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Tuesday, January 28, 2014
Key recruiting battles lost by the Gators

By Jeff Barlis

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- There's no consolation prize when you lose a recruiting battle, just an empty feeling and an empty space on the big board.

It hurts even more to lose a player on signing day, when there is no tomorrow and no other players on the big board to turn to.

Under coach Will Muschamp, Florida has had its share of wins on the recruiting trail. It's also had some impactful losses.

Here's a look at some of the top players the Gators missed on in recent years.

2011
ESPN class rank: No. 12


Timmy Jernigan
The Gators were once a frontrunner for Timmy Jernigan, but he ended up at FSU where he became one of the nation's top defensive tackles.
It would hardly be fair to pin most of the Gators' head-to-head recruiting losses in this class on Muschamp, who was hired in mid-December 2010. He inherited a recruiting class ranked in the top 10 from then-retired coach Urban Meyer, and Muschamp was commended for keeping the bulk of the class together. For example, Muschamp had less than a week to make an impression on Nick Waisome before the nation's No. 2-ranked cornerback decommitted from Florida and flipped to FSU. Not Muschamp's fault.

But the head coach and his staff did have several weeks to take the recruiting baton and try to close with a couple of uncommitted gems from the state of Florida. The Gators were considered frontrunners at one time for DT Timmy Jernigan and LB Curt Maggitt, who ended up at Florida State and Tennessee, respectively. In both cases, Muschamp was unable to capitalize on his reputation for defense and lost the two prospects to offensive-minded head coaches.

2012
ESPN class rank: No. 4

The Gators suffered a painful loss in January when DE/LB Jordan Jenkins picked Georgia. He was a top priority and the UF coaching staff had put a lot of time and effort into his recruitment. The bad news foreshadowed what can only be described as a signing day nightmare, as Florida struck out with eight uncommitted recruits and another who made his decision shortly thereafter.

Desperate for help at receiver, Florida was spurned by two of the top prospects in the nation, Nelson Agholor (USC) and Stefon Diggs (Maryland), who have already shown flashes of brilliance on the field. The Trojans were also the beneficiary of defensive tackle Leonard Williams, who said he made up his mind on the morning of signing day. Florida was a painfully close second, and Williams made an instant impact as a freshman starter.

Muschamp also felt good about keeping offensive lineman Avery Young in his home state, but he ended up at Auburn, where he started on last season's national runner-up. Another Floridian, the nation's No. 1 cornerback, Tracy Howard, was considered a lock for the Gators until he took a visit to Miami on the last weekend before signing day and changed his mind.

And who could forget the gripping saga of No. 1 outside linebacker prospect Josh Harvey-Clemons? He announced his decision to go to Georgia in the morning on ESPNU's signing day show. His family was shocked. They wanted him close to home in Valdosta, Ga., and thought he would choose UF. The situation turned surreal when his grandfather and legal guardian refused to sign the letter of intent. It took a full day to sort out, but Harvey-Clemons faxed his letter of intent to attend Georgia the morning after signing day.

2013
ESPN class rank: No. 2


The headline in the local newspaper was "Muschamp set up for stress-free signing day". Indeed, most of the drama took place in January when Florida signed eight early enrollees, including three top-rated players who flipped to Florida late in the process. It was a strong rebound for a coach who took some criticism with the way he closed out his class the year before.

But there were some misses, recruits who could have played a big role for the Gators in what turned out to be a woeful 2013.

Cornerback Jalen Ramsey and defensive lineman DeMarcus Walker, both top-40 prospects in the ESPN 300, picked FSU over Florida. Walker, from Jacksonville, Fla., originally committed to Alabama over UF. When he wavered many thought the Gators would be the beneficiary. Instead he flipped to the Seminoles just before enrolling in January. Ramsey, who had been committed to USC for months, changed his mind when Trojans coach Lane Kiffin came under fire. Instead of choosing the Gators, where his high school teammate QB Max Staver was committed, Ramsey ended up at FSU and made a huge impact as a starter on the Noles' national championship team last season.

Offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil, ranked No. 1 at his position and No. 5 overall, was another tough loss. Like Jernigan two years before, Florida was a frontrunner at one time. Both prospects went to the same high school in Lake City, Fla, just 45 minutes north of Gainesville. Tunsil ended up at Ole Miss, where he started all but four games as a true freshman.