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Florida Gators look beyond state lines to snag football recruits

GAINESVILLE — In a perfect world, Florida coach Will Muschamp and his staff would spend the majority of their time roaming the state in search of the top-level high school football players that have made Florida a recruiting hotbed for decades.

But when you're coming off a 7-6 season and your roster has around 60 players, you go wherever necessary. Follow the talent to fill the holes. Such is the case for the Gators this season.

While Muschamp has landed his share of instate recruits, half of Florida's 2012 class is from outside the state. And recruiting analysts say this year that's good news for the Gators.

"The two states that have been the most kind to the Gators are North Carolina and Georgia," said Chris Nee, Rivals.com's state of Florida analyst. "It shows that Florida, a perennial power, still is attractive enough to out-of-state prospects despite mediocre results last season. It is also a credit to the relationships that Will Muschamp and his staff have with many areas outside of the home state for the Gators. Florida has always been able to recruit on a national level, and that isn't likely to change under Muschamp and company."

With word from defensive end Alex McCalister on Monday, the Gators have nonbinding oral commitments from four of the top 13 high school prospects in North Carolina.

"You go where the recruits are, and many teams took advantage of players in North Carolina this season," said Jamie Newberg, southeast recruiting analyst for ESPN.com. "You have to have the ability to go to someone else's back yard and pull kids, and that's what UF did in North Carolina. There's no question that this staff can recruit. They proved it with this class, and that was coming off a poor season by Gator standards. But they have to close well at wide receiver, which is crucial. It's all about filling needs."

And Florida's needs were great. The Gators lacked depth on the offensive line, the defensive front seven, running back and receiver.

Florida has oral commitments from just two offensive linemen and six on the defensive line. Junior college signee Damien Jacobs, who is already enrolled, is expected to be able to help immediately at defensive tackle, and analysts say defensive ends Jonathan Bullard and Dante Phillips are both physically gifted enough to contribute from Day 1.

The Gators have landed just one solid running back recruit, which remains a concern.

"Running back, specifically one of the bigger variety, was a must with this class," Newberg said. "(Armwood's) Matt Jones is coming and will be something they don't have on campus. I would have liked to have seen UF land another at this position because the depth is just not there."

With Wednesday's national signing day approaching, the Gators need to close strong; they still are in need of offensive linemen and receivers. They remain in the hunt for star receivers Nelson Agholor (Berkeley Prep) and Stefon Diggs (Good Counsel of Olney, Md.), but both are expected to be down-to-the-wire decisions.

And even though UF wasn't necessarily looking for another quarterback, St. Joseph's Prep's (Philadelphia) Skyler Mornhinweg, son of Eagles offensive coordinator and former Lions head coach Marty Mornhing­weg, switched his oral commitment from Penn State to Florida, ESPN.com reported.

When signing day is all over, Florida players won't dominate the roster, but talent will, analysts say.

"It is essential at times to address needs by heading out of state to land prospects to fill specific needs," Nee said. "Sometimes the home state may lack necessary targets at those particular positions."

Antonya English can be reached at english@tampabay.com.

Florida Gators look beyond state lines to snag football recruits 01/27/12 [Last modified: Friday, January 27, 2012 10:10pm]
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