GAINESVILLE — The combination of an 11-2 football season and an aggressive recruiting effort has resulted in several late commitment changes that are helping Florida close out a top-three class with two weeks remaining until national signing day.
Three highly ranked players have switched to the Gators over the past month, bolstering an already top-five recruiting class and filling critical needs, most notably at wide receiver and linebacker. But it's the late switches that are generating one of the biggest storylines for the Gators right now.
"The flips went Florida's way this time," said Keith Niebuhr, national recruiting analyst for 247Sports.com. "Sometimes, they don't, and this time they did. Matt Rolin flipped, Alex Anzalone, DeMarcus Robinson flipped. And those guys are really centerpieces of this class."
Rolin, a consensus four-star linebacker, was committed to South Carolina but in early December flipped to the Gators, stunning the Gamecocks. He later Tweeted: "Going back on my word is something I never imagined myself doing, and it hurts me to do it, but in the end I have to do what's best for me."
Robinson, a 6-foot-1 wide receiver, flipped from Clemson at the last minute. Anzalone, a 6-3 five-star linebacker, was preparing to enroll at Notre Dame before the Fighting Irish lost in the BCS title game and coach Brian Kelly interviewed for an NFL head coaching job. So one day before the deadline to enroll at UF for the spring semester, Anzalone flipped.
All three have enrolled at UF. Rolin and Anzalone, along with UF commitments Daniel McMcMillan, James Hearns and Quinton Powell, are expected to comprise what recruiting analysts are calling one of the best classes of linebackers in the nation.
"It's just aggressive recruiting," Niebuhr said. "Florida has kids, even when they are committed to other schools, they didn't give up. … D.J. Durkin recruited Rolin, and he is once again making his mark as an elite recruiter at the college level."
For Florida coach Will Muschamp, who struggled on the recruiting trail his first season because he didn't officially take over until January 2011, two years has made a big difference.
"Recruiting is all about relationships you develop with people," Muschamp said. "Going back to my first year here, how difficult it was to get in the door with some guys, because recruiting now is so early. You're talking about seeing sophomores and you're developing those relationships with the people that are going to make the decision, and you're coming in here in a two-month period to try and talk to a kid about coming to a great place, but they don't know you. It is about the relationships you develop with people. To me that is the most important thing."
The Gators have a total of 27 oral commitments and early enrollees (eight) and are currently ranked No. 1 with Rivals and ESPN. Florida's composite score of all the services, as compiled by 247Sports.com, is No. 3.
The Gators remain in the battle for the consensus No. 1 player, Loganville, Ga., defensive end Robert Nkemdiche, who visited Gainesville this past weekend. The 6-4, 282-pound Nkemdiche is a former Clemson commitment who reopened his recruitment in November. Florida, LSU and Ole Miss are now considered his finalists.
Antonya English can be reached at [email protected]