Florida Gators: Brandon Powell
The starter: Sophomore Kelvin Taylor
The backup: Senior Mack Brown
The rest: Junior Matt Jones, redshirt freshman Adam Lane and true freshman Brandon Powell.
The future: Tailback is one of the most stable positions in the program with plenty of depth and talent, but that could change quickly if Jones can't return to his previous level of play. Lane showed a lot of promise in his first spring. He packs a lot of power into his 5-foot-7, 222-pound bowling ball of a body and will be a valuable reserve this fall. But Lane's best opportunities for significant playing time are likely in 2015 and beyond. Powell, who enrolled in January but missed most of spring ball with a fractured foot, offers something none of the other backs have -- speed. If he can get around the corner and hit an occasional home run, Powell's bright future could come sooner than later. The future for the running back position overall at UF seems to be changing. With the new scheme in place, the Gators will look to recruit more speed than power. Florida's top target in the 2015 cycle is Ray-Ray McCloud III of Tampa, Fla. The Gators would love to put him in their no-huddle spread attack and watch him scoot.
The Gators will work out in the weight room, delve deeper into playbooks and conduct drills with each other. Fifteen signees are expected to enroll in June, several of whom come with legitimate hopes for immediate playing time.
With more than three months before Florida practices again, there are still several questions that must be answered. Here are a few:
Jeff Driskel is entrenched as the starter, but with his history of injuries, the Gators must prepare their backups like never before.
When Driskel was lost for the season last September, whole sections of the UF playbook went with him. That can't happen again, and it doesn't seem that it will, because Florida has more depth at quarterback than it has had in a long time.
True freshman Will Grier split reps throughout the spring with third-year sophomore Skyler Mornhinweg, and true freshman Treon Harris will enter the fray in August. The prevailing thought is that Grier is more talented and athletic than Mornhinweg and got a leg up on Harris by enrolling early.
But overlooking Mornhinweg, who started the last three games of 2013, would be a mistake. The coaches valued his experience and decision-making enough to cut into Grier's development this spring, and Mornhinweg rewarded them by showing improvement in the passing game.
He doesn't have Grier's arm or Harris' mobility, but Mornhinweg could easily be Driskel's primary backup.
2. What happens if the injury bug strikes again?
Injuries devastated Florida's 2013 season, but 2014 has yet to be a whole lot better.
Seven scholarship athletes missed all of spring recovering from injuries. Two others were limited to just a few days of practice in non-contact jerseys. Six more players got hurt during practice and missed time.
The good news? Every one of those players is expected to participate fully in fall camp. The bad news? Florida still hasn't developed enough depth to overcome losses at key positions such as quarterback, defensive tackle or cornerback.
One big injury could hurt in more ways than one, so other than simply having some better luck this fall, the Gators will need their young backups to prove they can handle larger roles.
3. Will UF finally have a dangerous receiver?
It's a stunning statistic, but Florida hasn’t had a receiver record 600 or more yards in a season since 2009 when wideout Riley Cooper had 961 and tight end Aaron Hernandez had 850.
A lot will depend on the new scheme, Driskel's improvement in accuracy and decision-making, as well as the offensive line's ability to pass block. But if all of those things happen, the Gators believe they finally have the wide receivers to make hay.
Senior Quinton Dunbar, a solid possession receiver, is the leader on and off the field. A trio of sophomores -- Demarcus Robinson, Ahmad Fulwood and Chris Thompson -- brings size, speed and much-needed athleticism. Andre Debose, back for a sixth year of eligibility after a torn ACL in 2013, is a talented wild card.
The numbers might not match those of Cooper or Hernandez, but Florida will be thrilled with even one pass-catching threat after four years of going without.
4. What can the Gators expect out of the backups on both lines?
If you listened to the coaching staff, the answer after spring was not much. A familiar refrain from head coach Will Muschamp and Co. was that there was "a huge drop-off" in effectiveness between the first and second units on the offensive and defensive lines.
That wasn't a motivational ploy. It's a real problem.
On the offensive line, the Gators have one backup -- junior Trip Thurman -- they appear comfortable with. Given the injury histories of the starters, a lack of depth here could be the biggest concern on the team. Florida will need reserves Drew Sarvary, Cameron Dillard and Kavaris Harkless to improve rapidly. Redshirt freshman Roderick Johnson and true freshman Nolan Kelleher must come back from the injuries that cost them the entire spring, or the O-line could see another revolving-door season.
On the defensive line, Florida needs more from redshirt freshmen DTs Jay-nard Bostwick and Caleb Brantley, who showed flashes of talent but little consistency. This could be an area where UF benefits from some heralded true freshmen who arrive in June. Gerald Willis III, Thomas Holley and Khairi Clark could all be in the mix on the D-line in fall camp.
5. Will there be enough carries for all of the running backs?
The players say yes, but that was during a spring that didn't include former starter Matt Jones and true freshman Brandon Powell, both out with injuries.
Sophomore Kelvin Taylor looks to be the starter, senior Mack Brown is a reliable backup, and redshirt freshman Adam Lane emerged as another weapon. But none of the three has breakaway speed. Although they run with similar styles, UF's backs believe they will all play. Duke's offense in 2013 supports that notion, as offensive coordinator Kurt Roper employed four tailbacks throughout the season.
"Our offense is definitely not stingy and we're going to pass the ball around and use each other in different situations," Lane said. "I wouldn't say it's really roles, but in some situations some fit better."
Still yet to be resolved is where Powell and Jones fit. Powell has speed and wiggle and could be a change-of-pace back. Jones will get a look at the B position (typically manned by tight ends and fullbacks), where he could do damage as a pass-catcher and get more playmakers on the field at the same time.
"But he's going to play the running back positon as well," Muschamp cautioned.
Ultimately, the Florida offense will still be predicated on running the ball, so it's possible five backs could share the load.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Kelvin Taylor arrived at Florida last year with all the fanfare one would expect of an elite recruit who also happened to be the son of a school legend.
He didn't really factor into Florida's running game, however, until an injury ended the season of starter Matt Jones in Week 6.
"I wasn't really discouraged," he said. "I was just like, 'Wow, Mack Brown and Matt Jones are out there.' I was just cheering those guys on and learning, trying to get better every day in practice, just trying to do something to impress the coach to put me out there. ...
"I just sat back and watched film, did things like that, took coaching and tried to get better every day."
When he got his chance, Taylor lived up to the hype. He showed that he was ready and was indeed as talented as his famous father, Fred Taylor.
Kelvin Taylor started four of the last five games, finished the season with 508 yards on 111 carries (4.6 yards per carry), and was named to the SEC's All-Freshman Team.
Florida coach Will Muschamp knew he had a special talent in Taylor, but the freshman's behavior when he wasn't playing made an ever bigger impression.
"Very humble, just a hard-working guy," Muschamp said. "He never said a whole lot. Kelvin’s a team guy. He’s been raised right. He’s a really good young man. He’s all about the team. He’s all about the University of Florida. He knew there were some things in protection he needed to clean up moving forward. There was nothing that he wasn’t willing to work at and didn’t recognize.
"With good players, that’s normally the deal. They realize there’s things they need to work on, there’s things they need to improve on and that’s why he is a good player. He’s talented, but he realizes the things he needs to do."
With Jones still recovering from a torn meniscus, Taylor has been the lead dog in a stable of running backs.
"We've got a lot of great running backs in there," he said. "Me, Mack Brown, Mark [Herndon], Matt Jones, [Adam] Lane, all those guys, Brandon Powell, the freshman that just came in. I think all those guys will help us."
Taylor has worked hard to take the starting job and hold off his competition. A year after enrolling early and participating in his first spring practices, he has the look of a confident sophomore poised to take the next step.
"I feel like I got stronger and a whole lot faster working with Coach [Jeff] Dillman," he said. "All those guys pushing me everyday, working me harder. My lower body got a lot more powerful. ... Now I got a year underneath my belt, so I'm practicing well, playing faster, more used to the speed of the game."
Taylor's teammates, especially his backfield mates, say they can tell. They're expecting big things this fall.
"He's not really worrying or thinking too much," senior fullback Hunter Joyer said. "He's just going out, playing full speed."
It's helped that the entire offense has made a smooth transition to a new no-huddle, spread scheme that operates almost exclusively out of the shotgun formation.
"This offense is a little different for these guys in how they're getting the ball," Muschamp said. "We still run the counter. We still run the power. We still run the inside run. We still run the stretch. But their angles to the line of scrimmage are a little different, and I think they've all adjusted very well."
Even with just a couple of weeks of hands-on experience, Taylor and the rest of Florida's playmakers are loving the new offense. They're getting used to a much faster tempo and are thrilled to get the ball in open space.
That kind of success has bred confidence and even led to a bold prediction or two.
"This year we're going to bounce back," Taylor said. "We're going to have a great season. We're just ready. We can't wait till the first game of the season just to show the nation what we're working with this year."
What's new: After a 4-8 season in 2013, a couple of key offensive coaches were replaced. Offensive coordinator Brent Pease was fired and replaced with Kurt Roper, who was in the same position at Duke. Offensive line coach Tim Davis was fired and replaced by Mike Summers, who coached the OL at USC in 2013. Special teams coordinator Jeff Choate left to coach at Washington and was replaced with Coleman Hutzler, who coached special teams at New Mexico.
On the move: The biggest shuffling will happen on the offensive line, which lost three senior starters and another key reserve who transferred. Max Garcia, who started at left guard and left tackle last season, will move to center. Moore, who played tackle in 2013, moves to guard. Trenton Brown, who started five games at right tackle, will also see time at guard. And junior Trip Thurman, a reserve at guard and tackle who's been praised for his offseason work, will also get a look at center.
New faces: Eight true freshmen and a juco guard enrolled in January. The biggest impact is likely to come from CB Jalen Tabor, who should compete for a starting job. QB Will Grier will have a chance to become Driskel's primary backup. TE DeAndre Goolsby could stand out as a pass-catcher. Juco guard Drew Sarvary should compete for a spot on the two-deep roster. Taven Bryan has a chance to impress at defensive end. DB Duke Dawson will get a look at cornerback and safety. Kavaris Harkless provides depth at guard. RB Brandon Powell (foot) will be a non-contact participant. Guard Nolan Kelleher (back) is waiting on a second opinion before he's cleared to participate.
Question marks: There are so many following a subpar season. The biggest issue for Florida is making the most of its 15 allotted practices to install a new offense. Roper can often be heard telling his new students to play fast, but it will take time for new plays, new schemes and new principles to become second nature. The Gators' problems on offense ran deep. The line was porous in pass protection, often giving the quarterbacks precious little time to scan the field. When there was time, the receiving corps had trouble getting open. All of those issues must be addressed, as head coach Will Muschamp is betting his job on new hires Roper and Summers to restore competence to one of the worst passing attacks in the nation.
Florida was not great on defense last season, either. It's true that the offense got so bad that Muschamp publicly complained about the effect it had on his defense, but he also had some gripes of his own. The Gators' run defense, for one, slipped badly and got worse as the season went along. After DT Dominique Easley got hurt, the middle of UF's defense never recovered. It's a high priority for the Gators to find and develop some linemen who can win one-on-one battles. Also, for the second straight year, the secondary lost a lot of experienced players. Florida is deep and talented and will put pressure on several young players to progress quickly.
Key battle: There are several to choose from, but the most important and tightest competition will probably happen at middle linebacker. Morrison is the incumbent but performed below expectations last season. Senior Michael Taylor is a solid option and should push Morrison, but Taylor has always struggled in coverage. The wild card is sophomore Jarrad Davis, who came on strong as a true freshman when he drew raves for his speed, athleticism and ability to absorb coaching.
Breaking out: This is a team desperate for skill players to produce. Florida signed five talented wide receivers in 2013, and three -- Ahmad Fulwood, Chris Thompson and Demarcus Robinson -- saw immediate playing time. With at least one starting WR job up for grabs, the Gators are counting on those three and redshirt freshmen Alvin Bailey and Marqui Hawkins to mature. Roper's offense depends upon getting its best weapons the ball in space. At this time, any of those five could become the team's most dangerous weapon. Regardless of who it is, a reliable pass-catching threat must emerge this spring.
Don't forget about: On a young team, senior Quinton Dunbar will be counted on for leadership and more. He's been a solid possession receiver and has improved in each of his three seasons, but the Gators will ask Dunbar to take the next step. A certain starter, Dunbar needs to consistently separate and catch everything that comes his way. Florida's QBs need their senior receiver to be something of a security blanket.
All eyes on: It's all about the offense for a program that has consistently fielded one of the nation's best defenses. Driskel and Grier will be in the brightest spotlights, as only quarterbacks can be. They will be the easiest measuring sticks of the progress that Roper's offense makes, and hundreds of fans will come to practice to see if things are indeed improving. The shotgun, zone-read options and spread elements of the new scheme are tailor-made for these two QBs. Roper (and therefore Muschamp) will be counting on their QBs to make the offense look good.
Florida coach Will Muschamp on Tuesday announced the Gators will open spring practice March 19 with nine players out of action because of injury, including three starters.
- Junior running back Matt Jones is progressing after a second surgery to repair a torn meniscus. The former starter is on track to be fully cleared on May 1. The Gators will need a healthy Jones this fall, but in the meantime there will be plenty of spring reps for a talented backfield that has good depth.
- Senior starting defensive tackle Leon Orr fractured his wrist late last season and won't be cleared until May 1, but Florida has lots of competition at defensive tackle. "He would probably have been limited reps anyway with as many young guys as we need up front to help us," Muschamp said.
- Senior wide receiver/kick returner Andre Debose, who had been a starter before missing all of last season with a torn ACL, is expected to be medically cleared on March 28 but will wear a noncontact jersey for the last two weeks of spring practice. A healthy Debose will bring speed and experience to a deep but largely unproven group of wide receivers.
- Three linebackers still rehabbing after surgery for injuries suffered last fall -- sophomores Alex Anzalone (shoulder) and Jeremi Powell (torn ACL) and redshirt freshman Matt Rolin (torn ACL) -- won't be medically cleared until after spring practice. All three could play reserve roles and special teams in the fall.
- Sophomore tight end Colin Thompson has a chronic foot injury that dates back to his high school days. It appears to be threatening his career. "The last opinion we got is that he needed to shut it down completely and we'll have another opinion when spring is over, but he will not partake in spring," Muschamp said. Although Thompson was just a blocker, Florida needs every available body for its tight end competition.
- Freshman early enrollee running back Brandon Powell has a small fracture in his foot from high school ball. Once on UF's campus, he had surgery to insert a pin and will miss most of the spring. "To that point in January, [Powell] had done an outstanding job in our conditioning drills," Muschamp said. "Great change of direction and speed. He's one of the guys we're really excited about."
- Freshman early enrollee Nolan Kelleher, an interior lineman, came to Florida in January with a back issue and has not been cleared for practice. Muschamp said a second opinion would be sought this week. The entire offensive line will be evaluated under new coach Mike Summers, so the competition for roles should be fierce.
Fortunately for Florida, most of the injuries are at positions of depth. Muschamp said that so far this spring, it is nothing like last year, when he was forced to turn the annual Orange & Blue Debut game into a series of drills with a limited scrimmage.
"Last year I just didn't feel like it was fair with six offensive linemen healthy to put those guys through that," he said. "I want to have a spring game. ... I think it's important for those guys to get out in front of that crowd, the coaches off the field, and make them make calls and communicate and produce. There's no question. I want to have a spring game every year."
We're here to get you ready with a look at the top five Gators to watch when practice gets started on March 19.
This week-long series concludes with a look at a sleeper candidate at running back.
5-foot-7, 222 pounds
Credentials: Lane came out of Winter Haven (Fla.) High School as the No. 15-ranked running back prospect in the Class of 2013. A four-star recruit, he was ranked No. 173 overall in the ESPN 300. But those rankings could have been higher had he not broken his leg and missed his entire junior season in 2011. The first pledge in Florida's 2013 class, Lane came back from that injury to run 205 times for 1,624 yards (7.9 yards per carry) and 12 touchdowns as a senior in 2012.
How he fits: He's been compared to Maurice Jones-Drew, and one look at Lane's body explains it. He's compact, built like a bowling ball, and he runs like one. Lane has enough speed to make defenders miss but really frustrates opponents when he hides behind linemen before exploding to the next level. He's strong enough to initiate contact and drag defenders and strong enough to win a state weightlifting title in his senior year of high school (he benched 415 pounds). Lane is unlikely to suddenly compete for the starting tailback job at UF after redshirting last season, but his running style gives him a great chance to find niche in new offensive coordinator Kurt Roper's still-developing scheme.
Who he's competing with: Florida has no shortage of options at tailback. Matt Jones was the starter last season, but torn cartilage in his knee required two surgeries. He's expected to be healthy and a big factor in the competition this fall but will sit out the spring. When Jones got hurt last season, true freshman Kelvin Taylor became the starter and improved throughout the second half of the season. Considering Jones' health, Taylor is the prohibitive favorite to be Florida's starter in 2014. Then there's senior Mack Brown and junior Valdez Showers. Brown proved he can be a reliable backup last season, while Showers made a successful conversion from safety to running back and showed promise as a change-of-pace back who can be a threat catching passes out of the backfield. Finally, true freshman early enrollee Brandon Powell hopes to use spring football practices to give the Gators something they lack -- an explosive home-run threat who can stretch the field in every direction.
What needs to happen this spring: The outlook at tailback is rather muddled. Lane has plenty of competition, so he'll have to stand out in spring practice and be consistent in order to carve out a role. The ideal situation for Lane, and for Florida to take advantage of so much talent at the position, would be a committee. Good thing the reins are in the hands of Roper, who did just that at Duke. Last season the Blue Devils made use of four running backs (two primary ball-carriers and two complementary backs) as well as two quarterbacks who could run. That kind of committee approach could work perfectly at UF this season. Of course the Gators would be just as thrilled to lean mostly on one back if Taylor becomes a star or if Jones gets healthy and taps his vast potential. But one thing is certain: Florida is going to run, run and run some more in 2014.
And for a Florida program that suffered through seven straight losses to finish a miserable 2013 season, a win is somehow more than a win. It's validation. It's hope.
The Gators put a bow on their fine 2014 recruiting class on Wednesday, and the feeling on campus was like a return to happier times.
Here's a position-by-position breakdown of the Gators' class with a grade for each.
Florida needed to replace two transfers after junior backup Tyler Murphy and freshman Max Staver left, and the Gators did so with aplomb. Will Grier, one of the centerpieces of the class, is a gifted passer with plenty of athleticism to run. Adding Treon Harris gives the Gators a talented athlete who is a proven winner with two state titles as evidence. Harris flipped on signing day from Florida State because he felt Kurt Roper's offense at UF would be a better fit. Now Roper has to get both QBs ready for action.
Losing one of the top tailbacks in the country, Dalvin Cook, was a big blow. Losing him to Florida State hurts even more. Cook would have been a perfect complement to UF's already-strong backfield. But Florida recovered quickly and flipped ESPN 300 athlete Brandon Powell from Miami. Like Cook, Powell is an early enrollee, which helps. He does a lot of the same things as Cook and likewise see early playing time.
Again, Florida lost one of the best prospects in the country, Ermon Lane, to FSU, which will sting when the schools square off in their annual grudge match. And again, the Gators recovered with a flip of their own. Ryan Sousa, a four-star prospect, switched from FSU to Florida. The Gators also got a signing-day boost from former FSU commit C.J. Worton. Both project as slot receivers and are good fits for an offense that will feature more spread elements.
It's been a rough ride at this position since Jordan Reed's departure. There's really nowhere to go but up. The Gators are excited about all three signees. DeAndre Goolsby is already on campus as an early enrollee. Moral Stephens is a playmaker who profiles more as an H-back. And despite being less well-known, C'yontai Lewis caught the coaches' eyes during summer camp as a big target (6-foot-4, 230 pounds) with good hands.
Florida desperately needed help here and got it in the form of six signees. The big prize is Jacksonville, Fla., offensive tackle David Sharpe, the nation's No. 2 offensive tackle prospect. But this group offers plenty more in the way of immediate impact and depth. Guards Drew Sarvary and Nolan Kelleher have the size to contribute this fall and are already on campus. Offensive tackle Kavaris Harkless will also benefit from being an early enrollee. Travaris Dorsey gives UF a rock-solid prospect on the interior line. Big, rangy offensive tackle Andrew Mike was a late addition, flipping from Vanderbilt to UF the night before signing day.
This might be the strength of the class, a group that Florida recruiters might someday pound their chests over. It started with three prospects on whom the coaching staff is extremely high -- DE Taven Bryan, who is on campus now, burly DT Khairi Clark and DE Justus Reed, a quick and explosive athlete. Then Florida added two huge pieces in pulling DL Gerald Willis III out of New Orleans and flipping DT Thomas Holley from Penn State. Both are among the finest D-line talents in this class.
Florida didn't have a serious need after signing a fine class of four linebackers last season. They went after some big names, like Christian Miller (a one-time commit), Raekwon McMillan, Jacob Pugh and Nyles Morgan but didn't settle for lesser talents just to fill space. We'll give this position and incomplete grade.
This could have been a home run had Florida signed Adoree' Jackson. Instead, it was a stand-up triple. The Gators have lost four starters in a backend that typically starts five in the oft-used nickel formation, but Florida has recruited well here for years. The 2014 class was no exception. UF desperately needed a signee who can compete right away as a starting cornerback and got its man in five-star Jalen Tabor. Keeping J.C. Jackson in the class and signing fellow ESPN 300 talents Duke Dawson and Quincy Wilson was huge. Deiondre Porter, a late flip from South Florida, is an intriguing project who played quarterback in high school.
The Gators met every one of their biggest needs -- a corner who can start, talented depth for the offensive line, a future starting quarterback (or two), fresh blood at tight end, and some explosive playmakers in the slot on offense. Not enough can be said of the job this coaching staff did to finish with the No. 6-ranked class in the nation after a 4-8 season. It speaks volumes about the resilience of the Florida brand name as well as the recruiting ability of Will Muschamp and his coaches.
No one you see, is smarter than he,
And we know Flipper, lives in a world full of wonder,
Flying there under, under the sea!
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- It may be a 1960s TV show, but try getting the theme song for "Flipper" out of your head once it's stuck there. It's about as easy as getting Florida coach Will Muschamp to stop recruiting a prospect he wants.
In three years as chief recruiter for the Gators, Muschamp has clearly displayed a penchant for getting committed recruits to change their minds.
The first big splash came in 2012 when defensive end Dante Fowler Jr., a prized recruit in Florida State's No. 2-ranked class, made a dramatic switch to Florida on signing day after being committed to the Noles for more than a year.
Muschamp's persistence over that time period and insistence that Fowler would get on the field earlier with UF paid off.
"It was real difficult,” Fowler said on signing day. "Being committed for a year and growing up a Florida State fan all my life -- I always hated Florida, and I always told myself I would never go to Florida, and now I’m about to be playing for them. It’s kind of crazy."
That was just the start of the craziness.
Last year Muschamp upped the ante with six more flips, four just before they signed as early enrollees in January 2013. In fact, three of Florida's four linebackers in that class -- Matt Rolin (from South Carolina), Alex Anzalone (Notre Dame) and Jarrad Davis (Auburn) -- flipped from other schools.
The key to flipping recruits, Muschamp said, is not a secret. It's a simple approach.
"You stay on guys," he said, "and try to make valid points you’ve made throughout the entire recruiting process all the way through."
He's done it again this year, getting three of his nine early enrollees to flip.
Each of the three -- cornerback Jalen Tabor (Arizona), athlete Brandon Powell (Miami) and offensive tackle Kavaris Harkless (Louisville) -- changed their minds as late as the first week of the spring semester.
None was more last minute than Harkless, who was on campus at Louisville the day before his first class when he changed his mind and flew back to Florida. Harkless was swayed by the departure of coach Charlie Strong, who left Louisville for Texas.
When the coaching change news broke that weekend, so did Harkless' commitment to Louisville.
One of Harkless' coaches at Jacksonville (Fla.) Trinity Christian, Gerard Ross, saw firsthand how UF coaches laid the foundation for Harkless' change of heart. Ross says it's a matter of the Gator coaches continuing to build relationships even after their targets have committed elsewhere.
"They do a good job of staying in contact with those guys that they really want who are committed to other places," he said. "That way if something ever changes that kid's mind, then that whole time they've been there with that kid. The [recruit] has something to fall back on."
It used to be taboo in recruiting to go after a committed prospect. Now, the taboo is a relic of a bygone era. It's open season on all commits until the ink has dried on the official letter of intent.
"These days in recruiting it's a little different than when I came out," said Ross, who played cornerback for FSU from 2002-05. "These days you almost can't blame the kids for trying to find a school pretty early and finding themselves a spot, because you can't oversign anymore. At the same time, the coaches almost have to stay on those kids who do commit early. There's a window when that kid might flip.
"Back in the day when a kid committed, that was pretty much it. That's where he was going. But nowadays, college football is becoming a business."
A business in which coaches move frequently for new jobs, often shaking up recruiting classes in the process.
It's something Florida has experienced on both sides -- from losing recruits when former coach Urban Meyer retired (twice) to cherry-picking players like Harkless, who found himself far from home and without a coach.
"That's recruiting, you know?" Harkless said from Louisville in early January, just before he left for Florida. "I still have respect for Coach Strong, because he has to go where it's best for his family. I'm just doing the same."
After announcing Harkless among his nine early enrollees in January, Muschamp talked about the increase in drama and decommitments on the recruiting trail. This rockier road, he said, is here to stay.
"The earlier and earlier recruiting goes, you’re going to continue to see this. That’s not stopping," Muschamp said. "I think the earlier it is, young men are making decisions before maybe they have the information or they’re sure of what they want to do or how they’re going to do it. I think you’re going to continue to probably see this."
Translation: Beware the Flipper.
Like a song stuck in your head, Muschamp isn't going to stop anytime soon.
"Having nine guys in mid-year says a lot about these kids academically, being ready to go," Muschamp said.
Here's a breakdown of each. Muschamp offered thoughts on all but one recruit, who will be listed here with an excerpt from his scouting report.
CB Jalen Tabor | Scouting report
Washington, D.C./Friendship Collegiate Academy
Height/weight: 6-foot-1, 188 pounds Ranking: No. 15 overall, No. 5 cornerback
Muschamp's take: "Jalen Tabor was a corner we added late there. A 6-1 corner that’s got a lot of length and athleticism on the top, and he can finish some plays."
QB Will Grier | Scouting report
Davidson, N.C./Davidson Day
Height/weight: 6-3, 181 Ranking: No. 34 overall, No. 2 dual-threat quarterback
Muschamp's take: "[He has] the ability to learn, athleticism. Obviously you look at accuracy as a thrower, being able to throw the ball into tight spots. He’s shown the ability to do that. We had him in camp multiple times. ... The athleticism and accuracy, we feel like, is there."
DB Duke Dawson | Scouting report
Cross City, Fla./Dixie County
Height/weight: 5-11, 197 Ranking: No. 213 overall, No. 17 cornerback
Muschamp's take: "[He's] a guy that we feel like had a great senior season and a guy who continued to impress and improve."
ATH Brandon Powell | Scouting report
Deerfield Beach, Fla./Deerfield Beach
Height/weight: 5-9, 169 Ranking: No. 272 overall, No. 35 athlete
Muschamp's take: "[Powell] was a running back we’ve been on [despite his commitment to Miami] and had an opportunity there to get him."
DE Taven Bryan | Scouting report
Casper, Wyo./Natrona County
Height/weight: 6-5, 255 Ranking: No. 31 defensive end, No. 1 prospect in his state
Muschamp's take: "[He's] broad-shouldered, looks great. Excited to get him on campus. Did a fantastic job at our summer camps this past year. ... He is a guy that was very athletic in the workouts here he was very athletic in the workouts at his school. He showed great athleticism for a guy that's 6-5, 6-5Ĺ, 265 pounds to run like he runs. There’s a tremendous upside and there’s multiple positions he probably could play. He’s still young for his age. Who knows where his body is going to grow? But you always think size and speed when you have the athleticism. Great work ethic, great toughness, and a guy that I’m really pleased to have as a part of the program. I think he’s got tremendous upside as a player."
OG Nolan Kelleher | Scouting report
Mount Pleasant, S.C./Wando
Height/weight: 6-5, 310 Ranking: No. 18 offensive guard
Scout's take: "Kelleher is a dominant run blocker as an offensive guard, however his size, athleticism and toughness appear better suited for the tackle position at the BCS level."
OT Kavaris Harkless | Scouting report
Jacksonville, Fla./Trinity Christian
Height/weight: 6-5, 285 Ranking: No. 22 offensive tackle
Muschamp's take: "[He] had a little change of heart there at the end about where he was going to go to school [after being committed to Louisville]. We’re fortunate to have been recruiting him throughout the fall of his senior year. Had a great senior year. Had a great state championship for Trinity Christian."
TE DeAndre Goolsby | Scouting report
Height/weight: 6-4, 225 Ranking: No. 9 tight end/H-back
Muschamp's take: "We need some help at the tight end position. He’s a guy that’s going to come in here and be here and certainly get his opportunities."
OT Drew Sarvary | Scouting report
Tallahassee, Fla./Tyler Junior College
Height/weight: 6-6, 310 Ranking: No. 16 juco offensive tackle
Muschamp's take: "He finished his senior year at North Florida Christian. A guy that had been on our radar at the time. We were not going to take a junior college lineman and then we had some attrition there at the end of the season and felt like we needed a more mature guy to step up up front and go through the spring with us."
This time it’s ESPN 300 wide receiver Ermon Lane (Homestead, Fla./Homestead) who announced on Twitter that he was backing off of his pledge to Florida.
No Hard Feelings But I Just Decommitted From The University Of Florida . Not Because Dalvin Cook. No lie I love gator nation. #OneLove— Support #„5„Jwalk (@_MoneyLane) January 10, 2014
I love the gators fans but I have to do what's best for me— Support #„5„Jwalk (@_MoneyLane) January 10, 2014
Lane’s decision didn’t come as a surprise to many Florida fans. Lane is close friends with running back Dalvin Cook (Miami/Central), who flipped his commitment from Florida to Florida State less than two weeks ago. Lane, the No. 28-ranked player in the country, has set up only one official visit and that is to FSU on Jan. 31, the weekend before national signing day.
In the last two week the Gators have lost three ESPN 300 recruits, Lane, Cook and Chris Lammons (Fort Lauderdale, Fla./Plantation), while adding, Jalen Tabor (Washington, D.C./Friendship Academy), Brandon Powell (Deerfield Beach, Fla/Deerfield Beach), Gerald Willis III (New Orleans/Edna Karr) and Kavaris Harkless (Jacksonville, Fla./Trinity Christian) during that same time period.
It appears the Florida coaching staff suspected this could potentially happen. The Gators recently offered wide receivers De’Andre Thompkins (Swansboro, N.C./Swansboro), a Penn State commit and Florida State commit C.J. Worton (Homestead, Fla/South Dade). Worton is planning to visit Florida this month.
The Gators now have 20 verbal commitments including 11 ranked in the ESPN 300.
The news was first reported by Zach Abolverdi of the Gainesville Sun, and Deerfield Beach head coach Allen Jackson later confirmed via text message. The 5-foot-9, 171-pound athlete, who is being recruited by Florida to play running back, is expected to enroll in classes at Florida sometime on Friday.
The Powell addition is important for the Gators. After Dalvin Cook (Miami/Central), the No. 4 running back in the country, flipped his commitment from Florida to Florida State, the Gators were left with a void at running back. Powell has speed and playmaking ability that has been missing from the Florida backfield in the last two seasons.
"Powell is reminiscent of Miami's Duke Johnson, but shorter and leaner,” his Recruiting Nation scouting report reads. "On pure skill-set alone, Powell would be considered one of the elite backs in this class, but he just isn't blessed with the measurables coveted by coaches. High-risk, high-reward player who could be a feature return specialist. Durability is always going to be a concern.”
With Powell on board, the Gators now have 21 verbal commitments including 12 ranked in the ESPN 300.
As for Miami, Powell was the second South Florida prospect to change his commitment in the last two days. The other, cornerback Nigel Bethel II (Miami/Booker T. Washington) flipped his commitment from Miami to Texas Tech on Thursday evening. The Hurricanes still have 26 commits including 11 ranked in the ESPN 300.
Trending up: With the addition of Racean Thomas (Oxford, Ala./Oxford), the Auburn Tigers jumped up two spots from No. 17 to No. 15. Thomas is the No. 5-ranked running back and the No. 34th-ranked player overall in the ESPN 300. With the commitment of Thomas, the Tigers have 14 commitments including seven in the ESPN 300. Vanderbilt also jumped up two spots from No. 25 to No. 23 by adding ESPN 300 safety Kyle Gibson (Seffner, Fla./Armwood). Alabama, Texas A&M and Ole Miss all moved up one spot each in the updated rankings.
Trending down: After losing ESPN 300 defensive back Chris Hardeman (Houston/Alief Taylor) LSU dropped from No. 8 to No. 10 in the rankings. With players such as Leonard Fournette (New Orleans/St. Augustine), Cameron Robinson (West Monroe, La./West Monroe) and Speedy Noil (New Orleans/Edna Karr) still on their radar, the Tigers still have a good chance to end up with a top five class. Tennessee also dropped one spot from No. 2 to No. 3 after losing four-star athlete Brandon Powell (Deerfield Beach, Fla./Deerfield Beach). Powell quickly switched his commitment to Miami after decommitting from the Vols last Saturday. Missouri is the only team in the SEC not represented in the top 40. The Tigers have 17 commitments but only one is ranked higher than a three-star prospect.
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As difficult as it might be, the 6-foot-8, 288-pound Sharpe said he would at least like to attempt to play both when he gets to college.
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McMillian, a four-star linebacker, comes from a school that regularly sends players to Florida State. He also recently camped in Tallahassee and had some Florida fans worried about his commitment to the Gators. Like McMillian, Hawkins, a four-star wide receiver, has taken trips elsewhere this summer. Friday also happened to be Hawkins' first trip to Gainesville.
It appears that Florida fans can rest easy for both players.
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Florida updates athletic facilities
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