University of Florida

Dan Mullen has a plan to improve the Gators' recruiting success in Florida

Florida head coach Dan Mullen walks on the field during an NCAA spring college football intrasquad game, Saturday, April 14, 2018, in Gainesville.
Florida head coach Dan Mullen walks on the field during an NCAA spring college football intrasquad game, Saturday, April 14, 2018, in Gainesville. AP Photo

National Signing Day came and went for first-year Florida coach Dan Mullen, and his overall success was impressive.

After being on the job for less than three months, he worked 11th-hour magic to sign four top recruits and finish with the 14th overall class in the country.

But something felt off. Of the 19 players the Gators signed in its 2018 class, just nine — less than half — hailed from the Sunshine State.

Mullen wants to fix that fast.

"This is in state," Mullen said. "There's so many great players around here. Everywhere around Florida is critical recruiting."

So Mullen and his ensemble of 10 assistant coaches has a simple task to complete before the recruiting evaluation period ends on May 31: Visit every high school in the Sunshine State that has a football program.

After all, Florida is the state accounts for a nation-high 47 of the top 300 players in the 2019 recruiting class, according to the 247Sports composite rankings.

“As far as just sheer quantity of Division I players, especially at the skill positions, there’s nobody like the state of Florida,” ESPN's Greg McElroy recently told the Miami Herald. “If you want to go get some of the best wide receivers, some of the best corners, some of the best secondary players, linebackers, you name it, at every position the box is checked at the state of Florida.”

But Mullen wants to do more than find out about the players everyone already knows about. He wants to find the diamonds in the rough.

An example: Running back Jeff Demps. He had just seven college offers despite being a four-star prospect from the Tampa area. He scored 25 touchdowns during his four years at Florida.

Another: Mike and Maurkice Pouncey. Florida was the only school that visiting the offensive linemen's high school in Lakeland. They started 84 combined games and both went on to be first-team All-Americans and then subsequently first-round draft picks

"Go find those guys," Mullen said. "They're out there. Go find them."

South Florida is no exception.

The counties of Miami-Dade, Borward and Palm Beach were a noted emphasis during Jim McElwain's and Will Muschamp's coaching tenures. Of note, McElwain's final recruiting class in 2017 had a school-record 10 players from the area.

Fast forward to 2018, and the Gators signed just three players from the area in Mullen's transition class: four-star defensive end Andrew Chatfield out of Plantation American Heritage, three-star tight end Dante Lang from Boca Raton and three-star safety Randy Russell out of Carol City.

"We have to do a great job recruiting down in this area," Mullen told media Tuesday before speaking to a packed room of Florida fans and alumni at Fort Lauderdale's Pier Sixty-Six Hotel and Marina.

Based on the 247Sports Composite, 34 of the top 100 Florida recruits in the 2019 cycle are from either Palm Beach, Broward or Miami-Dade. That means the top programs in the country — the Alabamas, the Georgias, the Clemsons, the Ohio States — will descend upon those three counties frequently in an attempt to convince them to play college out of state. Five — including top area prospect Frank Ladson from South Dade — have already committed to schools outside the state of Florida.

"In South Florida, you're one of the hottest recruiting, one of the richest recruiting areas in the country," Mullen said. "The fact that kids do leave, that happens. But it's not that we're not going to recruit as hard as we can to get players from South Florida to come play for us ."

The Gators have a commitment from one of those 34 players so far: three-star offensive tackle Wardrick Wilson out of Doral Academy. He's the 52nd-ranked player in the state and 373rd player nationally.

Florida is also still in the hunt for a several four-star prospects from the area. Among them:

Defensive back Tyrique Stevenson (Miami Southridge, No. 10 player in the state)

Defensive end Khris Bogle (Fort Lauderdale Cardinal Gibbons, No. 11 in the state)

Athlete Mark-Antony Richards (Wellington, No. 12 in the state)

Cornerback Kaiir Elam (Benjamin School in North Palm Beach, No. 13 in the state)

Wide receiver John Dunmore (Hollywood Chaminade, No. 16 in the state)

Linebacker Ge’mon Eaford (Deerfield Beach, No. 29 in the state)

Defensive back Jaden Davis (Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas, No. 32 in the state).

"We know we're not going to get every player from South Florida," Mullen said. "We've got to get the right players from South Florida."

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