GAINESVILLE -- Jim McElwain said, “I didn’t fall off the turnip truck yesterday. … We’ve got a lot of ground to make up. When we took the job, we knew that there would be some [challenges.] It’s going to take a while.”
The “it” is rebuilding Florida, and based on the school’s 2015 recruiting class the foundation for the future might not come from its current crop of pledges.
With National Signing Day rapidly approaching, the Gators have just 10 verbal commitments. They will sign their smallest class in years, and Monday, 247Sports reported that UF has its fewest commitments in a decade with just a week before NSD.
The Gators’ class is ranked last in the SEC by every recruiting service.
It gets worse.
Florida has just 58 scholarship players for next season, and a 2015 class low in quantity (and quality at the moment) isn’t going to help the team’s numbers issue.
But all is not dire, yet.
Florida should get a NSD bump -- UF is among the “leaders” for a trio of consensus 5-star prospects and a number of other recruits -- even though the Gators won't sign a real ballyhooed group.
Over the weekend, they hosted top-ranked defensive end Byron Cowart and No. 1 offensive tackle Martez Ivey, as well as a number of other key targets.
They picked up a verbal pledge from three-star linebacker Rayshad Jackson (a Miami Norland High standout) and flipped three-star defensive end Jabari Zuniga, hoping to make a final surge over the next week.
But it’s late in the process, and UF is reportedly losing ground on Cowart (who favors Auburn) and five-star DL CeCe Jefferson (who favors Ole Miss). It would be a major blow to swing and miss on such talented in-state prospects, but thus is the hand McElwain has been dealt.
With staff turnover and the school’s recent win/loss struggles, it’s no mystery why McElwain is fighting an uphill battle.
Transition classes are traditionally weaker anyways, and UF’s struggles have been magnified due to McElwain’s lack of developed relationships, few Southern ties and little name recognition.
The Gators are trying to salvage their class over the next nine days, but 2016 has already become a more important priority.
McElwain knows he must sign and deliver a monster class next season. Otherwise, the transition (or transformation) won’t truly take shape.
Florida can sign upwards of 30 prospects next season (depending on normal attrition and the NFL Draft).
UF has just eight seniors, but it could lose a number of players to the league (namely Vernon Hargreaves III, Demarcus Robinson, Alex McCalister and Keanu Neal) for the second straight year.
The emphasis on 2016 starts now. McElwain can’t afford to have two subpar classes in a row -- especially one without a quarterback, elite skill position players and quality offensive linemen -- so if Florida is struggling with top prospects in the next recruiting cycle then the Gator Nation will really start worrying.
UF already has three verbal commitments for 2016, including Jacksonville Raines wideout Rick Wells, who committed Monday night.
2015 VERBAL COMMITMENTS
TE Daniel Imatorbhebhe - North Gwinnett (Ga.) ***
WR Kalif Jackson - Duncan U. Fletcher ***
WR Derrick Dillion - Pine (La.) ****
OL Tyler Jordan - Bishop Kenny ***
OL Brandon Sandifer - Norhside (Ga.) ***
TE Camrin Knight - Lincoln ***
DT Andrew Ivie - Pasco ***
DE Jabari Zuniga - Sparyberry (Ga.) ***
Rayshad Jackson - Norland ***
(Imatorbhebhe and Jackson are early enrollees)
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