- Jeff Barlis, College Football
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Florida's Class of 2007 only won one national championship, but it stands alone as the single most talent-rich recruiting class in school history.
The list of NFL players is mind-boggling, but as part of our week-long series looking at Florida's five most impactful recruiting classes of the last decade, the focus is on college football.
With the 2006 national title under his belt, coach Urban Meyer was cooking with gas at Florida. His recruiting prowess was becoming the stuff of legends, and 2007 is a big piece of evidence to support that contention.
ESPN ranked Florida's 2007 class No. 2 in the nation. It turned out to be an epic group that kept an already-elite program on top for a few more seasons.
The stars: Where to begin? Joe Haden began his decorated college career with a bang, becoming the first true freshman in UF history to start a game at cornerback on opening day. The Pouncey twins, Maurkice and Mike, were stalwarts on the offensive line. Six-foot-6, 280-pound Carlos Dunlap was a monstrous presence at defensive end. Safety Major Wright started 33 of 41 games at free safety and wreaked havoc all over the field. And Aaron Hernandez was an exceptional playmaker at tight end and H-back. All six of these standouts played as true freshmen, and only Mike Pouncey stayed for his senior year, as the others jumped to the NFL.
The contributors: Ball-hawking safety Ahmad Black had 13 career interceptions and was a leader on and off the field for Florida. Chaz Henry was UF's punter for four seasons and won the Ray Guy Award in 2010. Defensive linemen Jaye Howard, Justin Trattou and Duke Lemmens all made their marks as well. Running back Chris Rainey and wideout Deonte Thompson had their ups and downs at UF but were starters. Still, just seven of the 27 recruits in this class transferred away. So the majority of the class contributed to Florida's success.
The letdowns: John Brown and Torrey Davis were among the top-ranked defensive tackles in the class -- Nos. 3 and 9, respectively -- but neither did much at Florida, and both transferred. John Brantley was the No. 4-rated quarterback in the Class of 2007 but had a largely undistinguished career at UF. Bo Williams, the No. 11 running back prospect, enrolled early but transferred after one year at UF. Two other highly rated prospects who struggled were guard James Wilson (injuries) and linebacker Lorenzo Edwards (ineffectiveness). Of the six Gators in this category, all but Edwards were among the top 106 recruits in the nation in 2007.
The results: Florida went 26-2 from 2008-09, winning SEC and national titles in 2008 and recording the second unblemished regular season in school history in 2009. It was an incredible run of success fueled by some terrific talents. Florida had a nation's best nine players selected in the NFL draft in 2010, including three in the first round and a school-record six players in the first two rounds. Haden, Wright, Dunlap, Hernandez and both Pounceys have had great success in the NFL. Black, Howard and Rainey were also drafted. And Trattou, Henry and Thompson have spent time in the league.
The asterisk: One more player deserves mention. The biggest star in Florida's recruiting class -- heck, the biggest star to emerge from the entire Class of 2007 -- was quarterback Cam Newton. He could qualify for all of the categories listed here. He contributed to UF as a backup to Tim Tebow. He was reportedly caught cheating and then arrested and charged with felony burglary, larceny and obstruction of justice. Newton was suspended by UF before transferring to junior college and ending up at Auburn, where he became a college football legend as a Heisman Trophy winner and a national champion. He's now an NFL superstar for the Carolina Panthers.
The other asterisk: It wouldn't be a complete story to include Hernandez's accomplishments here without mentioning his long list of legal troubles. In 2013 he was indicted by a grand jury on a first-degree murder charge. Hernandez pled not guilty and faces life in prison without parole if convicted. The charges and other investigations he faces prompted the New England Patriots to release Hernandez. Back in Gainesville, the Gators removed images of Hernandez from their football facilities and a brick outside the stadium honoring his selection as a first-team All-American in 2009.