State Colleges

With new coaches, these Florida schools want a strong National Signing Day finish

Dan Mullen, the new head football coach at the University of Florida, is introduced during a news conference in Gainesville on Nov. 27, 2017.
Dan Mullen, the new head football coach at the University of Florida, is introduced during a news conference in Gainesville on Nov. 27, 2017. AP

While Miami coach Mark Richt was calmly in command of his recruiting class and locked in 19 signees during the three-day early signing period in December, three of his new fellow in-state coaches were in scramble mode, working tirelessly to play catch up.

Florida’s Dan Mullen, Florida State’s Willie Taggart and UCF’s Josh Heupel all made the most of the little time they had between being named the head coach at their respective universities and trying to keep as much of their recruiting class intact. It was a hit-and-miss venture for the three coaches, just like it was for 16 other programs who had to replace their head coaches this offseason for one reason or another.

Transition classes are usually a difficult venture at the forefront. The journey was magnified this year by the three-day early signing period that took place less than a month after most coaches took over their new programs. Most of the top high school prospects — 220 of ESPN’s top 300, for that matter — ended their recruiting during this period.

The good news for them is the recruiting season isn’t over just yet. Mullen, Taggart and Heupel — along with the rest of the college football world — will make one final push to shore up their classes when National Signing Day gets underway on Wednesday.

So far, Mullen and Taggart are holding their own.

Mullen, who became the Gators’ head coach on Nov. 26 after nine years at Mississippi State, signed 13 players during the early signing period — highlighted by four-star quarterback Emory Jones — and has the 17th overall class right now, according to the 247Sports composite ranking.

The Gators’ top priorities for the final week are offensive line, defensive line and wide receiver.

Their main targets: four-star tackles Richard Gouraige, Nicholas Petit-Frere and William Barnes, four-star defensive lineman Andrew Chatfield out of American Heritage and four-star wide receiver Jacob Copeland.

Landing any combination of these targets could potentially give Florida a top-10 class, which would be a dramatic improvement over Florida’s transition classes under former coach Jim McElwain, which finished 21st nationally in 2015.

Taggart only managed to sign seven players during the early period, which started 15 days after he was named as Jimbo Fisher’s replacement at Florida State.

However, Taggart’s first class with the Seminoles is now up to 15th nationally after getting five commitments over the past month, highlighted by four-star receiver Warren Thompson from Seffner, and is on pace for a strong finish. Taggart’s top two targets to close out this recruiting cycle are all-purpose back Jashaun Corbin and quarterback James Foster.

As for Heupel, the road hasn’t been so sweet. The Knights, who are coming off a perfect 13-0 season, are ranked 78th nationally after signing 13 players in the early period and adding three more commitments in the last two weeks — including American Heritage cornerback Dyllon Lester. UCF is hoping to add a couple offensive linemen to its class on Wednesday.

This and that

▪ ESPN on Thursday announced its coverage plan for National Signing Day and will include live coverage of the top 12 uncommitted recruits — a handful of whom have Florida ties.

The coverage starts at American Heritage Plantation at 10 a.m., where top prospects Patrick Surtain Jr., Tyson Campbell, Anthony Schwartz and Chatfield will make their decisions.

Surtain Jr., the No. 6 overall player in the class, according to 247Sports, is the highest ranked member of the Class of 2018 who did not sign during the early period.

Petit-Frere, the top offensive tackle in the class out of Tampa, has been one of the Gators’ top targets for some time now.

Alabama, Michigan, Notre Dame and Ohio State are also in the mix. He will also announce during the 10 a.m. hour.

Copeland, the 12th-ranked receiver in the class, is likely to choose between Florida and Alabama, but FSU and Tennessee are also potentially in the mix.

He will announce during the 2 p.m. hour on ESPN2.

▪ Of the 80 ESPN 300 players who did not sign during the early signing period, 17 are from Florida, with seven being among the top-50 prospects overall.