GAINESVILLE, Fla. — One of Randy Shannon’s objectives since arriving at Florida has been improving the Gators’ recruiting results at linebacker.
He’s had success thus far, adding both depth and talent in the last two cycles. But Shannon is still searching for an elite prospect at the position, and he’ll have his shot at one this weekend with Anthony Hines (Plano, Texas) officially visiting UF .
Hines is ranked as the nation’s No. 2 inside linebacker and holds more scholarship offers (90) than any recruit in the country. The Gators haven’t signed a linebacker of his caliber in four years.
“We need to continue to build that depth through recruiting, continue to stress to get the best guys on the football field at all times,” Shannon said Wednesday when discussing his linebacker position.
After a landing four linebackers in 2013, including 5-star prospect Alex Anzalone, Florida didn’t sign any in the following class and had zero commitments for 2015 when Shannon came to the school in January of that year.
He added Rayshad Jackson from Miami late in the process and also flipped Dallas athlete Kylan Johnson from Kansas State. Shannon projected Johnson as a potential linebacker in college, and he now plays the position for the Gators.
Florida made significant strides in the last class, bringing in early enrollee David Reese and 4-star recruits Vosean Joseph and Jeremiah Moon. Shannon is happy with the early returns on those three, and he has a pair of 3-star linebackers committed for 2017 in James Houston and Ventrell Miller.
“We feel like we’ve got a good young group that came in (this year),” Shannon said. “In recruiting, we’ve got take more guys. You’ll never be satisfied with just saying, ‘I’m happy with these four or five guys or these six guys.’
“You always want to continue to bring in somebody that can contribute, somebody that can take somebody else’s job because you can build depth that way.”
And that’s what Florida been missing in recent years — a star linebacker capable of coming in as a true freshman and challenging for a starting job.
The Gators were in contention for at least one highly touted player in each of the last three recruiting cycles, but they missed on Raekwon McMillan (Ohio State) and Christian Miller (Alabama) in 2014, Jeff Holland (Auburn) in 2015 and Mack Wilson (Alabama) last year.
Shannon needs to buck that trend with Hines or a linebacker as talented as him for the Gators to keep playing at a high level.
LB a major need for 2017
The importance of Hines is highlighted even more by the losses Florida will sustain at the position this year.
The Gators are expected to lose Anzalone as well as seniors Jarrad Davis and Daniel McMillian, all of whom were part of that stellar 2013 haul.
Barring the addition of a junior-college transfer, Shannon will be relying completely on underclassmen next season. He’ll have seven linebackers as it stands now, but only Johnson and the three 2016 signees appear to be players Shannon can count on.
So when he sells Hines on early playing time this weekend, it won’t be a pipe dream.
“It’s a reality,” Shannon said. “With the depth alone, whoever comes in going to be second team. … If you’re coming in, your job is to take (the starter’s) job. If you take his job, we’re a better football team. If he keep his job, we’re still a better football team.
“Any player that I’ve recruited, I always tell those guys that if you come to the University of Florida, the following year we’ll bring in somebody else to take your job. Now, if you continue to get better, great. But if not, that competition will help you be better.”