Call me Michael.
University of Florida senior by trade and GatorBait.net staff writer by the good graces of Marty and Laura Cohen, I write to you from a far off distant land (approximately 250 miles Southwest of Gainesville) known as Fort Myers, Fla.
Yes, I have braved the rugged elements of a summer near the beach to bring the loyal readers of GatorBait.net what they are so deserving: a tale of my trip to visit Florida commits Markihe Anderson and Chevon Walker.
My journey started at 10:30 a.m. on Wednesday. As I headed to Dunbar High School to meet with Anderson and Tigers head coach Greg Baloga, I stopped first to buy some tapes so I could get highlight reels on Anderson and Walker.
After getting lost (it was bound to happen people) I finally arrived at my destination at 11:20 a.m. I made my way to the weight room and was greeted by Baloga. Not too far from his side was Anderson. Baloga quickly corralled his star pupil and it was time for him to get GatorBaitized (patent pending).
Anderson wasted little time in answering my question on why he wanted to be a Florida Gator. Much like recent commitment Terron Sanders, Anderson has been a lifelong Gator fan. His passion to be a Gator started at an early age.
"Florida is a place I always wanted to be since I was little," he said. "Once I got the opportunity to go to Florida, somewhere I would love to be, I had to jump on it. I talked about Florida since I was coming up playing Pop Warner. I always wanted to be a Gator."
Call it more of a "desire" to be a Gator. Anderson often used those words in describing the reason why he is a Gator commitment and the reason why I was at the school interviewing him.
Anderson earned his Florida offer after attending a one-day Florida camp in June. The Florida coaches knew nothing of Anderson, so he had a lot to prove.
"I just had to go there and do what I had to do to make everybody know," he said. "I had different schools who knew about me. I was getting a lot of letters and coach Baloga kept telling everyone we had a couple of guys down here at Dunbar that you should look at. So we gave it a try, but (Florida) coach (Urban) Meyer told me that he didn't know who I was, never cared who I was, but after seeing what I could do he really wanted to know who I am and get to know me better."
The rest is now ancient history. Anderson received his offer shortly after the camp and committed in a phone conversation with Meyer. For a guy the Florida coaches knew nothing about, after spending nearly two hours in the same room with Anderson I could see why they had no qualms about offering him. This fall will be thhe 5-10, 172 pounder's first season starting at cornerback, and yet it took only one day for the Florida coaches to see the untapped potential.
"When he went up to Florida, he worked at wide receiver and we had been telling him that he was going to play corner for some program because of his size," Baloga said. "So he made sure to work receiver and corner. He obviously did well at wide receiver, good enough to catch their attention, but he did even better at corner. His press was amazing. There were probably 20-25 kids in this one session and I don't think one kid beat him. His presence is just tremendous and he is just such a great athlete you can't go wrong. If he doesn't do well on the college level at corner, you can always make him a wide receiver."
Anderson struck me as a "hungry" player. He can't wait to work at his new position and his eyes lit up when we started talking about the possibility of early playing time at Florida. While he might have been an unknown before the Florida camp, Anderson certainly has grabbed everyone's attention and should make some headlines this fall in Southwest Florida now that media darling Noel Devine has headed West to Texas.
Anderson is being prepped to make an impact on the Division I level and being at Dunbar might be the best situation for him because former Florida Gator Thaddeus Bullard is assistant head coach at Dunbar. The man is still a giant (his hands are twice the size of mine) and still the nicest guy you are ever going to meet.
Bullard is back in Fort Myers after playing for the Las Vegas Gladiators of the Arena Football League. And he isn't the only positive Gator influence in Anderson's corner. His family has been lifelong friends of former Gators Johnnie Church (Johnnie's brother was Anderson's Pop Warner coach) and Earnest Graham. In fact, Anderson and Graham recently crossed paths and the two are planning a workout schedule for the remainder of the summer.
"I believe Earnest is going to make me step it up," Anderson said. "He will keep me mentally focused, keep me from getting a big head and help me strive for what I want."
After leaving Dunbar, I headed for home before I took off to visit Riverdale High School. As I departed for Riverdale the sun began its ever so slow descent onto the horizon and that signified it was time to meet Florida's first commitment of the 2006 class.
Out of nowhere, Walker offered up his pledge to Meyer in April and many people wanted to know – who was Chevon Walker? About two weeks after his commitment, Walker (5-10, 185 pounds) attended the Nike combine in Miami and this was the first time many analysts and fans had a glimpse of Walker up close. He posted mediocre numbers (SPARQ rating of 67.86) and many began to question Walker's abilities.
While his ranking (No. 42 in Florida) might be low, his spirits are not. Walker doesn't take much stock in rankings, and all that matters is that he proves to his coaches and teammates he has the heart to succeed. Much like Anderson, Walker has a wide-eyed, ear-to-ear smile persona. He walks around with his head up and loves the game of football.
Before meeting with Walker, I had a chance to sit down with Riverdale head coach Scott Jones. He remarked that Walker was just beginning to learn how to be a leader. Well, with all due respect coach Jones, I didn't see a budding leader. I saw an established one. In drills, Walker was always the first one up and was always pushing his teammates. When they were tired and hands firmly planted on their knees, there was Walker pushing them to the brink and motivating them. He has natural born leadership abilities and it is quite evident when you watch this young man in action.
Walker easily passes the eye-test. He is a very well-built running back and that could be his greatest drawback according to Jones.
"His worst thing, and it is like his worst-best thing, is that when he gets free and there is one guy between him and the goal line he is not going to juke you, he is going to run over you," Jones said. "What I want him to work on this year is giving him a move and scoring instead of running over him. He has the mentality that he wants to put it on somebody. He is a running back that is good inside the tackles and I think that is why Florida likes him."
And the feeling is mutual on Walker's behalf. Despite recruiting pressure from Miami and Tennessee to switch his commitment, Walker said he knows where he wants to attend college and that is Florida.
"I want to tell the fans that Florida made a good choice and I am going to do my best to take (Florida) where they need to be," he said.
Walker has a team-first mentality and that won't change when Dunbar and Riverdale meet during the season. The two teams are now district foes and although they will be future teammates (and possibly roommates at Florida) there will be no love lost between Anderson and Walker come mid-season when their two teams face off in what should be a highly-contested battle.
"I want to go out there and win the game," Walker said. "We are trying to prove something. They think they are the best but they aren't the best. We just have to go out there and play the ballgame. We are going to go out this year and play better."
As my journey around Fort Myers ended at approximately 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, I was thinking that Jones may have summed the day up best when he referenced that Florida might have found themselves two hidden gems in Markihe Anderson and Chevon Walker.
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