DELRAY BEACH, Fla. — Florida tight end signee Dante Lang remembers vividly the moment his first scholarship offer arrived.
The call came from a Florida Atlantic coach on Halloween night, 2016. Lang didn’t know then how much his stock would grow in the coming months; he just knew he had broken through in the recruiting process.
“I’m always going to remember that day. That’s the day I knew I was going to college for free,” Lang said Sunday night, reflecting on the last couple years in advance of his move to Florida.
“I froze, I didn’t know what to do, I had a fat smile on my face and I just started jumping up and down. My mom came into the kitchen and said, ‘What’s going on?’ I told her I got my first offer and she started smiling. That day meant everything.”
Lang was a lightly recruited defensive end from Boca Raton High School at the time, but his future was just starting to unfold.
Later that spring, Arkansas assistant coach Vernon Hargreaves (father of the former Florida cornerback by the same name) showed up at Lang’s high school, pulling him out of his third-hour Algebra II class.
That was the next moment in Lang’s recruiting ascension that he won’t forget. Hargreaves said he just wanted to get a look at him and that he’d back in a week. He’d end up returning two days later with a scholarship offer, asking how many Lang had so far.
“He was like, ‘Well, who do you have offers from right now? How many do you got, 17?’ I was like, ‘I’ve got one from FAU,'” Lang recalled. “He was like, ‘You can throw that in the garbage. Now you have one from the University of Arkansas.’ All I could say was thank you. That meant everything because it’s SEC, the big dogs. That meant everything to me.”
Then came the Gators, with a twist.
Former Florida tight ends coach Greg Nord reached out to Lang on Twitter to invite him to the 2017 Orange & Blue spring game.
“When I looked at his profile and seen he was the tight ends coach, I said, ‘OK.’ I told my coach, ‘I think Florida’s trying to look at me as a tight end.’ This was [when] I only had offers at D-end. I didn’t play tight end that much,” Lang said. “… If you watch my junior year highlights, I literally have two plays of tight end.”
Nonetheless, he was suddenly not only an SEC recruit, but a future college tight end.
So Lang joined a stacked 7-on-7 team prior to his senior season and started working more at the position, taking to it quickly. He stayed after spring practice with his high school coach to go through drills at both defensive end and tight end.
Arkansas was willing to take him as either, Ole Miss and N.C. State wanted him as a defensive end and Florida liked his upside as a tight end.
Lang visited the Gators again for the program’s Friday Night Lights recruiting event last July and made his commitment before he left.
While Nord was maligned as a recruiter in the eyes of many fans, he made a strong connection with Lang and remained persistent in landing that commitment.
“Coach Nord, when he was there, he was always calling my phone, texting me, making sure how I was doing. Not even, ‘Oh, how’s training, how’s this, are you putting in work?’ It was, ‘How are you doing? How’s your mom? How’s your brother? How’s your sister?'” Lang said. “… He was a straightforward dude always asking [about] my family, making sure he wanted the best for me. The day I committed, I still remember him running and jumping up on me. That was probably the most exciting moment. He’s a big dude, too.”
Lang’s recruiting process already had been full of twists and turns, and there was one more big one to come.
When former Florida coach Jim McElwain was let go midway through last season, and ultimately his entire coaching staff was replaced or departed as well, Lang had to reconsider his future plans.
But it didn’t take him long to reach the same conclusion after Dan Mullen was hired.
“I was like, ‘I’m going to stay, I’m going to see who the new coach is and everything.’ And then once Mullen got hired, he hit my phone up a couple days later and I went up there on an official visit and he sold the program better than McElwain did,” Lang said. “I didn’t see [Mullen] have a frown on his face not one time. The only time I’ve seen him when he’s frowning, it’s not even frowning, when he’s on the practice field making sure everybody’s working. And I’ve only seen those in videos. When I was with him the whole time, he had a smile on his face. And when he did the in-home visit, he had a smile on his face. …
“He’s happy to be there. Seeing him come out the airplane smiling and Gator chomping, it was like, yeah, all right, he means business and this is his home. I was like, so this is going to be my home too.”
Along with Mullen’s enthusiasm and positivity and his history of using tight ends, Lang also liked new tight end coach’s Larry Scott’s matter-of-fact approach.
But Florida also got a final assist from the former coaching staff in sealing Lang’s decision.
“[Nord] talked to me the day after [he left], he was telling me how everything’s going to be all right. Him and Coach [Ja’Juan] Seider both said this, they said they wouldn’t have recruited me to the University of Florida if they didn’t think it was a good fit for me. ‘No matter what, it’s a good fit for you. Just stay.’ That meant a lot, to be honest,” Lang said.
Lang is ranked a 3-star prospect on the 247Sports composite, but he’s already added to his 6-foot-5 frame since the end of his high school season, packing on 25 more pounds to reach 245 while following Florida strength coach Nick Savage’s recommended program.
“Before I was just doing high school workouts, they were tiring, but I’d go home and still be able to do stuff. Now, I go home, I’m like, ‘Mom, just cook me this. Bring it upstairs please. I can’t move,'” Lang jokes.
He believes his upside isn’t measured in his recruiting ranking, and the Florida coaches agree.
A year and a half ago, Lang didn’t know what his college future held. He certainly didn’t know then that he’d be heading to Florida as a tight end.
That’s why his advice to players starting the recruiting process is to just be patient.
“Don’t give up hope and just keep going,” he said. “No matter what. Even if you feel like there’s no one looking at you, there’s always someone looking at you.”
The following is part of SEC Country’s “Recruiting Rewind” series reflecting on the recruiting process with each signee. Also look for our upcoming “Next Generation” series in which we take an in-depth look at Florida’s incoming freshmen and their unique stories.
Q: Now that it’s over, how do you look back on the recruiting process? Was it fun, stressful?
Lang: “A little bit of both, to be honest. As a kid growing up, that’s all you could ever dream about. All you think is, yeah, I can’t wait for coaches to hit my phone or talk to me to see how everything is. But when it actually happens, you’re like, ‘Oh, shoot, this is actually happening, I don’t know what to do.’ … It becomes more stressful because that’s where you’re going to spend the next few years of your life at. Hopefully it makes out to be where your dream ends up, of making it to the NFL. Or for some players, it’s make it to the NFL.
“Mine was to always make it to the NFL, but my mom also told me to make sure I get an education too. So that’s one of the reasons I picked the University of Florida, because how they produce tight ends is real good and the academics [are] amazing too. So even if I don’t make it to the NFL I can still say I graduated from the University of Florida.”
Q: Which school ended up as your second choice?
Lang: “To be honest, I really didn’t have one. In my mind, I had schools, but once I picked Florida that was just it. I didn’t care about nobody else or anything like that. Even when McElwain got fired, I still picked Florida. I didn’t de-commit, I stayed strong with them. …
“[Arkansas coaches talked to me] every now and then, talking about trying to get me up for a visit to see the campus and everything, but it was hard because they had indirect flights. I had to fly somewhere else [and connect], or driving was too much because of my schedule and everything. So I never really got a chance to go up to Arkansas. Also, not being able to go to Arkansas and seeing how the campus was and seeing how everything was and the people was, being able to go up to Florida and seeing everything firsthand and experiencing everything, that’s what helped it out a lot.”
Q: Who was the nicest coach you dealt with during recruiting?
Lang: “Coach Nord. He even took a selfie of me and him and sent it to my girlfriend. That was the funniest thing. … [I went] up to the spring game and Coach Nord came up behind me and gave me a hug from behind. I didn’t know who it was at first and I turned around and I looked at him and his face looked familiar and that’s when he introduced himself. After that, he just kept talking to me everyday. When somebody’s always talking to you, you start getting annoyed with that person, but with Coach Nord that never happened. There was always something there with him.”
Q: Who was the funniest coach you dealt with in recruiting?
Lang: “Coach Seider. He’s from Belle Glade so the way we speak down in South Florida is different from the rest of the United States, from the rest of the parts. So he understood when I would say something, I’d understand when he would say something. People just look at us, like, ‘Wait, what?’ We understood each other a lot, basically.”
Q: What school would have had a better chance with you if it had come in earlier in the process?
Lang: “As a child, my dream school was always LSU [because of Tyrann Mathieu]. I was an LSU baby. Every game I watched LSU. Even if they lost, I was still going for them. So when they offered me, all my friends were like, ‘Oh, I know where he’s going. I know where he’s going.’ They just never talked to me at all. They just offered me and that’s it. They were just like, here, everyone’s offering you, we’re going to offer you, we know we’re your dream school and that’s all we’re going to do. Hopefully you commit. If you don’t, that’s it, we don’t care. And plus, they didn’t use their tight ends that much.”
Q: What was the most memorable part of your recruiting visit to Florida?
Lang: “The smile on my momma’s face, to be honest. Seeing that smile on her face just made it worth it. She liked it a lot.”