Despite off year, Florida Gators closing in on top-ranked recruiting class

01/29/2014 12:00 AM

01/29/2014 12:14 AM

The Florida Gators tumbled to their first losing season in 34 years, but that hasn’t scared away many of the nation’s top-ranked high school prospects.

While embattled coach Will Muschamp struggled to win football games in 2013, his proficiency to flip star recruits and build another stellar recruiting class has dominated headlines since the calendar changed.

According to Rivals’ 2014 team rankings, Florida boasts the country’s No. 7 class, and national recruiting director Mike Farrell said, “For a team that struggled last year, I think it’s better than anybody could’ve really expected. … A few things have occurred over the last couple of weeks that have really helped make this a special class. They’ve taken advantage of some situations and they’ve had a little bit of good luck as well.”

Florida currently has 21 commitments in its 2014 class, with nine prospects already on campus in early enrollment.

The Gators hope to finish with a flurry on National Signing Day, as five-star prospects Lorenzo Carter (defensive end), Damian Prince (offensive tackle) and Adoree’ Jackson (athlete) remain as key targets. UF also remains in the hunt for South Florida receivers Isaiah McKenzie from Plantation American Heritage, and C.J. Worton from Homestead South Dade.

While many programs are trumpeting last season’s successes, Muschamp is selling hope, and it’s working.

“I feel like considering we didn’t have a great season, we’re very comfortable where we are recruiting-wise,” Muschamp said.

In the last three weeks, Florida’s coach has secured verbal commitments of seven prospects formally pledged to other schools. Five-star cornerback Jalen Tabor headlines a group that also includes four-star defensive linemen Thomas Holley and Gerald Willis III, four-star tailback Brandon Powell, four-star receiver Ryan Sousa and three-star offensive lineman Kavaris Harkless.

While each prospect’s situation was different, Muschamp and his newly assembled staff took advantage of recruits wanting to play closer to home (Tabor), coaches leaving other schools (Holley at Penn State; Harkless at Louisville) or simply a better opportunity for immediate playing time (Sousa, Powell).

“Florida was 4-8 last year, lost to an FCS school, their offense was horrible, their defense was decimated, they fired their offensive coordinator and Muschamp has one year to figure it out,” Farrell said. “So Florida can’t sell itself over all those things, but I think they’ve done a good job hanging in there and weather[ing] the storm. They’ve had some fortunate situations fall their way and who cares why.

“Bottom line, this is going to be a very good class no matter how it happened.”

Florida’s 2014 class is once again dominated by highly touted defensive prospects, but Farrell called four-star quarterback Will Grier the team’s most important recruit, saying, “He’s the guy that’s really going to help determine their success over the next couple years.”

Farrell was critical of Florida’s recruitment of offensive play-makers, especially receivers, highlighting the de-commitments of five-stars Dalvin Cook and Ermon Lane.

However, Rivals’ recruiting director believes there still is a big fish available who could transform UF’s class and potentially change the outlook of Muschamp’s future: Adoree’ Jackson.

“Florida desperately needs that guy who can take a bubble screen or jet sweep and make magic with it, and that’s what Adoree is,” Farrell said. “For what Florida needs right now, he would instantly become the most important recruit, even ahead of Grier. That’s what Florida used to have. … They don’t have that and Adoree’ Jackson is that guy.”

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