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Friday, March 28, 2014
Schools flock to South Florida for recruits

By Derek Tyson


South Florida is arguably the most fertile area in the country for recruiting, and college football coaches annually flock to the talent-rich area to try to land a small piece of a very large pie. The large area located south of Lake Okeechobee that includes the football hotbeds of Broward, Palm Beach and Dade counties has produced 45 ESPN 300 members in the last two recruiting cycles and almost half (22) signed with out-of-state schools.

St. Thomas Aquinas, a high school football powerhouse in Florida, had eight players sign with FBS schools for the 2014 class, including five that signed with out-of-state programs. Aquinas head coach Rocco Casullo said there are enough great players in South Florida to make any college football program better.

George Campbell
George Campbell is one of several high-profile recruits that Florida's in-state powers are trying to keep in the state.
"There's so much talent here," Casullo said. "You look at all the kids that don't get recruited, but if they were in any other state, they would be three-star kids. And some of these kids can't even find a school. You look at a school like Bowling Green, for example, that has close to 20 kids on their roster from Florida. If I'm a MAC school or some of these in-between schools, I would have to get somebody that can recruit this area. They are the difference-makers.”

Multiple "difference-makers" came from South Florida last year. True freshmen and former ESPN 300 prospects such as Derrick Henry (Alabama), Joey Bosa (Ohio State), Alex Collins (Arkansas) and Denver Kirkland (Arkansas) all made significant contributions at out-of-state programs in their first year.

The No. 11-ranked player in the country for 2015, Torrance Gibson, has schools from all over the country coming to Plantation (Fla.) American Heritage to try and convince him to leave the state. Gibson, who recently took unofficial visits to Oklahoma, Auburn and Tennessee, believes that South Florida prospects leave the state so they can get early playing time.

“The out-of-state schools just recruit this area the hardest, I guess,” Gibson said. "They really want to win a national championship and South Florida has the best talent, so why not come to South Florida? Some kids just want to get out and travel and see the world, but some kids want to start their freshmen year. They don’t want to get redshirted or anything like that -- they just want to start and that’s why I think kids are leaving South Florida.”

And Gibson hasn't been shy about showing his affections for out-of-state programs.
Tennessee locker with Coach Butch #VolNation #Vols pic.twitter.com/FB0utnI1ms

— Torrance Gibson (@quick_tg6) March 27, 2014
Athlete Rashard Causey, who has a top three of UCLA, South Carolina and Miami, believes prospects in the area will have a better opportunity to showcase their skills at out-of-state schools.

"All the players I have met that went out of state, they just balled out,” Causey said recently at the Miami NFTC. "It’s just different down here. They don’t play the same kind of ball that we play down here in South Florida. When you ball here and you bring that South Florida swag up there -- you just ball out.”

The state of Florida has six FBS schools and will always sign their fair share of South Florida prospects, but allowing that almost half of the ESPN 300 members over the last two years sign with out-of-state schools has to be a concern. To combat this trend, in-state powers Miami, Florida State and Florida are putting their best recruiters in charge of the fertile area.

Florida’s top recruiter, Travaris Robinson, helped the Gators land ESPN 300 prospects J.C. Jackson, Duke Dawson, Treon Harris, Jalen Tabor and Brandon Powell last year, while FSU assistant Tim Brewster was instrumental in helping the Noles land Dalvin Cook, Ermon Lane and Travis Rudolph.

Miami has put an emphasis on recruiting its backyard. The Canes signed 14 prospects from South Florida last year, which was up from just four the previous year. The Canes even added former Booker T. Washington head coach Tim “Ice” Harris as an assistant player personnel director to help with recruiting in the area.

Florida head coach Will Muschamp said the best way he knows how to recruit the area is to build relationships with the players, their parents and coaches.

"Recruiting is about relationships and is a 24/7, 365-day commitment. Recruiting is also about developing those relationships and identifying the critical factors that we want at each position,” Muschamp said. "We have a minimum standard that we want at each position, but I also tell our coaches all the time, 'Don't fall in the love with the film.' Someone could look great on game day, but have we want to know everything about them and are they the right fit for our program both on and off the field. Right now, South Florida has some great players who also fit what we are looking for in our program.”

With those relationships being so crucial, nothing can damage that like coaching staff turnover. That’s why Miami head coach Al Golden has taken a hands-on approach to the way he recruits. A key focus for Golden has been the use of social media -- specifically Twitter. Multiple prospects, including Gibson, Causey and George Campbell, have said that Golden sends direct messages on Twitter more than any other coach that is recruiting them.

Sometimes it’s the simplest things like communications and relationship that go the furthest.

There will always be tough recruiting battles in South Florida and each school must get creative on how to recruit such a popular area, but at the end of the day, there is enough talent in South Florida to keep just about every school satisfied.