GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida’s “Recruiter of the Year” once again belongs to a defensive back commit.
Back in 2013, UF fans and media first gave the recognition to safety Nick Washington over defensive end Jordan Sherit.
Cornerback Quincy Wilson got the nod for 2014, and offensive lineman Tyler Jordan kept Florida’s 2015 class together during the program’s transition from Will Muschamp to Jim McElwain.
This year’s honor goes to Cocoa (Fla.) cornerback Chauncey Gardner, who turns 18 on Sunday. He’s been a constant recruiting presence for the Gators on social media and behind the scenes.
He’s had a hand in several commitments for Florida, most recently defensive end Jordan Smith.
“Oh yeah, I got him to commit,” Gardner told SEC Country minutes before Smith’s pledge went public last Sunday.
Gardner, an Under Armour All-American, has also been known to tweet “#GATORBAIT” at recruits who de-commit from UF. He’s still trying to get a few more top prospects to join him in Gainesville.
“Me being recruiter of the year, I’m just one of those guys who wants to play with the best of the best,” Gardner said. “I just want to win, man. And when you commit, you’re not just doing something for yourself. You’re committing to a football team and a community. That means a lot to me.”
Gardner originally flipped from Miami to Florida in the summer of 2014, but backed off his pledge in January following the coaching change. After getting to know McElwain and his staff, Gardner re-committed to the Gators in March.
“He’s a fiery coach,” Gardner said of McElwain. “Everybody sees his happy side, sometimes his mean side when they lose. But when you see him inside when the players are taking to him, he brings that fire.
“He’s motivating and makes you want to win. Most aren’t coaches like that. Coach Mac is something different. I can’t wait to play for him.”
Gardner officially visited last weekend with seven other Florida commits, all of whom will enroll early in January. Gardner said the best part about his trip was the food and eating with McElwain.
“Eating every day was the highlight, just seeing how much food I could handle,” Gardner said. “I know I’m going to get bigger when I get here, so I need to know how to manage all this free food.
“I ate at a few restaurants, but having breakfast at Coach McElwain’s house was the best. His house is big. He’s got everything there. That man showed us a good time and brought us in like family. Not everybody can just invite people into their house and have a bond with them.”
Gardner, the 2015 Florida Dairy Farmers Class 4A Player of the Year, is expected to play as a freshman for the Gators with the departures of cornerbacks Vernon Hargreaves III and Brian Poole. Gardner is looking to reap the benefits of going through spring practice.
“It’s going to be nice because I can learn the playbook early,” he said. “Forget everything I did in high school, because it’s a different animal when you get to college. Just the preparation and the game speed.
“I have to study the playbook and watch film, and that’s what I plan on doing. Then it’s just making plays.”
Gardner made plenty as a senior, finishing with 46 tackles, four sacks, two interceptions and one fumble recovery. Offensively, Gardner rushed for 410 yards and six touchdowns on 29 carries, and caught 12 passes for 235 yards and five scores.
The 5-foot-11, 195-pounder also has a well-know reputation for running his mouth at receivers and getting in their heads.
“Gator fans can expect a lot from me,” Gardner said. “I’m going to bring that same fire and intensity. I talk a lot of trash, but I back it up. I’m just going to have fun and do me.”