Florida leads recruiting list

Published 2:26 am Thursday, February 4, 2010

NEW YORK — This much is certain at Florida: Any doubts about Urban Meyer’s future with the Gators didn’t hurt their recruiting one bit this year.

Florida landed the top-rated recruiting class in the country Wednesday, the first and by far the busiest day of the national letter of intent signing period for high school football players.

“The key to recruiting is a lot like the keys to making a great sale,” said Meyer, who has won two national championships in five seasons with the Gators. “The first one is having a great product and we obviously have that here at the University of Florida.”

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As usual, national signing day was mostly about the rich getting richer.

While Florida took the mythical recruiting national championship — most of the notable ranking services had the Gators on top — Alabama and Texas, the teams that played for the BCS title last month, also loaded up for future runs.

Southern California and Tennessee withstood late coaching changes to land highly regarded classes. And Auburn showed it’s not about to concede the state of Alabama to Nick Saban and the Tide.

But the big winner was Florida, a program that seemed on the verge of disarray six weeks ago.

A day after Christmas, Meyer resigned to deal with health problems. The next day he decided instead to take a leave of absence — but not until he had locked up a recruiting class loaded with many of the bluest blue chippers in the land.

At the head of Florida’s class is Ronald Powell, a 240-pound defensive end rated the No. 1 prospect in the country by Rivals.com.

Residing in maybe the most fertile football state in the country, the Gators always stock up on homegrown talent. Sixteen of Florida’s 28 signees are from the Sunshine State. But Meyer and his staff showed off their range, too.

“They do have that reach. They do have that appeal,” said Jeremy Crabtree, national recruiting editor at Rivals.com. “If you’re a hot recruit, you’re going to have Florida at the top of your list.”

Powell is from Moreno Valley, Calif., near Riverside, and highly rated defensive back Joshua Shaw came to Florida from Palmdale, Calif., about 70 miles northwest of Los Angeles.

The Gators ventured into the Northeast for two of the most-wanted defensive linemen in Sharrif Floyd of Philadelphia and Dominique Easley of New York City.

“I think that’s a class people are going to look back a couple of years from now and say, ’Wow, this is once-in-a-lifetime type of class,”’ Crabtree said.

ESPNU, Scout.com, SuperPrep Magazine and MaxPreps all ranked Florida No. 1.

Texas made a strong case to be No. 2. The Longhorns class included two of the nation’s highest-rated players in defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat from Plano, Texas, and the son of former Dallas Cowboys defensive lineman Jim Jeffcoat, and linebacker Jordan Hicks from West Chester, Ohio. Both committed to Texas late last week.

In the state of Alabama, Saban restocked the Tide with another class the recruiting gurus loved. No surprise there.

But it was Auburn and second-year coach Gene Chizik that made the biggest splash, securing a class rated in the top 10 nationally.

The headliner came from junior college. Former Florida quarterback Cameron Newton, who left the Gators after getting into legal trouble off the field, could start for the Tigers this fall.

New USC coach Lane Kiffin got a late start on recruiting for the Trojans, hired away from Tennessee less than a month before signing day to replace his former boss at USC, Pete Carroll.

Kiffin and his staff made up for lost time and then some.

“They did a years’ worth of work in about two weeks,” Crabtree said.

Not only did Kiffin lock up the top prospects who had given nonbinding verbal commitments to Carroll, but he strengthened the class by luring a few others that seemed headed elsewhere. Most notably, Seantrel Henderson, a 330-pound offensive lineman from Saint Paul, Minn., picked USC over Ohio State, Notre Dame and Florida on Wednesday.

“Despite the coaching, I always liked USC, period,” Henderson said. “It’s a great school and great education.”

“As far as football goes, Lane Kiffin recruited me when he was still at Tennessee.”

Allen Wallace, national recruiting editor for Scout.com and SuperPrep, compared Henderson to former NFL greats such as Jonathan Ogden and Anthony Munoz.

“Seantrel Henderson went a long way toward showing USC fans that Lane Kiffin can be the kind of recruiter that Pete Carroll was,” Wallace said.

Henderson, however, did not make his decision official Wednesday. He was not included on USC’s official list of players who had submitted signed letters of intent with the school. Henderson’s father told The New York Times late Wednesday that his son would wait until after USC goes before the NCAA infractions committee later this month to sign his letter of intent.

One particular USC signee will no doubt have Volunteers fans cussin’ Kiffin — again.

Wide receiver Markeith Ambles from Georgia had committed to the Vols, but pulled back on that commitment after Kiffin bolted and ultimately signed with the Trojans.

Kiffin’s departure sent Tennessee fans into a frenzy and caused a few Volunteers recruits to reconsider their verbal commitments.

But much like Kiffin at USC, new Tennessee coach Derek Dooley made a late save. The Volunteers ended up with a top-15 ranking from all the notable recruiting services.

Brian Kelly’s first recruiting class at Notre Dame didn’t draw big raves, but it got a late lift Wednesday when highly rated offensive lineman Matt James from Cincinnati chose the Fighting Irish over Ohio State.