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April 23, 2006

Great day for the Gators

Florida fans like to chant "It's great…to be…a Florida Gator" before, during and after football games.

On Saturday, that cheer rung true, but not necessarily because of the Gators' annual spring game at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

It was more appropriate for what was happening off the field.

Florida, which was the talk of the country while piecing together the nation's No. 2 overall recruiting class for the class of 2006, picked up two strong out-of-state verbal commitments for the class of 2007 as defensive lineman Sidell Corley and tight end Aaron Hernandez both cast their lots with the Gators.

Corley, from Mobile (Ala.) McGill-Toolen, follows in the footsteps of Chad Jackson and Markus Manson, both of whom left the Yellowhammer State for Florida. The 6-foot-4, 255-pounder was one of the most highly-recruited prospects in the Southeast in the early part of this recruiting cycle.

Corley, who says his decision is final, represents a significant recruiting victory for the Gators and co-defensive coordinator Charlie Strong. Alabama, Auburn, Georgia and Ole Miss all wanted Corley, but Strong and Florida got him.

On the surface, it was easy, yet difficult to figure out where Corley was going.

The Gators led for most of the process, but good unofficial visits earlier this week to Athens, Auburn and Tuscaloosa made it seem like Corley could be leaning toward staying in-state or even bolting for Athens.

Saturday's spring game at The Swamp, however, either convinced Corley that Gainesville was the place for him or merely solidified his belief that Florida was his best option.

"This is it," he said. "This is home now."

Corley joins a pair of highly-regarded Florida defensive ends in the Gators' class. D'Angelo McCray of Jacksonville Andrew Jackson and Jerry Howard of Orlando Jones previously committed to Florida. McCray could also play tight end. These three prospects are the foundation for what could be one of the strongest incoming defensive line classes in the country for this year's class.

Hernandez, a speedy tight end from Bristol (Conn.) Central, had been committed to Connecticut. While both commitments were a surprise, his perhaps was bigger. While most believed that he would not stick with the in-state Huskies, the thought was that he likely would head to Notre Dame, Penn State or another school that traditionally taps talent from the Northeast, not Gainesville and the SEC.

He was in the state of Florida for most of this week, however, and felt like the Gators gave him a good opportunity.

"It was just something I had to do," he said.

Hernandez caught 67 passes for 1,807 yards and 24 touchdowns as a junior as is one of the top prospects at his position in the country.

Landing high-quality out-of-state prospects is important for Meyer and staff. Florida will always get its share in-state, but when you can fill key needs nationally with high-end talent like Corley and Hernandez, it gives your class a higher overall quality.

While there is no question that it will not be easy to repeat the recruiting efforts of the class of 2006 in Florida, this start certainly puts the Gators on the right path toward at least coming close to pulling a repeat performance in 2007.









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