GAINESVILLE — Thirty-eight days after announcing he would be taking an indefinite leave of absence as Florida coach, Urban Meyer walked into the room Wednesday afternoon and readily admitted he was downright giddy about concluding national signing day with the consensus No. 1 recruiting class in the nation.
Even with all the uncertainty surrounding the program — from Meyer's health and coaching future to four new assistant coaches — the Gators thrived, signing 28 players. According to Scout.com, 11 of Florida's signees are ranked in the top 10 nationally at their position. The class also includes 17 of the ESPNU Top 150 players and four Parade All-Americans.
Scout.com and ESPNU ranked the class No. 1 while Rivals.com ranked it No. 2, behind USC.
In the end, even Meyer was surprised by what he pulled off.
"I've gotten myself in trouble before by anointing players before they are deserving of it," he said. "But as far as the defensive front, I don't know if I've ever seen one like this. … In certain areas, I'd have to say it's the best we've ever done."
NATIONAL PRESENCE: When Meyer arrived in 2005, he said his goal was to primarily recruit regionally. But a strange thing happened over the past five years: Florida has been so successful, it can't help but get recruits from across the country. This year's class has players from seven states other than Florida.
"My first year in 2005 we went and tried to recruit (nationally), and we didn't have that brand," Meyer said. "I think with the evolution of the media coverage and the performance of our players, Florida has become a national brand right now. We'll go cherry pick a few for a certain reason."
BIGGEST NAME: DE Ronald Powell. His presence is significant in many ways, most notably where he's from. Meyer lured Powell from his home that's 90 miles from Southern Cal, then held onto him after Lane Kiffin was hired at USC. Also, Powell is considered the No. 1 player in the nation by several recruiting sites.
BIGGEST COUP: Tampa Catholic OL Chaz Green. Meyer said the Gators began recruiting Green during his junior year but admits Florida started to fall off the radar with Green during the recruiting process. But assistant coach Dan McCarney refused to give up. And neither would Meyer. "There was about a month when Chaz didn't pick up my phone calls," Meyer said. "Then, bang, all of a sudden he started answering my phone calls. … When he told us he was coming, that was a great day for us because we worked awful hard on that one."
CLASS SURPRISES: Connecticut QB Tyler Murphy, Atlanta LB Michael Taylor and Homestead LB Darrin Kitchens. With current backup QB Jordan Reed preparing to move to tight end, the Gators needed a backup for John Brantley and early enrollee Trey Burton. They began recruiting Murphy late, and it helped that offensive line coach Steve Addazio was once a classmate of Murphy's father. "He's a freakish athlete with the ball in his hands," Meyer said. As for Taylor, Meyer said, "We were on his radar. He was not on ours. That was our error not to be in the middle of that one." Taylor was MVP for his team in the Under Armour High School All-Star Game at Tropicana Field last month. Kitchens runs a sub-11 100 meters and is a special teams player. "He came up on a visit and kind of stole our heart," Meyer said.