Jim McElwain knew he needed a strong finish.
A week to the day before Wednesday’s National Signing Day, the Gators were down to just 13 commitments and ranked 31st in the country, according to 247sports.com’s composite rankings.
He got the finish he needed.
Florida signed 10 players over the final five days of McElwain’s second full recruiting cycle — including six on Wednesday — to bring in a class that is 23 players strong, ranks 10th in the nation and is filled with some of the top talent from the state of Florida.
Of the Gators’ 23 signees, 17 are from Florida, including 10 from Broward and Miami-Dade and a nation-leading 11 who were among the top 50 recruits in the state.
“I tell you, it is a true process as you’re doing it,” McElwain said at a news conference inside UF’s indoor practice facility Wednesday afternoon that had the atmosphere of a pep rally, with nine cheerleaders and UF mascots Albert and Alberta flanked on either side of him. “It’s not just about the numbers, but how they fit. That’s a good thing.”
Two surprises to the class, four-star receiver James Robinson and three-star running back Adarius Lemons, were added late in the day despite earlier reports that they would not be admitted to UF.
Robinson, the No. 114 prospect in the country and No. 21 athlete in the state of Florida, was cited for marijuana possession while on an official visit to Ohio State and was reportedly going to be blocked by UF’s administration from being able to attend Florida. McElwain called the report involving the administration “misinformation.”
Lemons, who at one point was the top running back prospect in the state, was suspended for the latter portion of his senior season at Clearwater High. This resulted in him initially decommitting from Florida and, according to SEC Country, attending a secondary school in order to improve his academics.
“As soon as you start throwing stones at somebody for making a mistake,” McElwain said, “look in the mirror and see if you’ve ever made one yourself.”
For the most part, Florida got the pieces it needed to fit the puzzle that will be its 2017 team.
The Gators reloaded in the secondary, signing six defensive backs to help alleviate the loss of All-American cornerback Jalen Tabor, All-SEC cornerback Quincy Wilson and three-year starting safety Marcus Maye. Including among that group are three four-star cornerbacks, Marco Wilson (American Heritage), C.J. Henderson (Miami Columbus) and Brad Stewart (New Orleans McDonogh).
They signed four-star defensive linemen Tedarrell Slaton (American Heritage), Zachary Carter (Tampa Hillsborough) and Elijah Conliffe (Hampton, Virginia) to add much-needed depth in the trenches. Slaton, a U.S. Army All-American and the No. 69 recruit in the nation, is expected to play at defensive tackle even though he is capable of playing on the offensive line as well.
And they brought in offensive weapons in Robinson, Lemons, Tampa running back Malik Davis and Tampa receiver Daquon Green.
McElwain attributed some of the in-state success — especially Florida’s ability to recruit South Florida in this cycle — to defensive coordinator Randy Shannon.
“From the time we were able to hire Randy, he’s been a right-hand guy of mine,” McElwain said. “[He] comes with unbelievable credibility from that area as well. We’ve had some other guys down there helping. But his name recognition, more so how he is also a part of wanting to make sure that he affects young men’s lives in a positive way, he knows he can be trusted.”
And even with the last-minute success, McElwain said there is still work to be done and open spots to be filled.
UF also still has to figure out who its starting quarterback will be, among other position battles.
But for know, McElwain is embracing the strong finish.
“I know this,” McElwain said. “I sure like the guys we got.”
Kyree Campbell, DT
Wyoming (Va.) Seminary
Kemore Gamble, TE
James Houston IV, LB
Kadeem Telfort, OL
Booker T. Washington
Kadarius Toney, ATH
Eight Mile (Ala.)
Jake Allen, QB
St. Thomas Aquinas
Lacedrick Brunson, LB
Zachary Carter, DE
Elijah Conliffe, DE
Malik Davis, RB
Shawn Davis, DB
Brian Edwards, DB
Daquon Green ,WR
Tampa Bay Tech
CJ Henderson, CB
Adarius Lemons, RB
Ventrell Miller, LB
TJ Moore, OL
Mallard Creek (N.C.)
James Robinson ,WR
Tedarrell Slaton, OL
Nick Smith, LB
Orlando Dr. Phillips
Brad Stewart, DB
Donovan Stiner, S
Marco Wilson, CB