Florida Gators Football: All-Time Best Recruit at Each Position
If you look at the storied football history of the University of Florida, you will find a slew of famous names and star players. Danny Wuerffel, Fred Taylor and Steve Spurrier are just a couple of Gators who immediately come to mind.
They are certainly some of the most famous. But are they also some of the most hyped Gator athletes of all time?
That is the question that we are about to answer. In the age of modern media, it is nearly impossible for fans of any college team to escape the insane amount of coverage devoted to recruiting season. In most cases, they search for it themselves because they want to know who will be their next star receiver or hard-hitting linebacker.
After all, a team cannot win a championship without the proper talent level. Gator fans know this, as three of the most talented rosters in their school's history have led to three national titles.
Unfortunately, there are also many cases when star high school players fail to live up to the hype. The Gators have not been immune to this phenomenon.
With that being said, let's jump in and take a look at some of the most ballyhooed recruits in the history of Gator football.
Quarterback: Tim Tebow
Tim Tebow is a legend of the college football world, and it should come as no surprise. Just look at what he did as a member of the Gators.
First, there was the jump pass. Then there was the Heisman (and another jump pass). Then there was "The Speech" after Florida's loss to Ole Miss. Oh, and there were also two national titles (one of which was capped off with a jump pass) during his collegiate career.
Tebow certainly built his legend at Florida, but it started at Nease High School.
If for nothing else, Tebow was known for being tough as nails. When he was a junior, he played an entire second half with a broken leg and still ran for a touchdown. He was a charging bull that knew how to throw the football, an unstoppable force to be reckoned with.
That's why Alabama head coach Mike Shula so desperately wanted him to come to Tuscaloosa. Shula later told the Florida Times-Union, "You could see back then he had a chance to be a difference-maker. It was hard to put a ceiling on this kid and what he could mean for your football team."
As the history books note, the Gators landed Rivals' former top quarterback prospect. Tebow flourished in Urban Meyer's spread offense, and he parlayed his success into a selection in the first round of the NFL draft.
Unfortunately, he has now become a media sensation for everything but his performance on the field. Furthermore, his recent release by the New York Jets could spell doom for his chances in the NFL.
Even if Tebow never plays on Sunday again, however, he will still be remembered for his stellar Gator career.
Running Back: Ciatrick Fason
One might expect Emmitt Smith to be on this list. After all, he was a collegiate star and went on to become one of the best running backs in NFL history.
In terms of expectations out of high school, however, it is hard to top the hype surrounding Ciatrick Fason.
A top-10 prospect according to the experts at Rivals, Fason received offers from Oklahoma, Tennessee and the Gators' two in-state rivals, Miami and Florida State. Instead, Fason took his more than 7,400 career rushing yards to Gainesville.
He became only the seventh Gator to rush for more than 1,000 yards in a single season. He would be the last Gator to do so until this past season when Mike Gillislee reached that plateau.
"He's real patient running out of the I-formation. That's why I like what he does."
Fason may have thought he was the next Shaun Alexander, but this never proved true. He spent only two seasons with the Minnesota Vikings and then never played another down in the NFL.
The Gators certainly lucked out, however, and were able to field the talented prospect they were promised.
Wide Receiver: Percy Harvin
One of the reasons for Tebow's success was the fact that he had Percy Harvin beside him in the huddle. The speedster frequently showed why he was a coveted high school prospect during his time as a Gator.
Harvin turned down offers from Florida State, Miami, USC and Michigan. Make no mistake: Teams wanted him for his speed. According to Scout, he had "the burst to quickly eat up the cushion and run by defensive backs consistently."
Throw in the reputation as a physical receiver who could catch anything, and one can see why so many coaches wanted him.
Despite chronic migraines and minor character issues, Harvin did not disappoint the Gainesville faithful. He was a major contributor to the 2008 squad that won the BCS title. Since then, he has established himself as a valuable receiver and kick return specialist in the NFL.
His recent trade to the Seattle Seahawks has marked the start of the next chapter of his professional career. Perhaps this new start will be the change he needs to ascend to an elite level. Even if it is not, however, he will always be considered among the elite high school prospects.
Tight End: Aaron Hernandez
Tebow also had the services of Aaron Hernandez when he was under center. A freakish talent in many ways, Hernandez was already on the national radar by the time he left high school.
The stats from his senior season tell the story. After recording 1,346 receiving yards and catching 16 touchdowns, Iowa, Michigan and Notre Dame all wanted the star tight end prospect. Instead, the Rivals top 100 prospect chose to play for offensive coordinator Dan Mullen in Gainesville.
Mike Farrell of Rivals knew the Gators were getting a winner. He said that Hernandez had "excellent hands and goes up and gets the ball at its highest point." He also added, "His ball skills are unique and his speed is deceptive."
These words proved true as Hernandez emerged as a top receiver for Tebow and a complete mismatch for opposing defenses. He finished his time in Gainesville with nearly 1,400 receiving yards and a John Mackey Award to his credit.
After that, he went on to form one of the best tight end duos in football with Rob Gronkowski under Bill Belichick in New England. He remains one of the most unique pass catchers in the game.
In his journey from high school to the NFL, Hernandez has turned a lot of heads. He will likely do the same moving forward.
Offensive Lineman: Lomas Brown
Lomas Brown may have left high school before recruiting became a mainstay of college football coverage. However, the Gators knew they would be getting a great offensive tackle when he decided to take his talents to Gainesville.
A standout at Miami Springs, Brown was recently selected as one of the Florida High School Athletic Association's "100 Greatest Players of the First 100 Years" of Florida high school football.
Brown would go on to become a first-team All-SEC selection as a member of the "Great Wall of Florida," the affectionate name for the Gators' standout offensive line in 1984.
Once drafted, he became an NFL mainstay. Brown made seven Pro Bowls during his 18-year NFL career. He was also named to the All-Pro team in 1995.
Offensive tackles often go unnoticed, but they play an integral role on every roster. Even in an age before there was intense interest in recruiting, Brown managed to stand out. He went on to prove throughout his career that all the hype he received was legitimate.
Defensive Lineman: Gary Brown
One of the most hyped Gator recruits of all time is arguably the biggest bust in team history.
A Scout.com 5-star recruit, Gary Brown was one of the top prospects in the 2009 class. According to Scott Kennedy, one of the experts at Scout, Brown was the "total package at defensive tackle" and the tackle "with the highest ceiling."
Unfortunately, Gator fans never got to see that ceiling.
After redshirting his first season on campus, Brown was dismissed from the team in 2010. After he was accused of striking two women at a party, Brown was quickly sent home by Urban Meyer and became a part of past Gator history.
Poor judgement and a terrible work ethic might have derailed Brown's collegiate career, but he seemingly had the talent to develop into a star on the Gator defensive line. Instead, he will go down as one of the worst recruiting mistakes in the history of Florida's football program.
Linebacker: Brandon Spikes
It is hard to comprehend the talent level of Florida's 2006 recruiting class. If Tebow and Harvin were the lightning on offense, then Brandon Spikes brought the thunderous hits on defense.
Listed as a 5-star prospect by both Rivals and Scout, Spikes also had offers from Alabama, South Carolina and Virginia Tech among others. At 6'4" and 235 pounds, Spikes was coveted for his size and strength.
His high school coach, Roy Kirby, had nothing but positive remarks for the linebacker. He told Scout.com, "He's got the nose for the ball. He just knows where things are going." He also added that Spikes is a "big-time hitter."
Good call, coach.
Spikes played a key role on Urban Meyer's second championship team at Florida. In many ways, his intelligence and football instincts made him the cornerstone of the Gator defense. He ended his career at Florida with 307 total tackles and four defensive touchdowns.
Through three seasons with the New England Patriots, Spikes has made 127 total tackles. Although not a star, he has been a serviceable player who still has room to grow.
On the list of former Gator linebackers, Spikes certainly stands out as a star.
Defensive Back: Vernon Hargreaves III
Rounding out the list is Florida's most recent recruiting centerpiece, cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III.
Widely regarded as a "can't miss" 2013 recruit, Hargreaves is ranked as the fourth-best recruit in the entire country by 247Sports. ESPN and Rivals.com have him even higher at the third and runner-up spot, respectively.
Hargreaves chose Florida over a variety of other top-notch programs, including Alabama, Gerorgia, Notre Dame and USC.
According to experts, Hargreaves merits all of the praise he has gotten before even stepping on a Florida practice field. Woody Wommack of Rivals.com said he was "clearly the best DB" at the Under Armour All-America Game. Daniel Lewis of CBSSports concurs, saying that Hargreaves "has great speed and athleticism" and is "an excellent pickup for Muschamp and the Gators."
Muschamp and his staff are certainly hoping that Hargreaves is the future star that many others see down the road. He has the potential to surpass the likes of recent star Gator defenders like Joe Haden and Reggie Nelson, and most think he can do so as a freshman.
Obviously, it remains to be seen what impact Hargreaves will have on the Gator program in the coming years. Even if he lives up to only a fraction of the hype, however, he will certainly be fun to watch in the Florida secondary.