NCF On The Trail: Alex Anzalone

Will Muschamp: They call him Flipper

February, 3, 2014
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They call him Flipper, Flipper, faster than lightning,
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.

Dante Fowler
Courtesy Fowler FamilyDante Fowler, right, flipped from Florida State to Florida in 2012.
He's done it so often, some Florida fans call him Flipper.

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.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Florida coach Will Muschamp likes to say that his program sells itself to recruits, but it still doesn't make that part of his job terribly easy.

Sure, UF is the flagship university in the state, plays in the top conference in America and has facilities to rival any elite athletic program. But the Gators constantly have to contend with the likes of Florida State, Miami, Georgia, Alabama, LSU and any number of national programs that come to this talent-rich state for recruits.

Muschamp has demonstrated a gift for recruiting, as his classes have ranked 12th in the nation in 2011, fourth in 2012 and second overall last year. This year's class is ranked No. 7 with a little more than a week until signing day on Feb. 5.

Here are some notable recruiting battles won by the Gators under Muschamp. On Tuesday, we'll look at the other side of the equation.

[+] EnlargeDante Fowler Jr.
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsDante Fowler Jr. provided a much-needed presence on the defensive line.
DE/LB Dante Fowler Jr.
Chose Florida over Florida State
One of the biggest recruiting coups in recent years was getting Fowler to flip on signing day after being committed to the archrival Seminoles for more than a year. Fowler, who grew up an FSU fan, played a cat-and-mouse game of flirting with Florida before ultimately deciding he had a better chance to play early for the Gators. A much-needed presence on the defensive line, he played as a true freshman in 2012 and then broke through last season as a key playmaker in UF's front seven.

WR Demarcus Robinson
Chose Florida over Clemson
Robinson's recruitment was a roller coaster right up to the moment he enrolled early at Florida in January 2013. He first committed to Clemson in July 2012 before decommitting and flipping to Florida in December. The pledge to the Gators, however, lasted less than a week before he flipped back to Clemson. Robinson's first year in college was no less confusing, as he made a strong impression and garnered early playing time before missing three games due to suspension.

LB Alex Anzalone
Chose Florida over Notre Dame
Anzalone had a solid connection to UF from the start -- his father graduated from Florida's medical school. But the athletic linebacker from Wyomissing, Penn., seemed determined to play college football in the Midwest. He committed to Ohio State and then Notre Dame, both times over Florida. But after being committed to the Irish for more than six months, Anzalone had one final change of heart before enrolling early. He flipped to Florida the day before enrolling last January. Anzalone struggled with injuries as a true freshman but did play in 10 games.

DT Jay-nard Bostwick
Chose Florida over Miami and Alabama
The Florida coaching staff had to wait until the eve of signing day in 2013 to get the good news that their persistence with Bostwick had payed off. With Sharrif Floyd leaving early for the NFL, Florida had a more appealing depth chart than the Crimson Tide and offered a chance to play in the SEC while staying in-state. Bostwick ended up redshirting last season, but he has a good chance of cracking the rotation at defensive tackle this year.

S Marcell Harris
Chose Florida over Texas
It isn't easy to generate suspense on the recruiting trail when you're a highly touted and coveted Gator legacy. Harris' father, Mike, played safety for the Steve Spurrier-coached Gators in the mid-90s, but following in those footsteps was no sure thing. Marcell gave serious consideration to the Longhorns before committing and signing with UF. He redshirted in 2013.

LB Matt Rolin
Chose Florida over South Carolina
Rolin's flip to Florida on Dec. 9, 2012 was a genuine shocker considering both of his parents graduated from South Carolina, he had family in Columbia, S.C., and had been committed to the Gamecocks since May 2012. He made the announcement on Twitter while still going by the handle @USC_9 and predictably drew the ire of South Carolina fans. He enrolled early at UF last January and redshirted while rehabbing a twice-torn ACL.

DE Jonathan Bullard
Chose Florida over Clemson
The Gators held off a late charge by Clemson, which offered Bullard a chance to stay closer to his home in Shelby, N.C. At the U.S. Army All-American Bowl in January 2012, a smiling Bullard made his announcement by pulling on an orange and blue baseball cap. He quickly found playing time and has missed just one game in his first two seasons, making 10 starts along the defensive line.

The One Who Got Away: Kyle Kalis 

January, 31, 2013
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The masses in the business were questioned. The names came back -- and there were few, but they kept coming back to one.

The question: Which would-be Ohio State target who gave a pledge to the Buckeyes before signing with another school turned out to be a big miss for the scarlet and gray?

Although there isn't a lot of data out there from the pre-recruiting-writing era, a scant few names jumped to the surface.

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Signing day primer: Florida 

January, 23, 2013
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- There are just a couple of short weeks remaining until national signing day, and the Florida Gators have met a majority of their recruiting needs. With graduation, transfers and players leaving for the NFL draft, there are a few areas Florida head coach Will Muschamp would still like to shore up.

Key holes to fill

The Gators lost key personnel along the offensive line, wide receiver, linebacker, running back and secondary and are hoping to replenish their talent with junior college transfers and incoming freshmen.

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In a bit of surprising news, the Gators land a talented linebacker and productive overall football player who adds depth at a position in need of reloading.


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ESPN 150 athlete flips pledge 

January, 10, 2013
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The rich get richer. At least that's how it appears for Florida.


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It took Ohio State a little more than a month to flip the switch.

Trey Johnson (Lawrenceville, Ga./Central Gwinnett) headed into The Horseshoe to watch the Buckeyes’ 26-21 win over Michigan on an official visit Nov. 24.

He announced his commitment at the Under Armour All-America Game on Friday and plugged a hole the Buckeyes have been trying to fill for more than seven months.

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Hackenberg, Olsen earn UA Game starts

January, 3, 2013
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Black Team offense

Quarterback: Christian Hackenberg (Penn State)

Running back: Alvin Kamara

Receiver: Alvin Bailey (Florida), Robert Foster (Alabama), Damore'ea Stringfellow (Washington)

Tight end: O.J. Howard (Alabama)

Offensive tackle: Darius James (Texas), Denver Kirkland

Offensive guard: Grant Hill (Alabama), Joas Aguilar (Texas A&M)

Center: Hunter Bivin (Notre Dame)

Captains: Kelvin Taylor, Hunter Bivin, Robert Nkemdiche, Ben Boulware

Black Team defense

Defensive end: Robert Nkemdiche, Elijah Daniel

Defensive tackle: Greg Gilgmore (LSU), Kennedy Tulimasealii (Hawaii)

Inside linebacker: Ben Boulware (Clemson)

Outside linebacker: Alex Anzalone (Notre Dame), Matthew Thomas

Safety: Keanu Neal (Florida), Leon McQuay III

Cornerback: Vernon Hargreaves III (Florida), Tarean Folston (Notre Dame)

Black Team special teams

Long snapper: Tyler Kluver (Iowa)

Kicker/punter: Sean Covington (UCLA)

White Team offense

Quarterback: Kevin Olsen (Miami)

Running back: Keith Ford (Oklahoma)

Receiver: Laquon Treadwell, Ryan Green (Florida State), Jalin Marshall (Ohio State)

Tight end: Hunter Henry (Arkansas)

Offensive tackle: Derwin Gray (Maryland), Dorian Johnson (Pittsburgh)

Offensive guard: Patrick Kugler (Michigan), David Dawson (Michigan)

Center: Scott Quessenberry (UCLA)

White Team defense

Defensive end: Carl Lawson (Auburn), Joey Bosa (Ohio State)

Defensive tackle: Henry Poggi (Michigan), Kelsey Griffin (South Carolina)

Inside linebacker: Reuben Foster, Yannick Ngakoue

Outside linebacker: Trey Johnson

Safety: Max Redfield, Antonio Conner

Cornerback: Gareon Conley (Ohio State), Shaq Wiggins (Georgia)

White Team special teams

Long snapper: Brendan Turelli

Kicker: Ryan Santoso (Minnesota)

Punter: Shane Tripucka

Captains: Ryan Green, Hunter Henry, Patrick Kugler, Reuben Foster
videoSAN ANTONIO – ESPN 150 wide receiver James Quick (Louisville, Ky./Trinity) has drawn plenty of attention for his play through two practices for the East team in preparation for the U.S. Army All-American Bowl.

He’ll garner even more eyes his way on Saturday when he announces his commitment during the game.

[+] EnlargeJames Quick
Damon Sayles/ESPN.comESPN 150 WR James Quick is set to decide between Ohio State, Louisville and Oregon on Saturday.
The 6-foot-1, 180-pounder said he is down to Louisville, Ohio State and Oregon. Though his decision will come Saturday, it could be finalized by Wednesday morning, as he sits down to discuss his options with his parents, who are in town for the event.

“I am basically going to ask them which coach they have the best relationship with,” Quick said. “There has to be a relationship with the head coach and family as well.”

When asked if there was a head coach among his finalists that was stood out to him the most, he said no. But Louisville coach Charlie Strong and his tendency of playing freshmen is intriguing to him and is one of the main reasons that Louisville is in the mix.

The sales pitch for all of them is pretty much the same: Join our program, and early playing time will likely be there.

“They are all basically saying that I am going to get early playing time. Some are saying that I am going to get the ball more than others,” he said. “It’s all about early playing time, really.”

Quick has taken official visits to Louisville and Ohio State. He wasn’t able to make it to Oregon for an unofficial visit but has the Ducks squarely in the mix because of his relationship with the coaching staff.

“I have built a good relationship with their coaches and the offense that they run. It’s up-tempo, which really excites a player of my caliber,” he said.

Newsmaker: Last week, offensive tackle Jake Campos (West Des Moines, Iowa/Valley) wasn’t expecting to play football over his break. On Tuesday, he was preparing for a nationally televised appearance in a U.S. Army All-American Bowl uniform.

Campos, a three-star Iowa State commit, was called Sunday afternoon as a replacement for injured lineman Chris Fox (Parker, Colo./Ponderosa). By 6 a.m. Monday, he was on a flight to San Antonio. At the end of Tuesday, he was fully taking on the responsibility of fending off stud defensive linemen such as Eddie Vanderdoes (Auburn, Calif./Placer), Justin Manning (Dallas/Kimball) and A’Shawn Robinson (Fort Worth, Texas/Arlington Heights).

“I was shocked at first, but then, I got really excited,” said Campos, a 6-7, 250-pound tackle who said he’s “110-percent committed” to Iowa State.

“It was so out of the blue, but it’s great to be here. At first, learning the plays was tough, but I got those down now. I’m just adjusting to right tackle. I was still working the kinks out, that’s all.”

Superlatives: The East defensive line really stepped up in afternoon practice during 11-on-11 action. Alabama defensive end commit Jonathan Allen (Ashburn, Va./Stone Bridge) was unstoppable. Virginia Tech defensive end commit Wyatt Teller (Bealeton, Va./Liberty) also stepped up his game from Monday, intercepting a pass in the morning session from Auburn-bound quarterback Jeremy Johnson (Montgomery, Ala./Carver) and playing even better in the afternoon. … The best hands on the West team may not be on a wide receiver. ESPN 150 tight end DeSean Smith (Lake Charles, La./Barbe) made some great catches on Monday, and he continued to shine on Tuesday. Smith an LSU commitment, is the No. 5 tight end in the country. … The catch of the day from the East goes to ESPN 300 athlete Tyler Boyd (Clairton, Pa./Clairton), who ripped a ball away from Florida defensive back commitment Nick Washington (Jacksonville, Fla./Trinity Christian). An uncommitted, four-star athlete, Boyd is expected to announce his college future on Saturday. … ESPN 150 running back Derrick Green (Richmond, Va./Hermitage) continued to be the best running back for the East. He shined in the early morning practice, with help from a very good offensive line.


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#UAGame practice: Day 1 notebook 

December, 31, 2012
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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -– Team Nitro and Team Highlight took to the fields at Disney’s ESPN Wide World of Sports on Monday for Day 1 of practice for Friday’s Under Armour All-America Game (5 p.m. ET, ESPN). Two powerhouse programs in the Southeastern Conference look to battle it out for one of the standout running backs, and one of the top uncommitted offensive linemen is out with an injury.

Tide and Dawgs at top for RB Kamara

The Under Armour All-America Game boasts a bevy of talented running backs, and after the first practice ESPN 150 prospect Alvin Kamara (Norcross, Ga./Norcross) drew comparisons to one of the best.

[+] EnlargeAlvin Kamara
Miller Safrit/ESPN.comESPN 150 RB Alvin Kamara says Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart and Georgia running backs coach Bryan McClendon have been key to his recruiting process.
“They say I play like Percy Harvin,” Kamara said.

The 5-foot-10, 192-pound tailback has made a name for himself as a home-run threat out of the backfield or lined up in the slot, which makes it no surprise that programs across the country are pining for his commitment. Two from the SEC are in the lead.

“Alabama and Georgia are the front-runners, but I am still looking at Oregon -- and Tennessee too, with Butch Jones being there now,” Kamara said.

The nation's No. 4 running back has yet to set any official visits, but plans to do so after he gets home from the UA Game. A decision will likely come after his visits.

“This is not going to be a busy month so much as it is just something I need to buckle down and do,” Kamara said. “I am going to take these visits and base my decision off of that.”

One factor in his decision will be the relationship he has with the coaches recruiting him. The Tide could have a slight advantage because they made first contact with Kamara.

“Kirby Smart and I are really close,” Kamara said. “He was the first coach to ever talk to me. He snuck me his card after practice and I could not believe it. For a coach of his stature to be the first coach to talk to me is great. We have been in contact ever since, and we have a great relationship.”

Georgia might counter that with their running backs coach being Kamara’s recruiter of record.

“Coach [Bryan] McClendon and I have a great relationship too,” Kamara said. “With him being my position coach, I could see myself playing for him. We are on a friend level and we do not even talk about football most of the time.”

The in-state Bulldogs also have a few people in Kamara’s ear this week, though he admits they have been putting the pressure on him for quite some time.

“Even when we are not in a big event like this, guys like Shaq Wiggins, Brice Ramsey, even Reuben [Foster], even though he is not committed, are always asking where I am going,” Kamara said. “They are joking, but they are on me pretty hard sometimes.”

Newsworthy: OL Crowder deals with injury, sets officials

ESPN 150 offensive lineman Tyrone Crowder (Rockingham, N.C./Richmond) will be unable to play in Friday's UA Game after aggravating a hand injury he sustained a few weeks ago at the Shrine Bowl of the Carolinas. While he is disappointed, Crowder said today he is looking forward to the home stretch of his recruitment and choosing from one of two programs.

“It is Clemson No. 1 and Georgia No. 2, and I will decide on signing day,” said Crowder, ranked the No. 2 OG in the country.

The Tigers have been after the 6-foot-1, 330-pound offensive lineman for more than three years now, and they have location and familiarity working in their favor.

“Clemson has been recruiting me since I was in ninth grade,” Crowder said. “I like what they have going on and I have built a strong relationship with them. It is close to home and I have some family close to Clemson. I will take my official there Jan. 11.”

Crowder has not been to Athens for six months, but he has fond memories of his visit.

“Georgia is a great powerhouse team in the SEC,” Crowder said. “When I went down there during the summer I really liked the campus and enjoyed meeting the coaches. I spoke to them two weeks ago and set an official visit Jan. 18.”

Trending

It was only the first day of practice, but Team Highlight (Black team) quarterbacks got off to an impressive start.


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Anzalone gives Irish vote of confidence 

December, 30, 2012
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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Notre Dame commit Alex Anzalone (Wyomissing, Pa./Wyomissing) has just one word to describe what his recruiting experience was like.

“I’ll keep it simple and just say ‘crazy’,” he said. “There’s really no other way to describe it.”

Anzalone was an early commit to Ohio State but had a very public split with the program that made national headlines and a lot of angry Buckeyes fans.

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Ken Mitchell didn’t hear anything about a commitment to Ohio State from his son, ESPN 150 outside linebacker Mike Mitchell (Plano, Texas/Prestonwood Christian), following an official visit to Columbus, Ohio, over the weekend.

What he did hear was how much fun the 6-foot-4, 216-pound senior had this weekend.

“His first two words were 'crazy' and 'awesome,' ” Ken Mitchell said. “The first thing he did when he got there was spend time with Coach [Urban] Meyer. Then he went to the OSU basketball game. He said it was a great time.”

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Urban Meyer’s 2013 recruiting class might get a big shot in the arm and the first-year coach did little to stoke the fire. Two ESPN 150 targets announced their decommitments on Tuesday.

The fact both were in Columbus on Saturday to watch Ohio State beat Michigan 26-21 makes it very intriguing.

Former Auburn commit Trey Johnson (Lawrenceville, Ga./Central Gwinnett) was the first to throw his hat back in the ring after the dismissal of Tigers coach Gene Chizik. The linebacker will have an in-house visit from Buckeyes assistant Luke Fickell on Wednesday.

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video
Technically nothing changed, but Notre Dame coaches are thrilled with the decision Wyomissing (Pa.) area senior Alex Anzalone made Monday.

The ESPN 150 outside linebacker reaffirmed his commitment to the Irish after leaving South Bend following an unofficial visit that took place Sunday into Monday.

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Weekend Rewind: Midwest 

November, 5, 2012
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For college students, the weekend often starts on Thursday, so for the purpose of this rewind and the benefit of Notre Dame, we'll do the same. So it's been a very good weekend for Notre Dame and could get even better.

Four-star Cole Luke (Chandler, Ariz./Hamilton), the No. 33 cornerback nationally, committed to the Fighting Irish on Thursday over both Oklahoma and Texas. Each year, Arizona produces a handful of top prospects, and for the second straight year the Irish have grabbed one of the state's top prospects. Last class, Scottsdale athlete Davonte Neal signed with Notre Dame.

As Notre Dame coaches got ready to go to sleep Sunday, they were given more news to assure they would rest easy. Mission Viejo (Calif.) athlete Max Redfield, No. 37 in the ESPN 150, decommitted from USC after an official visit to Notre Dame in October had him doubting his pledge to the Trojans. Although Redfield will take a few more official visits to Pac-12 programs, the Irish are the favorite.

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