HAMPTON, Va. — It was late in Elijah Conliffe‘s senior season when Florida expressed interest in the 4-star defensive tackle from Hampton High School, but it didn’t take the Gators long to close the deal.
Even with Conliffe’s initial leaning toward SEC power Alabama.
Recapping the recruiting process this weekend in his hometown, Conliffe recalled how he was “silent committed” to the Crimson Tide before his official visits changed his mind. First, he came away from his trip to Tuscaloosa, Ala., not totally sold on Alabama. Then his final recruiting visit to Gainesville, Fla., in late January sealed his decision.
“Honestly, he was set on [Alabama] until we actually went there,” said Kachelle Brown, Conliffe’s mother. “He told me, ‘This doesn’t feel like home.’ And I’m like, ‘We came all the way here to hear this?’ ”
Said Conliffe: “The coaches were cool, but it just [wasn’t] clicking like how I feel like at Florida. When I visit Florida, being around the players and the coaches it felt more like a family. What really capped it off was the player interaction. I got to talk with them, hang out with them a little bit and that’s what really won me over. And the coaches were [cool].”
Conliffe’s hosts on his Florida recruiting visit were fellow defensive tackle Kyree Campbell, an early enrollee this winter, and Richerd Desir-Jones, who made the move from offensive line to defensive line this offseason.
Florida lists Conliffe at 6-foot-4, 305 pounds. He admits he has room to improve with his technique, but he liked the pitch Gators defensive line coach Chris Rumph made in showing how he could fit into the team’s plans. Conliffe envisions he’ll end up at nose tackle.
“They say I’ll be in the rotation the first year, that if I come in and put in work I can have a nice chance to get in the rotation. They need D-tackles,” Conliffe said. ” … I like controlling the middle.”
As for making that final decision to come to Florida, Conliffe said he chose the Gators over Penn State and Tennessee as they too moved ahead of Alabama in his rankings.
Conliffe and his mother were surprised, though, when Florida entered the mix so late in the process.
“I was pretty excited [to hear from] another SEC school because I knew I wanted to play in the SEC. I just didn’t know what school yet. So having another option was really good,” he said. “I was still set, like if nothing else works I could still go to Alabama, but I’m going to see what Florida has to offer me.”
Brown was less excited about the Florida option — until the official visit, that is.
“I was like, ‘I’m not going to like it. It’s too far, I’m not going to like it,’ but I went there — and I was really dead set on no — and I couldn’t help but like it,” she said. “And I saw the way he reacted, and I knew it. I knew before he even told me. I said, ‘You’re going there.’
“Just the atmosphere. It was really family-oriented. I really liked that. At no time did I feel like anybody was being phony, or putting on airs because we were there and trying to impress us. I didn’t feel that way. It was like, genuine. From the players to the coaches to their wives to the other players’ parents, it was just a good feeling.”
There was one more bit of stress to come, though.
The plane ride home from Gainesville had Conliffe wondering if he’d get to play college football at all.
“The plane ride was awful coming back. We rode into a storm, and we had some of the worst turbulence I’ve ever been through. I was on the plane crying,” Brown said.
Added Conliffe: “I thought it was over. I was like, I’m about to commit to Florida and I’m not even going to [make it].”
Fortunately for the Gators, Conliffe didn’t take that as a bad omen. He and his mother had discussed the matter further on the plane, and by the time they landed — to much relief — he was certain in his college decision.
“Other than [the flight], everything was perfect,” Brown said. ” … When we landed getting back here, we knew it.”
We’re in Hampton, Va., visiting with Gators incoming DT Elijah Conliffe. Send in questions!
Posted by Florida Gators Insiders on Saturday, May 20, 2017
The following is part of SEC Country’s “Recruiting Rewind” series:
Q: How do you look back on the recruiting process overall?
Conliffe: “It was fun and a little stressful at the same time. Fun going on the visits, seeing how everything works, seeing how college life is in general. And stressful having to pick out from all the great schools I was offered by.”
Q: If you could give one piece of advice to a high school junior just starting to go through the recruiting process, what would you tell them?
Conliffe: “Pretty much stay focused, continue to work hard and just really look at your options and talk with your family and really make sure you go with the right [school].”
Q: In the end, which school finished second for you?
Conliffe: “Either Tennessee or Penn State. It might be [a tie]. Pretty much they had the same thing, like the family [atmosphere]. I liked the coaches. The only thing I didn’t like about Penn State was I didn’t like the campus too much, but I loved the players.”
Q: What was the most creative thing any school did either to get your attention or on a visit?
Kachelle Brown, Conliffe’s mother: “[Penn State] sent us like over 100 and some envelopes. The mailbox was so full. It was a few days to get them all to us because I got like over 100 and he got over 100. They had different sayings on it and coaches signed them. It took a few days because the mailman couldn’t deliver them at the same time. He couldn’t fit them in the mailbox it was so many.”
Conliffe: “N.C. State did it too.”
Q: Who was the funniest head coach you talked to during the recruiting process?
Conliffe: “Probably [Penn State coach James] Franklin. Overall just talking to him, getting to know him and stuff, he’s just a real funny dude.”
Q: What’s the biggest regret you had through the whole process?
Conliffe: “Not taking more visits probably. I could have got out there to see more of my offers.”
Q: Who was the hardest to say no to in the end?
Conliffe: “Probably Penn State. Penn State or Tennessee because they all had good coaches. [The final call with Penn State] didn’t go too well, but I think they might have knew.”
Q: What school disappointed you the most?
Conliffe: “I don’t think really any school disappointed me too much. All the schools I went to, I had pretty high expectations and they all came up to them pretty much.”
Q: What school if they had come in earlier in the process would have had a better chance?
Conliffe: “I don’t know. I know if Florida would have came earlier, I probably would have maybe committed earlier.”
Q: Aside from Florida, who was the nicest head coach you dealt with?
Conliffe: “Probably [Tennessee coach Butch] Jones. He’s pretty family-oriented, good person, funny too. He had a lot of swag, he loved the Jordans.”
Q: Lastly, if you were in charge of the NCAA, is there anything you would change about the recruiting process?
Conliffe: “Maybe some of the rules I would tweak around, like the one where you can’t pay for but so many people to go on an official visit. Maybe [add] one sibling. That’s pretty much it.”