PLANTATION, Fla. — It’s not as if defensive end Andrew Chatfield was under the radar as an emerging star at state power American Heritage School.
He says he had a strong collection of scholarship offers as a sophomore from the likes of Mississippi State, Louisville, USF, UCF, Rutgers and Syracuse. But in a way, he did feel he was overlooked where it mattered most to him.
“I wanted the big three,” he said, referring to Florida, Florida State and Miami.
So he took it upon himself to force the issue with 24½ sacks during a monstrous junior season while helping American Heritage to the Florida Class 5A state championship.
The Gators offered the 4-star prospect last summer under former coach Jim McElwain and his staff. Miami wouldn’t follow suit with an offer until last November, and Florida State not until January, about a month before National Signing Day.
It was that perceived slight that drove Chatfield to that incredible breakout 2016 season, though.
“I was like really [upset]. I don’t even know how I got 24½ sacks, to be really honest with you. All I know is I just kept getting back there, getting sacks, sacks, sacks,” Chatfield said Thursday while talking at his high school. “I didn’t even know. I didn’t pay no attention [to the stats], I was just so angry, mad that I didn’t get the big-time offers from the three schools in the state. I was like, ‘Man, them schools ain’t going to never offer me.’
“I was just so angry I just came in and went to balling and out of nowhere I just had 24½ sacks and this and that. … I was just so angry that everybody didn’t really recognize who I was.”
Chatfield actually initially committed to Ohio State in June 2017, but he de-committed a couple of months later, not long after getting his offer from Florida.
His family had told him to stand by whatever commitment he made, but he quickly realized he had rushed his decision and wanted to reassess his options. “I convinced them, ‘Man, I messed up. I really messed up.’ So I was just like let me just step back from the recruiting process for a minute,” he said.
And when Florida came into the picture, it validated a lot of what he had been working toward.
“It was just like, ‘Wow, I actually got something from my home state. Something at least. I was thinking about this school since Day 1,'” Chatfield said. “… I’m glad they took notice and paid attention to the talent and all the hard work I put in.”
Chatfield built on his breakout junior season with another productive senior season, totaling 92 tackles, 25 tackles for loss and 14 sacks. He repeated as the Sun Sentinel’s Broward 5A-1A football defensive player of the year.
American Heritage coach Patrick Surtain, the former Miami Dolphins star cornerback, said while Chatfield didn’t match his gaudy 2016 numbers, he may have had an even more impactful year overall as a senior while helping the team to an undefeated season and another state title.
The 247Sports composite has Chatfield ranked as the No. 13 weakside defensive end and No. 213 overall prospect in the 2018 recruiting class.
Meanwhile, the Florida coaching staff changed over with McElwain’s midseason ouster last fall, but that didn’t impact Chatfield’s interest in the Gators. Especially once they hired Dan Mullen, who he says had given him an offer to Mississippi State his freshman year.
“It was just a great feeling with him really,” Chatfield said. “So when he got to Florida I was just like, ‘Man, I think something’s telling me.’ ”
Chatfield also meshed well with new Florida defensive coordinator Todd Grantham and defensive line coach Sal Sunseri. He did his research and liked Grantham and Sunseri’s NFL backgrounds and the stars they’ve developed and coached. He also felt Florida’s new 3-4 scheme and that stand-up rush end/outside linebacker spot is an ideal fit for his skills as a 6-foot-2½, 240-pound playmaker.
Those were big factors in his final decision, but Mullen’s early interest combined with the Gators making the first move among the three biggest in-state schools loomed large in the end, as well.
He had family and friends pushing him hard to stay home and go to Miami. He also had a connection with former Florida State star cornerback Antonio Cromartie, a friend of Chatfield’s uncle, Sonny Arre.
“We all went up there, flew up there to New Jersey, I was just up there talking to him, working out with him. He was just showing me a few pointers and stuff, but he was pushing his hardest for me to go to Florida State,” Chatfield said. “He talked to the coaches and all, he was convincing me really to go to Florida State. But he helped me a lot.”
To be honest, Chatfield said, if Florida State had made the first move, he’d probably be preparing to head to Tallahassee this summer.
“If Florida State would have offered me first, yeah, I would have probably went there,” he acknowledged.
But that’s not the way it worked out. The Gators and Mullen independently valued Chatfield’s upside before the others, and they’ll now get the chance to develop it and try to turn him into the defensive force they think he can be at the next level.
Chatfield carried a chip on his shoulder from the way the big in-state schools approached his recruitment, and listening to him talk about his plans and expectations for the future, he’ll probably keep carrying it all the way to Gainesville this summer and beyond.
“Everybody knew what type of player he was and for the in-state schools to come in late on him, it kind of rubbed him the wrong way,” Surtain said. “I could kind of tell he was upset seeing other guys who he knew he was better than getting offers from those guys and they’re not coming at him. It kind of made him feel some type of way, but at the end of the day, he’s at the place where he should be.
“You only can go to one school so everything else is irrelevant now. That’s in the past so he’s just looking to have a great career at Florida.”
The following is part of SEC Country’s “Recruiting Rewind” series as we go back through the recruiting experience with each Florida signee. Also look for the upcoming “Next Generation” series, which goes in-depth on each of the Gators’ incoming freshmen.
Q: How do you look back on the recruiting process now that it’s over?
Chatfield: “I’m just happy and blessed that I went to the right school, just praying on it with my family. It was a long process. I first was committed to Ohio [State] and I think I just went too fast into it. I de-committed, [and then] I was really, really slow with the process. I just think I did what I was supposed to do, I did everything right.”
Q: When you committed to Ohio State last summer, did you think your recruitment was over?
Chatfield: “Yeah, most def, I thought that was going to be really the school I was going to go to. I had a big connection with Urban Meyer. Any time I called him, mostly with coaches they can’t answer every phone call, but every time I called him he picked up or he sent a text, he was in a meeting or something. But much respect to the Ohio State staff and everything. It’s just, when the process just kept coming on, I felt like other schools came along and I just felt like I needed to step back a little bit and see what’s really the right school for me.”
Q: How did the Ohio State coaches take it when you de-committed?
Chatfield: “They [were] fine with it. They understand. They understand that a young man needs more time. … That’s where you start your whole career, that’s where NFL [scouts] start looking at you, that’s when it becomes real. So I’m not going to just jump into something [if] I don’t know what I’m trying to do.”
Q: In the end who was second on your list?
Chatfield: “If it wasn’t Florida, yeah, it would have probably either have been Miami or Florida State, really. I would have had to be thinking a little bit more if I had to pick a second choice, either Miami or Florida State.”
Q: What school would have had a better chance with you if it came in earlier?
Chatfield: “I’m going to say, yeah, the same schools, Miami and Florida State. If Florida State would have offered me first, yeah, I would have probably went there. … They came on to me like three weeks before signing day.”
Q: How tough was your final decision?
Chatfield: “It was really tough because everybody in my hometown they were just like, ‘Oh, you have to go to Miami.’ Even people in my family was like, ‘Man, you just go to Miami, this and that.’ I just had to be slow with the recruiting process and everything and I took my time. My mom, she didn’t want me to commit anywhere [after Ohio State] either. She was just like, ‘Take your time and you’ll see where you have to go.’ …
“With Miami, it was a good feeling and everything, you get some love from your hometown, but I just felt with Florida I’d be feeling, ‘what if?’ Like if I go to Miami, I’d be like, ‘What if I went to Florida?’ So that was just my thing. I didn’t want to go to any school that I’m not comfortable and saying [any] of that.”
Q: Who was the nicest coach you dealt with during the recruiting process?
Chatfield: “I could say, yeah, Dan Mullen. Dan Mullen. One thing with him, he kept it straight up with me. He even told me, ‘I ain’t going to play kiss butt with anybody, I’m just going to tell you what it [is].’ I was really just glad that he was honest and just told the truth, what it was, because I can trust that [rather] than a coach giving me all these fantasies and all these dreams. I just felt really comfortable with him.”
Q: Who was the funniest coach you encountered?
Chatfield: “I’d say the Florida State coaches. They were really funny. Coach [Willie Taggart] and them, they were like real cool, laid back, but they were funny. They’re good people up there and I know they’re going to do good things, but also that system wasn’t really right for me, I could say.”
Q: What was the most memorable thing that happened on a recruiting visit?
Chatfield: “When I went to visit Michigan and [fans] had me like signing autographs and stuff like that. Also, Oklahoma too. Oklahoma was crazy. They were just crazy people, really, just going wild. And Florida, I took a lot of pictures with a lot of people so that was much love from the fans. … It was weird, it was really weird actually [signing autographs at Michigan], but I guess that’s what this football [life] comes with.”
Q: Finally, If you could give advice to a high school junior just starting to go through the process, what would you say?
Chatfield: “Take it slow. Wait all the way to signing day because that’s when you’re really going to see who’s there for you, who really wants you the most. Because if they really want you they’ll wait all the way to the end. There’s no rush just to commit. I understand they want the hype, they want this and that, but there’s no rush. You’ve just got to pray on it, make sure it’s the right decision. If you’re going to commit, like my Mom told me, you’ve got to put your word on it.”