one that got away that comes to mind most often?

Dante Fowler, DJ Humphries, and Vernon Hargreaves were the three most significant prospects he signed in my mind. The one that got away was Dalvin Cook (FSU). That was huge.


Two of the "M's coaches: McElwain and Muschamp. (photo Tim Casey, UAA)

Q: How would you assess the recruiting classes of Jim McElwain? Strengths? Weaknesses?

For all the grief, McElwain brought in some big-time players for UF that are still making a massive impact on the team. In 2015, Martez Ivey, CeeCee Jefferson, Jordan Scarlett, Antonio Callaway, and Jabari Zuniga. In 2016, Tyrie Cleveland, Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, Feleipe Franks, Kyle Trask, Freddie Swain, Josh Hammond, Lamical Perine and David Reese. Think about those lists of names and the impact they have had for UF and will continue to have assuming we play this season. In the third class, he fell into a quantity issue, but still, he landed CJ Henderson, Marco Wilson, and Shawn Davis.


Q: Who were the three biggest recruits of the McElwain era? Who are the three most important recruits that got away?

I think his three most prominent players would be Ivey, Jefferson, and CJ Henderson who all came in one class. Several good ones got away. McElwain, like Muschamp, meant well, but they just were not designed to be the head coach at the University of Florida.


Q: Looking at the seven years of Muschamp and McElwain, how would you assess Florida's recruiting?

I think they did okay as a group with McElwain recruiting head and shoulders above Muschamp. Up and down the roster, there are plenty of impact players that McElwain landed. 


Q: How big a mess did Dan Mullen inherit?

The roster was not up to speed in regards to the top tier teams in the SEC when Dan arrived, but there were talented players on both sides of the ball like Zuniga and Henderson. There was Trask at the most critical position in the game. I remember getting calls from friends in the industry when McElwain took Trask – people told me what a joke of a decision that was at the time. Well? I guess McElwain was right, after all.


Q: Looking back on what Mullen inherited and where the Gators are now in recruiting, has he been able to (a) fill the gaps in the roster and (b) get Florida recruiting on a track where the Gators will be consistently landing classes that rank in the top ten?

The first thing, and I mean the very first thing a new coaching staff must do when he is hired, is roster turnover. Natural Recruiting Attrition needs to happen, and until that happens, we will not be able to paint a full picture. I think when you are at a school like Florida, you will continuously find yourself in the top 10 on NSD. To be truly elite, best of the best, you will need to every so often find yourself in the top 3 on NSD. I think Florida is one class away from genuinely having an elite roster. Yes, they need to hit on a few spots this cycle, but Dan is very close to having a competition at every position.


Q: It is said that winning cures all ills, particularly when it comes to recruiting. Just how important have the last two years been in helping restore Florida's presence in the living rooms of top recruits?

It is crucial for sure, but more important are relationships, location, and playing time. UF can check all the boxes. They need to continue to outwork the other schools. Recruiting is not for the faint of heart; it is a grown man's game. They can't let up for one second. They are recruiting against Alabama, Clemson, and Georgia, not Miami, Florida State and Tennessee. Unfortunately, the three teams that recruit the same kids as UF are Clemson, Alabama, and Ohio State. UF must maintain the ability to go toe-to-toe with those schools if they want to compete for national titles.

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