Florida is becoming quite adept at not only continuing its recent tradition of landing elite defensive line prospects from the northeast, but also flipping committed prospects from that area of the country. While these trends are a sign of the program's recruiting prowess, is it a positive sign that the Gators' issues will be solved through talent acquisition
Let's take a look.
Steve Wiltfong of 247Sports broke the news Wednesday that four-star defensive tackle Thomas Holley (Brooklyn, N.Y./Abraham Lincoln) flipped his commitment from Penn State to the Gators. Holley follows former Gators Dominique Easley (Staten Island) and Sharrif Floyd (Philadelphia) who headed south to play for the Orange and Blue.
While Floyd and Easley were recruited to Gainesville under former head coach Urban Meyer, it's been head coach Will Muschamp and staff who have become skilled at the flipping of players from the D.C. area and above. Last recruiting cycle, Florida flipped linebackers Matt Rolin (committed to South Carolina) from Ashburn, Va., and Alex Anzalone (committed to Notre Dame) from Reading, Pa. Earlier this month, the Gators flipped five-star cornerback Jalen Tabor (committed to Arizona) from Washington, D.C.
There certainly is plenty of talent in the state of Florida, but being able to cherry pick and be in the mix for the best-of-the-best from the east coast certainly speaks to the appeal of the Florida program, which we now know is in tact even after a 4-8 season.
The Holley flip itself doesn't come as a complete surprise.
Before Holley committed to Penn State, I was told that Florida felt great about landing him. Head coach Will Muschamp and recruiter/defensive ends coach Brad Lawing (who is now ranked as the No. 13 recruiter in the SEC, a move of 17 spots up, after Holley's pledge) watched Holley play in the City Championship at Yankee Stadium and came away feeling good about their chances. A couple of days later, Holley committed to Penn State, which was considered the favorite, so no big deal, right? But Florida was closer than anyone anticipated.
The departure of long-time Nittany Lions defensive line coach Larry Johnson, who elected not to remain in State College as part of James Franklin's new staff (likely going to Ohio State), was a direct catalyst for the flip. That being said, if Muschamp, Lawing and the Gators staff had not laid the groundwork earlier, this flip would not have happened.
In addition to a continuing geographic trend, Florida is putting together what may be the best interior defensive line class in the country for the 2014 cycle. Holley joins five-star Gerald Willis (New Orleans, La./Edna Karr) and four-star Khairi Clark (Hollywood, Fla./Chaminade-Madonna) on the interior in this Gators class.
All that said, it's easy to look at this class, where it is ranked and the recruiting battles the Gators have won, even after last season, and hail it a success (No. 9 in the 247Sports team rankings after picking up Holley). That being said, there is still work to be done if Muschamp and company are going to right the ship.
Florida still has a pressing need for offensive playmakers. One college coach told me in no uncertain terms that Florida had the “best defense in the country” in 2013, even after they lost key players to injury, so defense and defensive talent isn't why the Gators finished 4-8. This is just one example of a player who would help, but tour-star receiver Isaiah McKenzie (Plantation, Fla./American Heritage) is one that could be an impact difference-maker. He's not the biggest receiver in the world (5-foot-8), but was a top playmaker on a loaded high school team and could be Tavon Austin-esque in college. He has an official visit to the Gators set up and 247Sports Crystal Ball has seen some prediciton activity of late in favor of Florida.
The bottom line is this: when Florida has been great -- under Meyer and Steve Spurrier -- it has taken advantage of the plethora of skill talent in its local recruiting footprint and been able to light up the scoreboard. It's in the DNA of the program to have an explosive offense and the only way for Florida to get back to that is to get more playmakers.
If they can load up on those types of guys, then championships will return to Gainesville in short order because at least from a talent-on-talent standpoint, it's going to get awfully hard to score on the Gators in the coming seasons.