University of Florida

Florida Gators coach makes a signing day splash by signing quarterback of the future

Carol City’s Randy Russell signs with the Florida Gators on Wednesday.
Carol City’s Randy Russell signs with the Florida Gators on Wednesday. Bill Daley

Dan Mullen got his man.

When the former Mississippi State coach was brought to Florida under a month ago, he inherited a recruiting class that featured 4-star quarterback Matt Corral, the nation’s 60th-best player according to the 247Sports Composite. Mullen reset the recruiting board at the position, and Corral switched his allegiance to Ole Miss.

It was a gamble to let a player as touted as Corral walk, especially at a position of need. But the gamble paid off Wednesday when Florida signed quarterback Emory Jones, a 6-3, 195-pound dual threat passer from Georgia rated as the nation’s 40th-best player. Mullen also cemented 12 other signings on the first day of college football’s early signing period.

“I’m excited about the athleticism that we’ve brought in today and the flexibility those guys have,” he said, “and then obviously it’s huge to get a quarterback.”

Jones was the centerpiece for the quarterback-needy Gators. He’ll enroll early, which Mullen said will give him a chance to compete with incumbent Feleipe Franks for Florida’s starting job.

“He’s a winner,” Mullen said, “and that’s the first thing you look for is a guy that has an ‘it’ factor about him.”

Jones aside, Florida’s next-most important signee might have been its lowest rated. Evan McPherson, the nation’s top prep kicker, chose the Gators. McPherson had been committed to Mullen at MSU before following him to Florida. Former starter Eddy Pineiro announced Tuesday that he’s leaving UF early for the NFL Draft, so McPherson could compete for the starting job right away.

Florida addressed another position of need with a pair of big men: 6-6, 305-pound Chris Bleich and 6-7, 305-pound Noah Banks, both offensive tackles. The duo adds depth and versatility to an offensive line that could lose starter Martez Ivey to the NFL.

Mullen also added a pair of tight ends in Kyle Pitts and Dante Lang and a pair of rushers in Dameon Pierce and Iverson Clement.

On defense, Mullen signed four defensive backs, including one from South Florida. Miami Carol City safety Randy Russell chose the Gators along with Amari Burney, Trey Dean and John Huggins.

“I just had to go with my heart,” Russell said, “and the Gators was where my heart was.”

Linebacker David Reese, who has the same name as another UF linebacker, rounded out the 13 signees. He’ll help Mullen fill arguably UF’s weakest position group and offers enough versatility to play nickelback and defensive line if needed.

With National Signing Day still ahead in February, Florida’s recruiting class ranks 14th nationally. The Gators finished 11th last season. Mullen anticipates the class is only about halfway full, though, and said he’ll reset the board and reassess needs.

“We’re going to go find guys,” he said, “that we feel are going to help us take the program to the championship level.”

Players signed

Name, Ht., Wt., Pos., Hometown, School

▪ Emory Jones; 6-3; 195 pounds; quarterback; Franklin, GA; Heard County.

▪ Kyle Pitts; 6-6; 235 pounds; tight end; Warminster, PA; Archbishop Wood.

▪ Amari Burney; 6-1; 215 pounds; safety; Clearwater; Calvary Christian.

▪ Dameon Pierce; 5-11; 205 pounds; running back; Bainbridge, GA; Bainbridge.

▪ Trey Dean; 6-2; 180 pounds; safety; Hampton, GA; Dutchtown.

▪ Iverson Clement; 5-11; 200 pounds; athlete; Mount Holly, N.J.; Rancocas Valley Regional.

▪ David Reese; 6-3, 213 pounds; linebacker; Vero Beach; Vero Beach.

▪ Randy Russell; 5-10; 180 pounds; safety; Miami; Carol City.

▪ John Huggins; 6 feet; 200 pounds; safety; Daytona Beach, Mainland.

▪ Chris Bleich; 6-6; 305 pounds; offensive tackle; Plymouth, PA; Wyoming Valley West.

▪ Noah Banks; 6-7; 305 pounds; offensive tackle; Council Bluffs, IA; Iowa Western Community College (JUCO).

▪ Dante Lang; 6-5; 220 pounds; tight end; Boca Raton; Boca Raton.

▪ Evan McPherson; 6 feet; 165 pounds; kicker; Fort Payne, AL; Fort Payne.

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