football Edit

Transfer portal was "vital" for Gators D-line

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Say what you will about Dan Mullen and the job the Florida Gators have done on the recruiting trail but when it comes to Portal Combat, the staff has been earning knockouts.

The transfer portal has changed the way college football teams recruit and Florida has done as good a job as any school in the country at using the portal to fill needs. Between graduate transfers and the transfer portal, Florida has found a mix to fill its recruiting needs.

When the 2020 season ended and the coaching staff looked at who was coming back there was a glaring hole right in the middle of the defense left by TJ Slaton and Kyree Campbell. The pair had been vital to Florida's defense and while the Gators had a few younger players that could play defensive and nose tackles, they were desperate for experience and veteran leadership in the room.

In a span of one week, the Gators filled those two needs by first adding Penn State transfer Antonio Shelton and Auburn defensive tackle Daquan Newkirk. The pair brings 70 games of playing experience to the Gators' defensive line room and have found a fit for their finals year of college.

"It was vital for us because we knew we needed hopefully a couple of older guys that fit in," defensive line coach David Turner said of the additions. "I think when you're looking at guys transferring in the portal there's a whole lot more guys out there than spots. So you want to make sure you do your homework. We were fortunate to get two really good guys, not just players, but really good people."

There is a balance, however. When going into the transfer portal or getting a graduate transfer for just a single season how should you go about it. The typical time to do your homework on a player is compressed. First, a coach needs to be blunt and honest when speaking with these older players. For the most part, the graduate transfer is looking for a place to spend one season, increase their draft stock, and a chance to play right away.

"Those guys have been in programs for a while. They understand what’s going on. When you sit down and say, this is where we’re at, this is what I’m looking for, and this is what I need from you. That’s the role. That’s how I see this working. Guys look and they say, I fit that. That’s what I’m looking for," Mullen said when asked about recruiting graduate transfers. "This is a situation that I’m looking for and I fit what coach needs and that style of program. It’s different than maybe recruiting with high school guys because these guys have kind of been through it. When you’re talking to them about the needs and how it works and how it fits, they’ve experienced playing a lot of college football, so they know what’s going on.”

The conversation might have been that simple between Mullen, Shelton, and Newkirk. Florida provides an opportunity to compete in the SEC and for championships and had two massive holes in the middle of its defense that needed immediate attention. However, as a coach, you have to worry about how new players will fit into the locker room and if adding them will stunt the growth of the younger players. What's the cost/benefit of bringing in someone for just one year and can the costs outweigh the benefits?

“That’s the hard part. We’re not the NFL where we get to go do interviews and combines and check everything out. You’ve gotta try the best you can to get the right fit," Mullen said. "You talk to the guys a lot about what you need, what your expectations are, what you’re looking for, and I think a lot of those guys, transfers are different than maybe in recruiting."

By all accounts, the additions have been seamless. The pair of players have come in and provided exactly what the coaching staff wanted and needed them to.

"They bring a sense of maturity and they show the younger guys how to work. They come out, they have a maturity and an understanding of how to mature, how to prepare, and how to work every single day. They brought an unbelievable attitude," Mullen said. "Both of those guys have brought an unbelievable attitude within the team and with their work ethic, how they show up, how they prepare, and if you add them, great maturity, with a great positive attitude is a huge plus for our defensive line and really huge for our defense and team as a whole. I think those guys will make major impacts for us this year."