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New offensive staff talks recruiting
Florida has struggled mightily on offense for the last eight years, becoming a problem that Dan Mullen’s last two predecessors could not fix.
Will Muschamp had trouble with offensive recruiting and missed on several in-state targets during his tenure. Jim McElwain was able to land some talented offensive prospects, but a couple of key players dealt with off-the-field issues (Antonio Callaway, Jordan Scarlett) and others did not show progress (Feleipe Franks, DeAndre Goolsby).
For Mullen and Co. to improve Florida’s offense, it will take more than a few 5-star recruits or a top-5 class. Mullen wants to recruit at an elite level, but he and his assistants need players who can take to coaching and develop under their guidance — physically and mentally.
“If you can’t recruit, you can’t coach. You’re only as good as the players and the people that you surround yourself with,” Gators tight end coach Larry Scott said. “Obviously, we want to have very, very talented players here at the University of Florida. But for every really good player, I’ll show you a better person first.
“Somewhere in there is the fitness in a person for where the limits and the things you’re going to push them to and test them to. There has to be some semblance of a really good person deep down inside of them. Sometimes you just gotta pull it out of them.”
Having coached at Florida before with Mullen, wide receivers coach Billy Gonzales and offensive line coach John Hevesy both know what kind of recruits are required to win championships in the SEC.
They weren’t able to attract that same caliber of athlete during their time at Mississippi State. That put even more importance on their recruiting evaluations — and they could not afford to miss in their division.
“In the last nine years, we weren’t fortunate to always chase 5-stars. … It was hard, so you always had to evaluate,” Hevesy said. “We did a great job of evaluating obviously athletic ability outside of what the media saw and then also getting to understand who they are with their work ethic. Do they want to work? Do you they strive to be successful? That’s the biggest thing with all of them. Not, ‘Here, you are the greatest thing ever.’ It was, ‘Do you want to be great?’
“And you see obviously the athletic ability as they run through camp and you watch the film and they do those things. Then it was, find that great character. Find that work ethic. Those kids are going to build the program. Dak [Prescott] was one of the epitomes of that. He was not a highly recruited kid, but just the work ethic, the demeanor, what he wanted, that was kind of the epitome of what we always went to.”
Gonzales and Hevesy both landed top-100 overall recruits in the 2018 class with wide receiver Jacob Copeland and tackle Richard Gouraige. Gonzales called Copeland a fantastic football player, but also acknowledged that he has potential to fulfill.
“I’ve coached 5-star kids and I’ve coached zero-star kids. … It’s about development,” Gonzales said. “They’ve got to buy into the program. They’ve got to live in the weight room. They’ve got to eat right. They’ve got to train right. They have to take care of their academics. If they have a desire and willingness to have an opportunity, hopefully we’ll recruit players here that want to play at the next level.
“If they don’t want to play at the next level in the NFL, I don’t really want to coach them. I want players that have the desire and dream, because they’ll do things the right way. They understand what they want to get to and have to go through a process.”
Fixing Florida’s offense will be a process through recruiting, but the 2018 class was a promising start with the additions of Copeland, Gouraige, quarterback Emory Jones and several 4-star signees.
Getting them to campus, however, is only the first part. Without coaching and development, some of the best talent can go to waste.
“Recruiting is the lifeblood of what we do. It’s the lifeblood of building relationships,” Scott said. “If you can build those relationships the right way through recruiting, you can coach them the right way, the hard way. The way that you need to at the right times to get them to go where you need them to go to come to a place like this and be a part of winning championships.
“Because that is the Gator standard, obviously, throughout the whole university. That’s one thing, growing up in the state and being around it … [Florida] has always been synonymous with winning, and winning at an elite and high level. If you want to do that here, you’ve gotta recruit at that level.”
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