Florida Gators: Marcus Gilbert

Class of 2006 made biggest impact at UF

February, 21, 2014
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Florida's 2006 recruiting class stands alone at the top.

It started off as ESPN's No. 1-ranked class. But two SEC championships and two national championships in three seasons tell the whole story.

Even the Gators' loaded Class of 2007, which can make an argument as UF's most talented recruiting class of all time, cannot argue with all those rings and trophies.

What can't be argued, however, is that Urban Meyer's incredible success at Florida can be traced back to his ability to recruit three transcendent talents and a truckload of starters in this 2006 group.

This week we have counted down Florida's five most impactful recruiting classes of the past decade. The one that made the biggest mark of them all was the Class of 2006.

[+] EnlargeTim Tebow
Derick E. Hingle/USA TODAY SportsIt's safe to say that Tim Tebow's four years at Florida were successful.
The stars: Tim Tebow, Percy Harvin and Brandon Spikes on their own were the kind of recruits who could make a program, the kind who come along once every 10 years or so. Florida signed all three in 2006. Tebow was every bit a college football legend, one of the greatest players and leaders of all time. He sent UF's program into a stratosphere of national attention, winning the Heisman Trophy in 2007 and leading the way to SEC and national titles in 2008. Harvin might be the most talented player ever to wear the orange and blue. And Spikes was the heart-and-soul middle linebacker of three ferocious defenses.

The contributors: Brandon James made an instant impact as an explosive kick returner and finished his career with four SEC and 11 school records for various career kick return and yardage marks. DE Jermaine Cunningham started 38 of 45 games at UF and recorded 19.5 sacks. Riley Cooper started 27 of 51 games and became Tebow's go-to receiver in 2009. Linebacker A.J. Jones started 40 of his 50 games, and Dustin Doe made 18 starts at linebacker. Lawrence Marsh and Terron Sanders started nearly every game at defensive tackle during Florida's 2008 championship run. Offensive linemen Marcus Gilbert, Carl Johnson and Maurice Hurt redshirted in 2006, but Gilbert and Johnson were starters on Florida's 2008 championship team, and Hurt was a key reserve.

The letdowns: A class known for its highs also had some lows. Jamar Hornsby, an incredible athlete and the No. 6-ranked safety in the Class of 2006, was kicked off the team after pleading no contest to charges of credit card fraud. Cornerback Jacques Rickerson was a top-150 recruit who was kicked off the team in 2008 following his arrest on a felony battery charge. There were some disappointments on the field as well. Offensive tackle Jim Barrie was the No. 28 overall prospect in the country in 2006, but played just one game in his first two seasons before his career ended with a torn ACL. Brandon Antwine was the nation's No. 7-ranked defensive tackle in the class but struggled with injuries throughout his Florida career. RB Mon Williams was the No. 83 overall prospect in 2006 but tore his ACL, moved to linebacker and then transferred. Chevon Walker, another highly rated running back, transferred after one year. Out of 27 signees, there were seven transfers, one player who chose professional baseball (CB Derrick Robinson) and another (lineman Corey Hobbs) who quit football after three seasons to go to law school.

The results: With so many trophies and titles, this class put the Florida program at the epicenter of college football. Much of that success translated to the NFL, as Tebow and Harvin were first-round draft picks and Spikes was picked in the second round. Tebow became a lightning rod for debate about his quarterback skills while leading the Denver Broncos to a playoff victory in January 2012. He is still looking for a chance to extend his playing career. Harvin and Spikes are NFL stars. Florida also had four other players from its Class of 2006 drafted into the NFL -- Cooper, Cunningham, Gilbert and Hurt -- and all four are still active.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Chris Rainey’s speed and versatility made him someone the Pittsburgh Steelers just couldn’t pass up.

The Steelers selected the former Florida running back in the fifth round (159th overall pick) of the NFL draft on Saturday, and coach Mike Tomlin is already thinking about the different ways he can use Rainey on offense and special teams.

"We, of course, are excited about his skill set,” Tomlin said on ESPN shortly after the selection. "We think that this guy is capable of helping us in a lot of ways: in the backfield, outside the backfield, in the return game."

The 5-foot-8, 180-pound Rainey did all of that at Florida. He finished his career with 3,948 all-purpose yards (fourth in school history) and his 2,464 yards rushing is ninth on the school’s all-time list. He also holds the Southeastern Conference record with six blocked punts.

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