At Jim McElwain’s introductory press conference, Florida’s new coach emphatically declared, “We’ve got to recruit daily, or die.”
“We’ve got to get to as many places as humanly possible. … We’ve got to make sure we secure a great class. There’s some great commitments right now, there’s some guys that are waiting to see what’s going to happen and what’s going on.”
Nearly two months later, the Gators are still waiting on a number of key targets, and they’re running out of time.
National Signing Day is just around the corner (Feb. 4), and UF’s class remains in flux.
Florida boasts just 10 verbal commitments for its 2015 class, its fewest pledges in a decade, according to 247Sports.
The Gators recently picked up a verbal commitment from three-star linebacker Rayshad Jackson, a Miami Norland High standout, and flipped three-star defensive end Jabari Zuniga.
Still, they still haven’t generated much momentum late.
A year ago, the Gators plummeted to their first losing season in 34 years and whiffed on local stars Dalvin Cook and Ermon Lane, but they still managed to reel in the nation’s No. 9 class (per 247Sports).
Now, Florida — and McElwain — is paying the piper for Will Muschamp’s futile tenure.
McElwain has fought an uphill battle since taking over for Muschamp, as a number of four-star prospects decommitted upon the former Colorado State coach’s hiring.
Although transition classes are traditionally weaker because of staff turnover, UF’s poor recruiting momentum has been magnified because of McElwain’s lack of developed relationships, few Southern ties and little name recognition.
The Gators’ current class is ranked last in the SEC by every recruiting service. To make matters worse, all of UF’s rivals (Florida State, Georgia, Tennessee and LSU) have classes slotted somewhere in the country’s top 10.
“I didn’t fall off the turnip truck yesterday,” McElwain said.
“We’ve got a lot of ground to make up. When we took the job, we knew that there would be some [challenges.] It’s going to take a while.”
Rebuilding Florida won’t happen overnight, and based on school’s 2015 recruiting class the foundation for the future might not even come from its current crop of pledges.
With just 58 scholarship players currently on the roster for next season, the focus on 2016 has already become paramount.
The Gators, who can sign upward of 30 prospects next season, have three commitments for 2016, including Jacksonville Raines wideout Rick Wells who committed last Monday night.
But UF hopes to finish 2015 with a flurry, as five-star prospects Bryon Cowart (defensive end, Armwood), CeCe Jefferson (defensive end, Baker County) and Martez Ivey (offensive tackle, Apopka) all list Florida as a finalist and will decide on National Signing Day.
Florida is among the “leaders” for a number of other recruits, too, but even then the Gators won't sign a ballyhooed group.
And they know that can’t happen again.
“We do need to take back the state in terms of you have the best players in the country right in your backyard,” UF defensive backs coach and former UCF recruiting coordinator Kirk Callahan said.
“That's part of the reason why I’m here.”
2015 ORAL COMMITMENTS
Player, position, hometown, height, weight
▪ Daniel Imatorbhebhe, TE, North Gwinnett (Ga.), 6-4, 227
▪ Kalif Jackson, WR, Duncan U. Fletcher, 6-5, 200
▪ Derrick Dillion, WR, Pine (La.), 5-11, 173
▪ Tyler Jordan, OL, Bishop Kenny, 6-4, 280
▪ Brandon Sandifer, OL, Northside (Ga.), 6-4, 335
▪ Camrin Knight, TE, Lincoln, 6-4, 225
▪ Andrew Ivie, DT, Pasco, 6-1, 265
▪ Jabari Zuniga, DE, Sparyberry (Ga.), 6-3, 255
▪ Rayshad Jackson, LB, Norland, 6-2, 215