Say what you want to about Florida Gators head football coach Will Muschamp, and believe me much has been said since his somewhat controversial hiring and especially after the the 4-8 record of this past season, but if there’s one thing he’s shown a knack for besides training great cornerbacks, it’s flipping other teams’ recruits. After flipping four top notch recruits in last year’s class he outdid himself this year with nine, count them, nine players overall this season, four from rival Florida State alone.
The four FSU commitments were cornerback J.C. Jackson, receiver’s Ryan Sousa and C.J. Worton, and quarterback Treon Harris. Three of those players were from talent rich south Florida where the Gators have had their struggles over the years. J.C. Jackson the talented corner/athlete from Immokalee high school had flipped his commitment from the Noles to the Gators back in June but had shown signs of not being solid in that commitment to the Gators. Many expected that he would eventually flip back to the Noles. After he took his official visit to Florida three weekends ago his father announced he was solid to the Gators and would be shutting his recruitment down. Immediately afterward, however, it appeared he did anything but that. The Noles continued to recruit him hard pressing him to take an official visit to Tallahassee while he took multiple unofficial trips to Miami. The official to Tallahassee never happened and last Saturday when he was supposed to be hosting an in-home visit with the Miami staff he was instead taking a surprise visit to Florida. Game over. Today he faxed his LOI in to Florida and he is officially a Gator ending one of the more interesting recruitments of this recruiting season.
Ryan Sousa had flipped his commitment to the Gators back in early December one of several decommitments the Noles had at receiver during this recruiting cycle, an odd occurence for a team with a solid track record at receiver the last few seasons and coming off a national championship. The staff did a great job of selling playing time and the need for playmakers in their new spread offense under new offensive coordinator Kurt Roper. Sousa, 6’1 175, is a tall receiver with great hands and athletic ability who is versatile enough to play multiple receiver positions. After loading up at receiver in last year’s cycle the staff wasn’t needing numbers here they just wanted specific skill sets and Sousa fits that mold. He’s a great pickup for the Gators and will fit well into the newly revamped receiver rotation.
C.J. Worton is another solid addition to the receiver rotation. At 6’0 170, Worton has decent size and is a very versatile receiver with deceptive speed, great hands, and outstanding athletic ability. In his highlight reels you can see him often going up over defender’s to catch footballs which is something that has been sorely lacking in the Gator receiving corps the last four seasons. Worton will likely line up most often as a slot receiver or on the outside catching bubble screens and underneath routes using his athletic ability once he gets the ball in space. As a senior he led his South Dade team to a class 8A state championship scoring two touchdowns including the game winner in the title game. He’s another solid addition to the Gator wide receiver corps.
The key flip of the four former FSU commits may very well be quarterback Treon Harris. Harris at 5’11 170 appears a little slight to play qb at the college level but the staff had focused on him exclusively after realizing they were losing two back up qb’s and would need to add one to this class to pair with Will Grier. A coach’s son, all he did was win championships in high school including a national high school title. He has a decent arm, is very athletic, and very smart. He has a good grasp of offensive concepts more so than usually seen coming out of high school and is highly competitive. His skill set is ideal for the system that Roper is installing. He understands he will be in a battle with both incumbent Jeff Driskel and early enrollee Will Grier for the starting and back up jobs but that was all he wanted: the opportunity to compete for a job. His two other finalists both were recruiting him as an athlete with no guarantee he’d have a shot at qb in college. Now he’s a Gator.
The other flips this cycle were offensive tackle Kavaris Harkless, running back Brandon Powell,corner back Jalen Tabor, defensive end Thomas Holley, athlete Deiondre Porter, and offensive tackle Andrew Mike. Harkless was set to enroll at Louisville when news came out of head coach Charlie Strong’s move from Louisville to Texas. He had actually had made the trip to Louisville and decided to back out before finishing enrollment. A quick phone call to Will Muschamp who had been continuing to recruit him right up to that moment and within 48 hours Harkless was in Gainesville and enrolled at Florida.
After top running back target Dalvin Cook decided to flip his commitment from the Gators to the Seminoles, the staff scurried to find a capable replacement. They immediately offered Jeff Jones a Minnesota commit and Derrell Scott who was previously uncommitted. Before either could set foot on campus the staff gave an offer to Brandon Powell, from Deerfield Beach, who has a very similar skill set to Cook and fits the scat back mold that the staff was looking for in this cycle after loading up on bigger running backs the last couple of years. Powell, who had been committed to Miami and and was set to enroll before a paperwork snafu left an open door for the Gator staff. The offer came immediately, Powell committed that evening and within 48 hours he too was enrolled at UF and a Gator. Powell, 5-10 175, is a shifty back with speed who fits the spread attack perfectly and is a great pick up for the Gators. All the attention paid to Cook’s decommitment ignored the fact that Powell is a capable replacement.
Out of all the flips the jewel and likely jewel of this entire Gator class was the surprise commitment of cornerback Jalen Tabor from Washington, D.C. Tabor, who had previously eliminated the Gators from consideration before committing to Arizona during the Under Armour All American game, flipped his commitment to the Gators just before enrolling at UF. A consensus five star, Tabor is the highest rated recruit in the Gators class landing at #9 overall in the ESPN top 100. It’s the second consecutive year that the Gators pulled a top ten player alongside last year’s top corner and freshman all american Vernon Hargreaves. With the Gators losing three of their top four cornerbacks from last season, Tabor will be expected to slide into the starting spot opposite of Hargreaves. He will have competition from Brian Poole and three other recruits in this class Duke Dawson, Quincy Wilson, and J.C. Jackson.
Another ESPN top 100 recruit who made a surprise commitment to the Gators was defensive tackle Thomas Holley who had previously been committed to Penn State. Holley had strongly considered the Gators before committing to the Nittany Lions. When it appeared that head coach Tom O’Brien was leaving Happy Valley for the NFL, Holley decided to reconsider his recruitment. When position coach Larry Johnson, with whom Holley had developed a strong relationship, was not retained at Penn State by new coach James Franklin the handwriting was on the wall. The Gator staff had continued to remain in contact with Holley throughout and the solid relationship they had fostered through the recruiting process won him over in the end. He will provided solid beef for the Gators as they seek to rebuild the middle of their defensive line after losing Dominique Easley and Damien Jacobs after last season.
It’s been no secret that the Gators were looking for playmakers in this cycle to jumpstart their new offense and the staff reached out to South Florida commit Deiondre Porter with a late offer. He immediately decommitted from the Bulls and took an official visit to Florida committing to the Gators right after the visit. The opportunity to play for a prestigious football school like Florida, and in a prolific offense like the one Kurt Roper showcased at Duke was too much to turn down for Porter. A high school quarterback, he was recruited as an athlete which means he is versatile enough to play multiple positions and could see time on both offense and defense.
Finally, when top offensive tackle prospect Damien Prince informed the staff on Monday that he was going to state in state at Maryland, the staff scurried to find a replacement. Their first call was to Andrew Mike who had just committed to Vanderbilt. Mike had taken an official visit to Florida and had strongly considered them but chose to commit to Vanderbilt when he thought that Prince would sign with the Gators. With him off the board, it was an easy sell to get him to flip his commitment which he did last night before faxing in his LOI to Florida on Wednesday.
Considering the Gators have signed 24 commitments the 9 flips represent over a third of their class. That’s an amazing stat for a team that just finished a 4-8 season. Head coach Will Muschamp has certainly earned his reputation as a master flipper. Say what you want about Muschamp but if I was an opposing coach I would trust my committed recruit with him about as much as I’d trust my wife with George Clooney.