ST. PETERSBURG — Recruiting wars are rarely won on the football field, instead decided over cell phones, on college campuses and in living rooms. But the University of Florida could easily see victory in the events that transpired during Saturday's Under Armour All-America Game at Tropicana Field.
Already-sealed UF recruits dominated a game featuring some of the nation's top recruits, being played at the Trop for the first time in its three-year history, and the Gators picked up a pair of surprise commitments, boosting a recruiting class ranked No. 1 by ESPNU.
In the end, the game showed that the future of the UF program — particularly its defense — is in good hands even after head coach Urban Meyer's sudden indefinite leave of absence.
"It was a great day to be a Gator," said Fort Lauderdale Boyd Anderson cornerback Demar Dorsey, one of nine future UF players in the game. "If you weren't a Gator today, you were gator bait. We had interceptions, a couple forced fumbles, some touchdowns. We did a little bit of everything."
As for the game, Team Nitro beat Team Blur 32-7 in front of 21,122. Gator recruits accounted for four interceptions, two forced fumbles, two touchdowns and countless gator chomps in this showcase event.
UF commit Jonathan Dowling (Bradenton Southeast) made the game's biggest play with a 56-yard interception return for a touchdown in the first minute, giving Team Nitro an early lead. Gators recruit Solomon Patton of Murphy High (Mobile, Ala.) caught the game's first offensive touchdown later in the first quarter to give Team Nitro a 12-0 lead.
UF's biggest wins came between plays. Two of the game's top players, Pahokee four-star wide receiver Chris Dunkley and Staten Island, N.Y., four-star defensive end Dominique Easley, pulled off surprises by committing to Florida, announcing their decisions on ESPN in a hyped pick-a-hat format to give the Gators 21 commitments, including 12 in the ESPNU 150.
"They both surprised me," said UF commit and top recruit Mack Brown, a running back from Lithonia, Ga. "I thought Dunkley was going to Florida State and Easley kept talking about Oregon all week.
"I kept telling them Florida was the place to be."
Easley was Team Nitro's MVP, with four tackles — three for a loss — a sack, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery while Dowling (two interceptions) and Dorsey (one interception) anchored a Team Nitro's pass defense.
"Playing in the new Florida secondary, that's going to be good," Dowling said of playing with Dorsey.
UF's sudden coaching uncertainty, which ultimately places the program's reins in the hands of assistant Steve Addazio, didn't stop players like Easley from having faith in the program.
"I always knew no matter what, whether it was Coach Addazio or Coach Meyer, they're really close and they coach the same, so if (Meyer) leaves the Gators aren't going to change," said Easley, who was committed to Penn State until late last week. "It's going to be a great program no matter what. What really made my choice this week was playing with a great group of guys."
Easley said he became close with UF recruits Dorsey and Gulf tight end/defensive end Leon Orr, who couldn't play in the game because of injury but participated in nonfootball events.
The commitments didn't surprise Dowling.
"You could tell the guys who were going to come to Florida because they've been trying to get closer to us all week," he said. "They were asking us about what Urban Meyer was like and stuff. All that stuff, it made me think at first, but you have to realize what he built that program around — family, family, family. The best thing for him and his family right now is taking a leave of absence, then I support my coach 100 percent."
Dunkley, proudly wearing a UF baseball cap after the game, agreed.
"I look at Coach Meyer and all the other coaches as father figures," said Dunkley, the No. 12 prospect and No. 2-ranked receiver in the nation. "I saw it as a home away from home. I thought about it a little bit, but you take care of family."