Florida Gators Football: What Is UF's All-Time Greatest Recruiting Class?

John PattonContributor IJanuary 18, 2012

Florida Gators Football: What Is UF's All-Time Greatest Recruiting Class?

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    College football fans tend to get giddy or grumpy come the first Wednesday night of February.

    There, they take the word of various hard-working talent evaluators and start to either salivate or tear up about their team's incoming freshman class.

    At that point, adrenaline gets the blood pumping, and said fans start to, shall we say, overreact to what they believe these 17- and 18-year-olds eventually will become.

    Members of the Gator Nation may be among the most guilty of parties here. Some take National Signing Day more seriously than they take the Saturday after Thanksgiving (when UF and archrival Florida State annually tangle).

    All of that said, we all know the best time to evaluate a recruiting class is after every player is gone.

    So, what was Florida's best-ever group of signees?

    Here are six to consider from the mid-1980s through the present.


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    Who's The Man?

    The best player in this signing class was athlete Joe Haden, who came to Gainesville having not ever played much cornerback and left as the seventh overall pick (by the Cleveland Browns) in the 2010 NFL draft.

    There was a lot of talk Haden might get a shot to play some Wildcat quarterback at UF, and plays with him there were worked on in practice, but he never got the opportunity (nor was he needed).


    Underrated Star

    Soon after Ahmad Black arrived on campus, he was deemed too slow to play his recruited position (cornerback) in the Southeastern Conference. Black was moved to safety, where he became one of the nation's best ballhawks.


    Other Major Contributors: QB John Brantley, DE Carlos Dunlap, P Chas Henry, TE Aaron Hernandez, DL Jaye Howard, OL Maurkice Pouncey, OL Mike Pouncey, RB Chris Rainey, S Major Wright


    Class Depth

    Also signing national letters of intent were DE Duke Lemmens, DE Justin Trattou, LB Lorenzo Edwards, LB Brandon Hicks, CB Moses Jenkins, WR Deonte Thompson and OL James Wilson.


    Imagine If...

    Quarterback signee Cam Newton hadn't had off-field issues at Florida. He may have given UF three straight BCS-title-winning signal-callers (following Chris Leak and Tim Tebow).


    Epic Fail

    Defensive tackles John Brown and Torrey Davis were supposed to become All-Americans for the Gators, but each encountered off-field issues and weren't all that productive when playing (save for one big tackle Davis made in the 2009 BCS title game against Oklahoma).


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    Who's The Man?

    Quarterback Tim Tebow played a significant role as a backup in UF's 2007 BCS title run, became the first sophomore to win the Heisman Trophy a year later and led the Gators to another national championship as a junior.

    Florida won the SEC East and the Sugar Bowl his senior season.

    Tebow was also the reason UF signed Brandon Spikes, who would end up one of the greatest linebackers in school history. While both were on an official visit to Alabama (a weekend the Tide crushed Florida in Tuscaloosa), Spikes was so taken by Tebow's leadership that Spikes told the quarterback he would sign wherever Tebow did.


    Underrated Star

    Many analysts considered Marcus Gilbert to be the third-best offensive line prospect on his high school team. That year, St. Thomas Aquinas also had Sam Young (Notre Dame) and Dan Wenger (Notre Dame, then Florida).

    Gilbert wound up a multi-year starter at UF and started at both left and right tackle this year as a Pittsburgh Steelers rookie.


    Other Major Contributors: WR Riley Cooper, DE Jermaine Cunningham, WR Percy Harvin, OL Maurice Hurt, RB/KR Brandon James and LB Brandon Spikes


    Class Depth

    Also signing national letters of intent were CB Markihe Anderson, NG Brandon Antwine, LB Dustin Doe, OL Carl Johnson, LB A.J. Jones, DE Lawrence Marsh, CB Wondy Pierre-Louis and DL Terron Sanders.


    Imagine If...

    Florida got the tailback it really wanted—and expected to sign—C.J. Spiller. A native of Lake Butler, less than a half-hour from Gainesville, Spiller surprised just about everyone by signing with Clemson, instead of UF.

    The Gators were looking to sign two tailbacks that year and already had a commitment from Texas product Mon Williams (Brandon James was brought in primarily as a return man and third-down back).

    Coach Urban Meyer believed Spiller would be the other back. Because of this, Meyer told a tailback in New Jersey that UF really liked (the feeling was mutual) that there most likely wouldn't be a scholarship available.

    So, Knowshon Moreno eventually signed with Georgia.


    Epic Fail

    Receiver Jamar Hornsby was supposed to be part of a terrific tandem with Percy Harvin. However, while at UF, Hornsby was behind one of the more despicable acts an athlete has perpetrated in recent times.

    In October of 2007, UF student Ashley Slonina and Gator walk-on Michael "Sunshine" Guilford were killed in a motorcycle wreck. Over the next few months, Hornsby used Slonina's gas credit card 70 times (33 in Gainesville, 37 in his hometown of Jacksonville) to purchase close to $3,000 worth of items.

    Hornsby, who also was suspended for five games in 2007 for selling his complementary tickets, was arrested and booted from the team. He played for East Mississippi Junior College in 2008 before signing with Mississippi.

    He never would suit up for the Rebels, as he was arrested for attacking a man at a Starkeville, Miss. McDonald's in March of 2009. Then-coach Houston Nutt kicked Hornsby off of the team a few months later.


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    Who's The Man?

    Quarterback Rex Grossman was an interesting recruiting story.

    He drove to Gainesville from his home in Indiana with his father and a highlight tape. Upon arrival, they were able to get a meeting with coach Steve Spurrier, who liked what he saw and offered a scholarship.

    In his three-year college career, Grossman threw for 9,164 yards and 77 touchdowns. He finished second in the 2001 Heisman Trophy balloting, receiving 62 votes less than then-Nebraska quarterback Eric Crouch.


    Underrated Star

    Receiver Jabar Gaffney wasn't as highly rated as his prep teammate, Lito Sheppard, but both former Jacksonville Raines standouts were stars for UF.

    Gaffney, the fourth member of his family to wear orange and blue, finished his college career with 138 receptions for 2,375 yards and 27 touchdowns. He was a first-team All-American in 2001.


    Other Major Contributors: CB Lito Sheppard, CB Keiwan Ratliff, WR Taylor Jacobs, DE Bobby McCray, S Daryl Dixon, LB Mike Nattiel and DE Clint Mitchell


    Class Depth

    LB Bam Hardmon, DL Tron LaFavor, LB Matt Farrior, RB Ran Carthon, LB Dwright Jackson and DT Arpedge Rolle also signed.


    Imagine If...

    Ratliff had qualified immediately out of high school.

    He and Sheppard would have played together at least three seasons and may have gone down in Gator lore as arguably the best cornerback combination in school history (a distinction that likely belongs to the combo of Fred Weary/Anthone Lott or Joe Haden/Janoris Jenkins).


    Epic Fail

    Tony Charles was a 270-pound defensive tackle in high school who arrived in Gainesville weighing 237. He left the program after a redshirt year, where he spent part of the season at home to be with his sick grandfather.


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    Who's The Man?

    Danny Wuerffel actually wasn't as highly thought of by many recruiting experts as fellow signee Eric Kresser.

    Kresser had the stronger arm and more polished delivery, and he played in the NFL from 1997 to 1999, so he was hardly any sort of bust.

    However, Wuerffel was different.

    The son of an Air Force chaplain, Wuerffel finished his Gator career by completing 708 of 1,170 passes for 10,875 yards with 114 touchdown passes—at the time, the most in SEC history and second most in major college history.

    He also won the 1996 Heisman Trophy and led UF to four straight SEC titles, the 1995 national championship game and the 1996 national title.

    Wuerffel is on the short list of the greatest Gators of all time.


    Underrated Star

    Jason Odom came to UF as the second-most-heralded of two elite prep offensive tackles. Reggie Green was the other.

    Green began on the left side and Odom the right, but Odom's talent coupled with Green's troubling injury issues necessitated the two players switching sides.

    Now a Hillsborough County sheriff's deputy, Odom was the Tampa Bay Bucs' fourth-round selection in 1996 (96th overall), and he started 41 of 46 games in an injury-plagued pro career.

    The 1992 class dertainly was headlined by Wuerffel, but it also got four—yes, four—multi-year starters on the offensive line in Odom, Green, Jeff Mitchell and Donnie Young. A prep defensive tackle, Mitchell went on to play from 1997 to 2005 in the NFL, starting at center on the Baltimore Ravens' 2000 Super Bowl champions.


    Other Major Contributors: DL David Barnard, LB James Bates, DE Johnnie Church, LB Dexter Daniels, DE Cameron Davis, OT Reggie Green, DB Demetric Jackson, CB Anthone Lott, OG/C Jeff Mitchell, DB Shea Showers, S Lawrence Wright, OG Donnie Young


    Class Depth

    PK Bart Edmiston, FB Jerome Evans, DL McDonald Ferguson, QB Eric Kresser and FB Dwayne Mobley also signed.


    Imagine If...

    Walk-on Tremayne Allen, a multi-year starter who later played for the Chicago Bears, had been the TE signee instead of Shawn Nunn.


    Epic Fail

    Only six of the 25 players signed didn't really contribute, so it's tough to find any true failures here.

    That said, TE Shawn Nunn, RB Tony Davis, LB Kenny Times, DB Shawn Wilson, LB Andre Washington and OL Nick Quintana never did much of anything as Gators.


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    Who's The Man?

    Defensive end Kevin Carter and defensive tackle Ellis Johnson were All-Americans. Johnson was named CNN's National Defensive Player of the Year in 1994 and was the first-round pick (15th overall) of the Indianapolis Colts in 1995.

    Somehow, the Gators were able to sign Carter, who was a standout linebacker from Tallahassee Lincoln High School. The childhood Georgia Bulldogs fan grew into an end at UF and was named a first-team All American in 1994.

    Fun story: Back in those days, the media was allowed on the field to watch pro day performances. I was standing next to NFL coaching legend Buddy Ryan during Carter's 40-yard dash. Both of us had stopwatches.

    When Carter, at 6'6" and 274 pounds, crossed the finish line, I recall Ryan doing a double-take on his watch before checking mine.

    He had 4.59. I had 4.61. Officially, Carter was announced at 4.60, an absolutely remarkable time from a man that size.

    It was no wonder he went sixth overall (to the Rams) in the 1995 draft.


    Underrated Star

    Overshadowed by bigger names on the defensive line, Henry McMillian became a spokesman and a leader for the defense, as well as a coach on the field.

    Coaches often praised McMillian for the intangibles he provided, particularly on a unit that featured soft-spoken stars in Carter and Johnson.


    Other Major Contributors: DL Mark Campbell, LB Ben Hanks, WR Jack Jackson, CB Larry Kennedy, DL Henry McMillian


    Class Depth

    P Shayne Edge, LB Jason Bartley, WR Sorola Palmer and LB Matt Pearson also signed.


    Imagine If...

    WR Chris Doering had been a signee, instead of a walk-on, that year. The class would have had another All-American.


    Epic Fail

    The Gators signed two heavily recruited prep quarterbacks—Luke Bencie and Antwan Chiles—but neither panned out.

    A Parade All-American alongside Eric Zeier, Heath Shuler, Ki-Jana Carter, Dan Wilkinson, Derrick Brooks, Tyrone Wheatley and Kevin Carter, Bencie transferred to Michigan State. Chiles ended up at Liberty, where he played for former Cleveland Browns coach Sam Rutigliano.

    Also, Scott Joslyn was supposed to be the next great Gator offensive lineman. He never panned out. Neither did Jeremy Kennedy, rated as the nation's No. 1 tight end prospect.


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    Who's The Man?

    Emmitt Smith picked up his first 100-yard outing in his second college game and his first starting role a week later en route to leaving UF after three seasons with 58 school records.

    He went on to become an eight-time Pro Bowler and the winner of three Super Bowls with the Dallas Cowboys.

    Smith concluded his career with 18,355 rushing yards, the highest total in NFL history, and 175 total touchdowns. He became the second-ever Gator (Jack Youngblood was the first) to enter the Pro Football Hall of Fame after being elected in 2010.


    Underrated Star

    Signed out of Tallahassee Leon as an offensive guard, Brad Culpepper wasn't the biggest or fastest defensive lineman, but he had an extremely quick first step and was an outstanding football player.

    Now an attorney, the 1991 All-American went from 10th-round NFL draft pick to playing nine years in the league, where he recorded 34 career sacks.


    Other Major Contributors: LB Fee Bartley, DL MIchael Brandon, OL Cal Dixon, DL Tony McCoy, FB Willie McGrady, LB/S Godfrey Miles, LB Gerry Odom, LB Tim Paulk, QB/P Herbert Perry, OL Tony Rowell, CB Jimmy Spencer


    Class Depth

    WR Terence Barber, PK Arden Czyzewski, OL Hesham Ishmail, QB Kyle Morris, OL/DL Glenn Neely, WR Alonzo Sullivan and OL Mark White also signed.


    Imagine If...

    Smith had stayed for his senior season, which was Steve Spurrier's first as UF's head coach.

    Emmitt would have added a unique dimension to Spurrier's pass-happy Fun 'n Gun offense.


    Epic Fail

    Nose guard Steve Scoggins was a Parade All-American out of Apopka (Fla.), and he never saw the field.