GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The Florida Gators, fresh off a 10-4 season and 12th-ranked finish in the Recruiting Nation class rankings, are set to open spring practices on March 9. Head coach Jim McElwain discusses the latest with Florida recruiting.
ESPN: Last year, you mentioned recruiting is a three-year process as far as building relationships. You’re now starting Year 2, how far in to that process do you feel you are?
Jim McElwain: I think we are definitely making up ground. We struck on some pretty good guys that first year, especially for how late we got a jump on it. We landed some guys that fit some specific needs. Having a full year and now another cycle with a crew of 17’s that we were able to start on as far as identification more than anything and where our roster needed some holes to be filled. Obviously there were some good players here, let’s call it the way it is. That’s a good thing, but on the flip side of that we knew there was a need to bring in some numbers at certain spots. We’ve answered some of that.
I’d say the biggest thing for us was saving up those mid-year spots and being actually to put some quality players in those mid-year spots. We brought in 12 of our signing class, so half of our signing class is here for spring practice at some real need areas. That’s the exciting piece. Getting them here early, identifying who and getting them convinced to come.
ESPN: What’s the biggest difference between last year at this point and this year at this point, as far as recruiting.
JM: It’s light years ahead -- and yet in recruiting, it’s competitive -- everybody’s got good stuff. I think the biggest thing is answering your own needs. That’s why I was excited about how our guys responded to that.
ESPN: What does new defensive backs coach Torrian Gray bring to the staff as a recruiter?
JM: Obviously, he’s a guy that’s been there and done that. Him being from Lakeland and from Florida originally there are some instant connections there. That was hard for him (to leave Virginia Tech), and yet it was an opportunity for him to come home.
ESPN: Florida State is holding its spring game in Orlando this year, Michigan is coming down to IMG to hold practices and now you are mixing it up a little bit and holding your spring game on a Friday night. Do you feel like you have to do some things a little bit different to really grab the attention of recruits?
JM: I think that’s part of it. I think for us in particular, it was an opportunity for a night in The Swamp. It’s something I know our players are excited about and people from around the state are excited about. Change is hard from a standard part, and yet as you see in this business right now, seeing an opportunity and seizing it is something that we wanted to do. That Friday night it fits. That
ESPN: Michigan is holding practices at IMG Academy, do you have any thoughts on that situation?
JM: You know what, I’m like, if it’s within the rules, then more power to them. It’ll be interesting. If it’s an open practice, shoot, there might be some people there watching. Who knows.
ESPN: The new indoor practice facility seems to be popular among the recruit. Have things advanced -- as far as facilities -- the way you have hoped?
JM: We’ve obviously got a commitment, which is great. Our administration understands there are some things that need to be addressed and they’ve been doing that. As with all things, you don’t magically wave a wand and they magically appear. The study of where to put things and how to do it has been well thought through. As these recruits are seeing, it’s like every cycle is going to have something knew. That’s what’s kind of exciting about that piece. The things we’re investing in are not the things, like this office, it’s not pretty, but who cares, it’s the things that truly touch the players in their everyday lives. That’s what we are investing in.
ESPN: You really did well recruiting the offensive side of the ball this past recruiting cycle, do you feel there will be a bigger emphasis on the defensive side of the ball this year?
JM: What you hope to do, is get yourself to where you are recruiting balance. So I think we’ve now, at least numerically, put the right numbers in the position rooms. Obviously, there is going to be a great opportunity in the secondary to come in and play pretty early just because of the numbers there and what may happen after this season. Point of emphasis? Maybe. But more an opportunity for players to come in and be a part of something special pretty early.
ESPN: How competitive is it recruiting in the SEC?
JM: It’s a different world. No one, until you’re in it, it’s hard to explain to anybody. That was even part of putting our staff together. Guys that have been in this footprint are really important. They’ve got unbelievable facilities to show guys, they’ve invested in their brand, the different schools have invested in their programs because they realize what it can do as a front porch for a university. That’s the one thing you see here is the constant investment in their programs.
ESPN: When you got to Florida, you hired several off-the-field staff members, is that something you will continue doing?
JM: I’d say I haven’t hired a lot. There weren’t any really. We aren’t even close to what other programs are doing and yet what we are bringing in are needs in those spots. We still don’t have the numbers, but it isn’t a numbers game, it’s the quality of the guys you got in there. I feel really good about that piece and we are getting there. That’s a yearly evaluation as to what your needs are within the organization. There’s a different set of needs every year and that’s something we are able to do and again our administration sees the value and understands why and what so that’s been really good for us.