GatorZone.com Senior Writer
GAINESVILLE, Fla. - As the Florida football team filed into its large meeting room inside Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, the newest Gators took a seat at the front of the room.
It was new head coach Will Muschamp's way of introducing the old to the new.
"One of the things that you've got to manage is the team chemistry," Muschamp said. "We've got to build that bond between those young guys and the older guys and start doing that at an early stage."
The seven early enrollees in Florida's 2011 recruiting class signed their scholarship processing forms and took pictures with their families. The returning players gave them an ovation and then watched film of the 11 Gators who officially inked letters-of-intent Wednesday on National Signing Day, increasing the current incoming class to 18.
Completing his first recruiting class with the Gators is another task Muschamp can now cross off his list. The class includes 13 players from Florida, eight offensive players, nine on defense and a top-ranked punter.
In the seven weeks since being named to replace Urban Meyer, Muschamp hired a coaching staff heavy on NFL experience and faced the challenge of maintaining a strong group of recruits that had committed to Florida prior to his arrival. At the top of that list was highly regarded quarterback Jeff Driskel, rated the No. 1 prep quarterback in the country by both Rivals.com and Scout.com.
Driskel never wavered on his commitment to the Gators, enrolling with six other players in January to anchor a class that is considered one of the best in the SEC and in the top 25 nationally. Driskel, listed at 6-foot-4 and 238 pounds, threw for 4,844 yards and 36 touchdowns during his career at Oviedo's Hagerty High and was named the Maxwell Football Club's National Player of the Year.
"We did a nice job to maintain what we had," Muschamp said. "My idea was to recruit the board that was available. I added some evaluations here and there for what we wanted to do. But in order for us to have a full recruiting class and a full year of evaluations in recruiting, I opted not to just offer scholarships to sign people.
"I wanted to make sure these guys could compete at a championship level on and off the field at Florida, and that was what was important to me in this process."
The other players to enroll early and who participated in Wednesday's ceremony include running back Mike Blakely from Bradenton Manatee, defensive end Clay Burton of Venice, punter Kyle Christy from Brownsburg, Ind., Jacksonville University Christian tight end A.C. Leonard, Lakeland receiver Javares McRoy, and DeLand High cornerback De'Ante "Pop" Saunders.
Blakely rushed for more than a 1,000 yards as a junior and senior at Manatee and chose the Gators over schools such as USC, Auburn, Tennessee and South Carolina. He recently underwent arthroscopic shoulder surgery and will not be available for spring practice but is expected to be fully recovered in time for the start of fall camp.
If Burton sounds familiar, there's a good reason: Clay is the younger brother of Gators quarterback Trey Burton. As a senior at Venice last fall, Burton had 80 tackles and 13 sacks. He chose Florida after previously committing to Notre Dame.
Leonard is considered one of the top tight ends in the country and had numerous scholarship offers, including from schools such as Alabama, Miami and Nebraska. Meanwhile, another receiver who enrolled early is McRoy, a 5-foot-8, 170-pound speedster out of Lakeland High – the same school that produced recent Florida stars Ahmad Black, Mike Pouncey and Maurkice Pouncey – who averaged more than 20 yards per catch.
The other defensive player to enroll early besides Burton is Saunders, who also returned kicks and played running back in high school. As a junior in 2009, Saunders was named the Orlando Sentinel's All-Central Florida Defensive Player of the Year.
The final early enrollee is Christy, ranked the nation's No. 2 punter prospect according to Scout.com. Christy is expected to have an opportunity to come in and compete to replace Chas Henry, who was named the Ray Guy Award winner last season as the nation's top punter.
"I'm going to say this every year: you're going to tell about this entire class and any entire recruiting class in two or three years," Muschamp said. "That's when you can tell what kind of class it is. We had a good class that was already committed before I got here, but you had to re-recruit all those guys again. They're allegiance was to the previous staff. So when you came in, you had to do a great job of maintaining those guys, which we did."
As for the 11 players who signed letter-of-intents on Wednesday, fullback Hunter Joyer joins Driskel as the No. 1-ranked recruit at his position by Scout.com and Rivals.com. Joyer split his prep career between Wesley Chapel High and Tampa Catholic and at 5-foot-11, 237 pounds, has a combination of power and speed that recruiting analysts rave about.
Joyer is one of four offensive players added on National Signing Day, joining Ridgefield (Conn.) offensive lineman Tommy Jordan, Brooksville Nature Coast receive Ja'Juan Story and Dover (Del.) offensive lineman Trip Thurman, who is listed at 6-6 and 302 pounds.
Florida's ability to hang onto Story is considered by recruiting analysts as a big victory for Muschamp. A dynamic 6-foot-4, 196-pound receiver, Story did a little of everything in high school. He rushed for 847 yards, passed for 427 and averaged more than 18 yards a catch as a senior. He signed with Florida despite a late pushes from Ohio State, Oregon and Georgia to flip a played ranked the sixth-best receiver recruit in the country by ESPN.com.
Muschamp is primarily known as a defensive coach, serving as defensive coordinator at LSU, Auburn and Texas prior to his first head coaching job at Florida.
He'll have plenty of talent to work with as he places his signature stamp on the program this spring, including late addition Marcus Roberson, a cornerback from St. Thomas Aquinas in Fort Lauderdale.
2011 RECRUITING CLASS
|Enrolled in January 2011|
|NAME||Pos||Ht.||Wt.||HOMETOWN (Previous School)|
|Mike Blakely||RB||5-9||205||Bradenton, Fla. (Manatee HS)|
|Clay Burton||DL||6-4||245||Venice, Fla. (Venice HS)|
|Kyle Christy||P||6-1||185||Brownsburg, Ind. (Brownsburg HS)|
|Jeff Driskel||QB||6-4||238||Oviedo, Fla. (Hagerty HS)|
|A.C. Leonard||TE||6-4||245||Jacksonville, Fla. (University Christian HS)|
|Javares McRoy||WR||5-8||170||Lakeland, Fla. (Lakeland HS)|
|De'Ante "Pop" Saunders||DB||5-8||173||DeLand, Fla. (DeLand HS)|
|Signed National Letter of Intent in February 2011|
|NAME||Pos||Ht.||Wt.||HOMETOWN (Previous School)|
|Jabari Gorman||DB||5-11||170||Miami, Fla. (Monsignor Pace HS)|
|Chris Johnson||DB||5-10||198||Ocala, Fla. (Trinity Catholic)|
|Tommy Jordan||OL||6-4||297||Ridgefield, Conn. (Ridgefield HS)|
|Hunter Joyer||FB||5-11||237||Wesley Chapel, Fla. (Wesley Chapel HS)|
|Loucheiz Purifoy||DB||6-0||171||Pensacola, Fla. (Pine Forest HS)|
|Marcus Roberson||DB||6-1||175||Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. (St. Thomas Aquinas)|
|Valdez Showers||DB||5-11||192||Madison Heights, Mich. (Madison HS)|
|Graham Stewart||LB||6-1||216||Middletown, Conn. (Xavier HS)|
|Ja'Juan Story||WR||6-4||196||Brooksville, Fla. (Nature Coast Technical HS)|
|Trip Thurman||OL||6-6||302||Dover, Del. (Dover HS)|
|Tevin Westbrook||DL||6-5||268||Coconut Creek, Fla. (North Broward Prep)|
EARLY ENROLLEE BIOS
Enrolled at UF in January of 2011... PRIOR TO FLORIDA: A four-star prospect rated the No. 6 running back in the nation and the No. 10 overall prospect in the state of Florida and No. 40 in the country according to Rivals.com... Also rated No. 74 in the ESPNU 150 class... Finished his junior season with 1,400 yards rushing and 227 yards on kick and punt returns with a total of 23 touchdowns... Added another 1,000-yard season as a senior, with 19 touchdowns on the ground... Was a first-team all-state running back in 2009... Participated in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl in 2011... Chose Florida over Auburn, Clemson, Mississippi, Tennessee, South Carolina, North Carolina and USC... Coached by Joe Kinnan.
Enrolled at UF in January of 2011... PRIOR TO FLORIDA: A three-star prospect rated the No. 35 linebacker according to Rivals.com... Ranked the No. 19 weakside defensive end in the country by Rivals.com... Finished his junior season with 80 tackles and 13 sacks... Participated in the Offense-Defense All-American Bowl... Chose Florida over LSU, Mississippi, Tennessee, Notre Dame and West Virginia among others... Coached by John Peacock.
Enrolled at UF in January of 2011... PRIOR TO FLORIDA: A three-star prospect rated the No. 2 punter nationally according to Scout.com... Completed 31 of 37 extra points and five of eight field goals with a long of 45 yards his junior year... Participated in the Offense-Defense All-American Bowl in 2010... Named AP Indiana 5A All-State Honorable Mention... Chose Florida over LSU... Coached by Brett Comer.
Enrolled at UF in January of 2011... PRIOR TO FLORIDA: Maxwell Football Club National High School Player of the Year... Gatorade Florida Player of the Year... Rated the No. 1 quarterback nationally according to Scout.com and Rivals.com... Threw for a career 4,844 passing yards and 36 touchdowns and helped lead the Huskies to their first winning season in their fourth year as a varsity program... Had 1,819 yards and 15 touchdowns passing, 1,333 rushing yards with 20 touchdowns and caught two touchdown passes his senior year... Threw for 1,427 yards with 11 touchdowns and ran for 170 yards with five touchdowns his junior year... Participated in the Under Armour High School All-American Game in 2011... Chose Florida over Alabama, Auburn, LSU, Tennessee, Virginia Tech, Mississippi and Clemson, among others... Coached by Nate Gierke.
Enrolled at UF in January of 2011... PRIOR TO FLORIDA: A four-star prospect and No. 5 tight end nationally according to Rivals.com... Member of the ESPNU 150 class and Rivals100 class... Averaged 20 yards-per-catch as a tight end... On defense, he recorded 21 sacks and 60 tackles with 10 for a loss... Also had two blocked punts, one blocked extra point, five forced fumbles and one fumble recovery... Participated in the Under Armour High School All-American Game... Chose Florida over Alabama, Miami, Nebraska, UCF and FIU... Coached by Heath Nivens.
Enrolled at UF in January of 2011... PRIOR TO FLORIDA: A four-star prospect according to Scout.com... First-team All-State wide receiver for 5A classification in his junior year... Averaged 20 yards-per-catch... Listed as the No. 28 wide receiver in the nation by Rivals.com... In his sophomore year, he posted a 10.65 100-meter time at the FHSAA 4A Regional Track meet... Chose Florida over Auburn, California, Florida State, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio State, Tennessee, Texas Tech... Coached by Bill Castle.
Enrolled at UF in January of 2011... PRIOR TO FLORIDA: Rated a three-star prospect according to Scout.com and Rivals.com... In 2010, the 6A Florida Athletic Coaches Association Player of the Year for Seminole and Volusia counties... In his junior year, ran for 1,634 yards and 23 touchdowns... As a kick returner, had 580 yards and three touchdowns and led the Bulldogs on both sides of the ball to 6A state title game in his junior year... First-team All-State defensive back for 6A classification and named All-Central Florida Defensive Player of the Year by the Orlando Sentinel in 2009... Participated in the Under Armour High School All-American Game in 2011... Chose Florida over South Carolina, Mississippi, Clemson, Cincinnati, USF and FIU... Coached by Kevin Pettis.
PRIOR TO FLORIDA: A four-star recruit, ranked the No. 10 safety in the nation by Rivals.com... Rated No. 86 on the ESPNU 150 list... Ranked in the Rivals250 national list... Helped lead Monsignor Pace into the Class 2B regional final before suffering its only loss of the season (10-1)... Competed in the 2011 Under Armour All-American Game... A second-team all-state defensive back in the 2B classification... Also played running back in high school... Chose Florida over many schools, including Florida State, Iowa, LSU, Miami, Nebraska, Ohio State, South Carolina, Tennessee and Wisconsin... Coached by Alvin Slaughter.
PRIOR TO FLORIDA: A three-star recruit by Rivals.com and Scout.com... Rated in the Rivals.com Florida Postseason Top 100... Helped Trinity Catholic to a 14-0 record and the 2B state championship as a senior... Chose Florida over Louisville, Memphis, South Carolina and Vanderbilt... Coached by John Brantley III.
PRIOR TO FLORIDA: A three-star recruit by Rivals.com and Scout.com... The No. 2 prospect in Connecticut... Helped Ridgefield to a 7-3 record as a senior... Chose Florida over Boston College, California, Duke, Rutgers and Wisconsin... Coached by Kevin Callahan.
PRIOR TO FLORIDA: The No. 1-rated fullback in the nation by Rivals.com and Scout.com... Ranked in the Florida Postseason Top 100 by Rivals.com... Chose Florida over UConn, Louisville, Miami, USF, Stanford and Texas A&M... Coached by Ben Alford.
PRIOR TO FLORIDA: A four-star prospect and the No. 11 cornerback in the nation, according to Rivals.com... Also among Rivals.com's top 150 national recruits and top 25 prospects in Florida... Helped Pine Forest to a 10-3 record and an appearance in the Class 4A regional semifinals... Chose Florida over Alabama, Auburn and Miami... Coached by Matt Brunson.
PRIOR TO FLORIDA: Ranked a four-star recruit by Rivals.com and Scout.com... The No. 2 cornerback and the No. 37 overall player in the nation and the No. 11 player in the state of Florida, according to Rivals.com... Helped lead St. Thomas Aquinas to a 15-0 record, a 5A state championship and the No. 3 national ranking in the USA Today Super 25... Chose Florida over Texas Tech, Auburn and USC... Coached by George Smith.
PRIOR TO FLORIDA: Rated a four-star prospect by Scout.com, which ranks him the No. 13 cornerback available... Picked Florida because of great football and great academics... Named the Gatorade Player of the Year for Michigan and earned first-team all-state and all-conference honors... The Detroit News' Player of the Year... Played defensive back and running back... Recorded three interceptions and two fumble recoveries... He also rushed for 2,024 yards and 29 touchdowns as a senior and added 18 receptions for 257 yards and three touchdowns... As a junior, rushed for 1,572 yards and 20 touchdowns... Helped Madison Heights reach the regional finals in his junior and senior years... Chose Florida over Auburn, Iowa, Michigan, Michigan State and Wisconsin... Coached by Drake Wilkins.
PRIOR TO FLORIDA: A Scout.com and Rivals.com four-star recruit, named the top prospect in Connecticut by Rivals.com... Led Xavier to a 13-0 record and a state championship... Chose Florida over Boston College, UConn, Iowa, Syracuse and Temple... Coached by Sean Marinan.
PRIOR TO FLORIDA: Ranked as a four-star recruit by Rivals.com and Scout.com... Rated the No. 6 wide receiver by ESPN.com... Ranked No. 43 on the ESPNU Top 150 list... Competed in the 2011 Under Armour All-American Game... Also played quarterback in high school... Rushed for 847 yards and 12 touchdowns, passed for 427 yards and three touchdowns and caught seven passes for 123 yards and two touchdowns during his senior year... Chose Florida over Georgia, Ohio State, Oregon and USF... Coached by Mark Nash.
PRIOR TO FLORIDA: A four-star recruit by Rivals.com, which rates him the No. 13 prospect at his position in the nation and the top recruit from Delaware... A first-team All-Cape Henlopen Conference performer on both sides of the ball... Chose Florida over Boston College, South Carolina, Rutgers, Maryland and Clemson... Coached by Carlton Brown.
PRIOR TO FLORIDA: A Rivals.com three-star prospect... Helped North Broward Prep to a 6-3 record his senior year... Also played basketball in high school... Chose Florida over UConn, North Carolina, Purdue and USF... Coached by Rex Nottage.