Just a week ago, national pundits were writing obituaries for Florida’s 2015 recruiting class.
Then Wednesday happened, and the gloom and doom is the only thing that actually died.
The Gators, with a newly minted staff headed by coach Jim McElwain, finished National Signing Day with a flurry, securing the signatures of consensus five-star prospects Martez Ivey and CeCe Jefferson, as well as five other highly touted prospects.
“The momentum we gained was fantastic,” McElwain said. “The doors that we opened in this short period of time, back in the places that we need to be successful at when we go out and recruit and, obviously, that’s in the state of Florida first. … I think that we answered some things from all kind of corners of the state, and that’s a good thing.
“Whether it be up in the Panhandle, whether it be in this midsection or whether it’s down in the Miami area, I think our guys worked their tail off, getting out there and getting to as many places as we good and break some doors down. That’s a real positive.”
Ivey, the nation’s No. 1 offensive tackle, and Jefferson, a consensus top-10 prospect, were Florida’s two crown jewels, but Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas tailback Jordan Scarlett and Booker T. Washington wideout Antonio Callaway were other commits who capped UF’s strong late surge.
Despite fighting an uphill battle with a transitional regime, McElwain & Co. closed with a real cornerstone class, finishing with the nation’s 21st-ranked class with 21 signees, according to 247Sports.
Just five days earlier, Florida’s class was slotted somewhere in the 70s nationally — and last in the Southeastern Conference — and Gator fans thought the world was about to end.
“We knew it was going be late,” McEwalin said, chuckling. “We were getting in late on a lot of guys we had to go back and reevaluate a lot of players to fit the criteria that we felt were gonna be successful Gators. … But we know we feel really good about those guys that ended up coming.”
The Gators filled needs (namely five offensive linemen) and secured stars, although failing to flip quarterbacks Deondre Francois (Florida State) or Boynton Beach signal-caller Lamar Jackson (Louisville) left UF with just three quarterbacks on its roster for next season.
Although momentum propelled McElwain’s inaugural class, National Signing Day didn’t exactly get off to a roaring start for Florida.
Auburn defensive coordinator Will Muschamp frustrated his former school early in the day by flipping offensive lineman Mike Horton and securing the signatures of UF targets Byron Cowart, the nation’s No. 1 overall player from Seffner Armwood, linebacker Jeffery Holland, cornerback Javarius Davis and wideout Ryan Davis.
Still, McElwain was pleased with the finish and wasn’t concerned with prospects the Gators didn’t get.
“Obviously the guy’s a great ball coach, and he had obviously some insights that I’m sure [Auburn] was able to use,” he said. “But it’s never about anybody else. It’s about what we have and who we are, and we’re very secure in that and know we’re going to move forward and be successful in what we’re trying to accomplish. That’s part of the game.”
Thanks to the efforts of former Miami coach Randy Shannon, now an assistant at UF, the Gators cleaned up in the fertile recruiting grounds of South Florida, signing six prospects from the area and aiming to make the talent-rich region a stronghold in the future.
“I felt we did a great job down there,” McElwain said. “It’s an area when Florida was really rolling, they were getting guys from, and they were getting the right kind of guys from. That’s an area that we’re going to continue to go back, too.”
CeCe Jefferson, DE
Daniel Imatorbhebhe, TE
North Gwinnett (Ga.)
Kalif Jackson, WR
Duncan U. Fletcher
Tyler Jordan, OL
Brandon Sandifer, OL
Camrin Knight, TE
Andrew Ivie, DT
Jabari Zuniga, DE
Rayshad Jackson, LB
Jordan Scarlett, RB
St. Thomas Aquinas
Richerd Desir-Jones, DT
St. Thomas Aquinas
Kylan Johnson, S
Fredrick Johnson, OT
Royal Palm Beach
Luke Ancrum, DE
Chris Williamson, CB
Martez Ivey, OT
Antonio Callaway, WR
Booker T. Washington
Keivonnis Davis, DE
Jordan Cronkrite, RB
West. Christian School
Nick Buchanan, OL
D’Anfernee McGriff, ATH