ORANGE CITY, Fla. — John Huggins had been committed to Florida State since last summer, but as the 2017 season unfolded, he and other Seminoles recruits became uneasy with all the buzz that coach Jimbo Fisher might leave the program.
They sought answers or reassurance from the coaching staff, but none was forthcoming.
Huggins waited until it became official, that Fisher was leaving Florida State for Texas A&M, and he de-committed later that day, reopening his recruitment on Dec. 1.
But that’s not why he’s so eager to play against the Seminoles this fall when he visits Tallahassee as a Florida Gators freshman safety.
No, the real reason is what transpired from there.
While new Florida coach Dan Mullen and defensive coordinator Todd Grantham quickly made Huggins a priority, new Florida State coach Willie Taggart took the opposite approach.
“Taggart would like come by the school, walk right past me like he didn’t know me or anything. So I was like, ‘All right,'” Huggins said Monday, reflecting on his recruiting experiences and looking ahead to joining the Gators this summer.
“Really, when they walked past me, I was like, ‘Man, I can’t wait to play them.’ I can’t wait to play them come fall. That game’s circled for me.”
While Huggins was frustrated by the lack of communication amid the uncertainty of Fisher’s future with the program, the absence of dialogue after his de-commitment made it especially clear to him that he was best suited signing with a different school.
“Coach [Raymond] Woodie, their [new] linebackers coach, he would like text my coach asking if I was going to re-commit and asking him daily if I was going to re-commit,” Huggins said. “But every time he came to school, he never talked to me or [said] a word to me.”
The Florida State coaches were visiting Mainland High School in Daytona Beach to check on Huggins’ teammate, wide receiver D’Marcus Adams, who would sign with the Seminoles.
Huggins, meanwhile, quickly found a new path.
Grantham reached out to him soon after being hired and following Mullen from Mississippi State to Florida.
“Coach Grantham was the first one to reach out to me. His background, his history, that was my first impression,” Huggins said. “He caught my eye with his NFL background and coaching at Louisville, coaching at Mississippi State, turning their defense around. … I can’t wait to play [for] him.”
Huggins, rated a 3-star recruit and the No. 28 safety in the 2018 signing class (according to the 247Sports composite), says he’s versatile enough to play cornerback or nickelback as well, but he expects to work first at safety when he joins the Gators.
He describes himself as a physical player who can be effective against the run, but also “rangy” enough to cover downfield. That broad skill set is what intrigued Grantham, Huggins said.
The intrigue was mutual. Huggins was planning to visit Nebraska and new coach Scott Frost, but the Gators’ pull was too strong.
“I was originally going to visit Nebraska, but I kind of knew I wanted to stay home, close to home. So I changed my visit to Florida, and once I visited I fell in love with it. That was it,” Huggins said.
Looking back, he has no regrets, but yes, plenty of motivation for that Nov. 24 game at Florida State.
“I feel all set,” he said. “I felt stronger with my commitment to Florida than I did with Florida State.”
Join us for a live chat with Florida safety signee John Huggins. Send in your questions.
Posted by Florida Gators – SEC Country on Monday, May 14, 2018
The following is part of SEC Country’s “Recruiting Rewind” series, going back through the recruiting process with each Florida signee. Also look for the upcoming “Next Generation” series which takes an in-depth look at the Gators’ incoming freshmen and their stories.
Q: How do you look back on the recruiting process now that it’s finished?
Huggins: “It was a unique process, to be honest. You get to see new places, coaches hit you up every day, but then again you’ve got to think about where you want to be for four years and the most important thing, what the education is like at the school. I think I picked a great choice because University of Florida is DBU, so rich in the defensive backfield and also rich in academics.”
Q: What all went into the process of de-committing from Florida State?
Huggins: “The main thing with Florida State is the communication. Everybody knew basically that Jimbo was leaving, but they just [wouldn’t] talk about it or didn’t want to [address] it or anything about the situation. So it kind of like threw us, the 10 recruits that de-committed, off. So that was really the main reason why. We were just trying to talk to them, and they just never really told us anything.”
Q: Did you reach out to the other FSU commits after Fisher announced he was leaving?
Huggins: “I think I was like one of the last ones [to de-commit]. There was already like nine, and I know most of them wanted to enroll early so they had to get their decision right and all that stuff. Now they’re rushing their process because a lot of them wanted to enroll early, and [the coaches] held off so long. Just the way [the coaches] handled the situation [was poor].”
Q: In the end, what school was your second choice?
Huggins: “Probably Miami. Aggressive defense, Coach [Manny] Diaz got something good going on with the turnover chain, all that good stuff. It’s in Miami, so a lot of rich talent down there and it’s the U. Got to get ready for them next year.” (Florida plays Miami in 2019)
Q: What school would have had a better chance with you if they had come in earlier in the process?
Huggins: “Probably Miami, yeah, if they didn’t treat me like a second option. I probably would have taken a better look there.”
More background on Miami’s recruiting efforts with Huggins:
Huggins: “Miami, they were recruiting me also, but they were like recruiting me second-hand because they wanted to keep [4-star cornerback] Josh Jobe. I knew he was going to de-commit and go to Alabama and I wasn’t going to wait. I’m not trying to be a second option or anything. Once he de-committed, they texted me the day after I committed [and said], ‘You’re all set on Florida?’ I said, ‘Yes sir, I’m all set on Florida.’ And that was it.”
Q: Who was the nicest coach you dealt with during the recruiting process?
Huggins: “Coach Mullen is a good coach, good guy. He has a great heart. I respect him a lot. Also, Coach Frost was good one too. He was a good guy, down to earth, young. … [With Mullen, I like] just the family-oriented mindset he has. All the coaches’ kids are running around the campus.”
Q: What was the most memorable moment from a recruiting visit?
Huggins: “Probably walking into the indoor [practice facility] on my official visit to Florida, seeing the facility again. I’d seen in it camps, but seeing it again just walking around looking, that was probably the best feeling.”
Q: Lastly, what advice would you give to a player just starting the recruiting process?
Huggins: “I would tell him really just take the process slow and make sure you’re right on your decision. Think about the important things because every college is going to have parties and all that good stuff. You’ve got to think about what you want to do, really the school in general, football staff, football community, how long they’re going to be there, how long a contract is.”