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June 15, 2005
Meyer making strong first impression at UF
Could Florida have found the perfect blend of Steve Spurrier and Ron Zook? College football fans won't know the true answer to that question for a couple more seasons, but it's already looking like a legitimate possibility.
Two-time National Coach of the Year Urban Meyer arrived at the Swamp in January with the reputation of being an offensive genius, but he's also quickly proving to be a tireless recruiter – a role that Spurrier never grasped but Zook embraced.
In the month of May, Meyer devoted nearly all his time to hunting down prospects, going on a road trip that would leave any rock star exhausted. The former Utah coach visited 10 states (Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Maryland, Mississippi, Nevada, New Jersey, North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia) and 99 high schools. He took 36 plane flights and drove 33 rental cars for a combined 16,669 miles traveled.
The results are beginning to show already. The Gators have landed three verbal commitments from the class of 2006, including one from Rivals.com's No. 5-ranked prospect, 6-foot-6, 340-pound offensive tackle Carl Johnson from Durham, N.C., and another from highly touted quarterback Jevan Snead (6-4, 205) from Stephenville, Tex.
Johnson was one of a handful of four- and five-star prospects -– including No. 3-ranked Myron Rolle, Jamar Hornsby (No. 26) and Brandon Spikes (No. 89) – who were convinced to take unofficial visits to Gainesville, Fla., two weeks ago. Johnson was the only one who committed on the trip, but Hornsby, who has dozens of offers, came away saying that he is leaning toward Florida and others appear to be on the verge of making similar statements.
The nation's top-ranked prospect, Percy Harvin, is expected to visit Florida in the next two weeks, and many of the 11 prospects from Florida that landed in the Rivals100 have already been on campus, including No. 8 Sam Young and No. 23 Tim Tebow, who participated in a Gators camp Tuesday.
All that news has spurned talk of the Gators possibly landing the nation's top-ranked recruiting class.
"Last year, coach Meyer and his staff got off to a late start and were still able to land the No. 15 ranked class in Rivals.com's team rankings," GatorBait.net recruiting expert Mark Wheeler said. "It's not hard to sell the University of Florida. Being the Gator coach alone will get your foot in the home of many prospects.
"But, Meyer, like Zook, realizes that recruiting is the lifeblood of the program, and that has shown on the recruiting trail. During one trip to South Florida he visited 28 schools in three days. Now, he and his staff have the time to build relationships with parents and players and the feedback they are getting has been nothing but positive. When you are in the running for over half of Rivals.com's five-star prospects, that speaks for itself."
One of those five star prospects is Hornsby, a 6-foot-4, 195-pound athlete from Sandalwood High in Jacksonville, Fla. He provides insight into just how much time and effort Meyer himself is devoting to recruiting.
"Coach Meyer has stayed in contact with me and really made me feel like they want me at Florida," Hornsby said. "He probably sends me about 10-15 text messages every day and I call him almost every night.
"He said I can come in and play right away, but mainly we talk about stuff that I can work on to be a better receiver. He is a real down-to-earth guy and a great person to be around."
Rolle, a 6-foot-2, 214-pound athlete from Princeton, N.J, was a tougher sell. The versatile prospect is being heavily pursued by nearly all the elite programs, but he may have come away even more impressed.
"Coach Meyer is a really motivated person and a great leader," Rolle said. "You can tell that he believes in his concepts and at the same time he doesn't act like a dictator. He is part of the team and knows all his players and where they are from.
"I've met a lot of great coaches like Miami's Larry Coker, Florida State's Bobby Bowden, Penn State's Joe Paterno, but right now coach Meyer is the hottest coach in America."
Meyer doesn't have to work as hard with other recruits, especially ones that play at skill positions on the offensive side of the ball. Snead reportedly asked one of his prep coaches to send the first copy of his game film to Meyer after seeing how he directed Utah's exciting, high-powered offense on television the last two years. Snead was also relieved when the talk of Meyer possibly taking over at Notre Dame died down last year and he ended up at Florida.
Wheeler says that Meyer draws praise from nearly all prospects he comes in contact with and some that just recognize his name, but he is particularly gifted at making bonds with players' parents.
"Meyer has been well received everywhere, but the impression with parents supersedes the ones he makes with kids at this point," Wheeler said. "He stresses academics and taking care of players off the field. He even told the mother of Jon Demps (Florida signee from class of 2005) that if you want him to go church then we will make sure he is going to church."
Daron Rose, a 6-foot-5, 310-pound offensive lineman from Tampa, Fla., who has 47 offers, had his father accompany him to Gainesville earlier this month and the elder Rose quickly made it clear where he wants his son to go.
"My dad was sold," Daren said. "The coaches came up and talked to him to see if he needed anything and make sure he was comfortable. He said he sat back and watched it all and was amazed. He practically committed when he was there. He's pumped about Florida."
Jeff Parker, who is Johnson's father and head coach at Southern Durham High, has met some of the most famous head coaches in college football recent months. But, he noticed something extraordinary about Meyer right away upon their first meeting.
"I was on my way to the Florida State coaches clinic and was only supposed to stay in Gainesville for one day but ended up staying three days," Parker said. "Coach Meyer is so committed to what he is doing. Not to say other coaches aren't, but you can tell he is a special coach. He genuinely cares about his players and turning them into young men."
Nearly every college football program in the Southeast and several beyond made their best recruiting pitch to Johnson. Meyer and his staff, which includes recruiting specialist and defensive backs coach Doc Holliday, might have been done the best job of the bunch.
"The job the Florida coaches did recruiting Carl was second to none," Parker said. "They are very detail-oriented and know what is important to the families. It was clear they did their homework."
Similar statements were made about the hard-working Zook, who won over his own players with his hands-on approach and outgoing personality.
But Meyer's resume and attitude seem to command a higher level of respect.
"The difference between Zook and Meyer is that Zook comes across as more of your buddy, where Meyer simply has an immediate presence about him," Wheeler said. "Zook didn't have the credentials of some coaches, where as Meyer has a very public resume that includes leading Utah to an undefeated season last year and taking a non-BCS program to a BCS game for the first time ever."
Now that Meyer is in charge of a BCS program, a program in one of the best conferences in the country and located in the backyard of one of the best recruiting areas in the country, it will be very interesting to see what he will do. At least, that's the way recruits feel right now.
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Note: Rivals.com recruiting editor JC Shurburtt and GatorBait.net's Mark Wheeler contributed to this article.