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All signs point to Spurrier

Florida, coming off a 9-4 season, is regarded as the signing-day champion.

One month after Florida concluded the most disappointing season of coach Steve Spurrier's 10-year tenure, the Gators were celebrating what is almost unanimously considered the top recruiting class in the nation.

Shaking off the remnants of the first season since 1992 in which it didn't win at least 10 games, Florida closed with a vengeance on signing day, getting several down-to-the-wire signees and earning the gushing praise of the recruiting services.

"They started great and they closed with a great flurry," recruiting analyst Tom Lemming said. "It was very impressive. They're by far and away the top recruiting class in the country."

How good was Florida's finishing kick? The Gators won the battle for the final eight players they were after and ended up with an enormous 30 signees, headlined by All-American quarterback Brock Berlin of Shreveport (La.) Evangel Christian.

"They addressed their needs just about everywhere," Lemming said.

Texas, which had the consensus No. 1 class last year, Tennessee, Penn State and Alabama also had highly rated recruiting classes.

Florida State, as usual, did very well. The Seminoles accrued a typically star-studded class courtesy of some last-ditch All-American signings. However, the player FSU fans were hoping for, All-American linebacker D.J. Williams of Concord (Calif.) De La Salle, made no announcement and remains unsigned.

The Seminoles relatively low number of signees _ 23 _ largely was the reason their class was rated below the Gators'. The quality of FSU's class is considered about equal to Florida's, and it's rated as high as No. 3 by some services.

Florida State won late blue-chip battles for in-state super-recruits Bryant McFadden, a cornerback from Hollywood McArthur, and Eric Moore, a linebacker from Pahokee. Both spurned Tennessee for Florida State.

The Volunteers, however, scored big on many other fronts. Analyst Max Emfinger rated Tennessee's class No. 1, and the Volunteers beat FSU for All-American safety O.J. Owens of New London (N.C.) North Stanley.

Florida State's top signee might be All-American defensive end Travis Johnson of Sherman Oaks, Calif., who chose the Seminoles over Michigan.

"I moved them up to No. 3, ahead of Alabama, because of Travis Johnson," Lemming said.

The story of the day on all the recruiting Web sites, however, was Florida's fabulous finish. The Gators pulled a surprise on Miami by getting offensive lineman Jonathan Colon of Miami Central. Florida beat out Florida State for offensive lineman Max Starks of Orlando Lake Highland Prep, and the Gators edged Georgia for highly regarded Lake City Columbia safety Tre Orr, the No. 7-rated prospect in the state by the Times.

The two biggest Gator coups might have been wide receiver Kelvin Kight of Lithonia, Ga., who chose Florida even though he didn't make an official visit, and defensive lineman Thomas Pittman, a minor-league baseball player with the Montreal Expos who signed with Florida even though few knew he was thinking about playing football. He originally signed with Auburn in 1997.

As protection for Berlin, the USA Today offensive Player of the Year, the Gators signed a horde of offensive lineman. Dubbed "The Berlin Wall," all six offensive line signees are rated among the top 57 offensive line prospects in the country by analyst Bobby Burton.

Carl Walker, a safety from Jacksonville Jackson, was the top signing day news for Miami. He chose the Hurricanes over Missouri.

However, Miami lost out on Colon, and the 'Canes are drifting in the same boat as FSU with regard to Williams. The Miami Herald had reported that a source close to the nation's No. 1 recruit said Williams was 99 percent certain to sign with Miami. As of Wednesday evening, however, Williams was unsigned.

UM's class was rated between No. 9 and 20 by most recruiting analysts, though the addition of Williams would change things.

(Final edited version not provided electronically, please see microfilm.)

Recruiting wars

Blue Chips

The top players recruited by Florida, Florida State and Miami. These recruits are either members of the Times Blue Chip list or were given a maximum grade by one or more national recruiting services.

Florida

Brock Berlin, QB, Shreveport (La.) Evangel Academy

Darrell Lee, LB/DE, Kirkwood, Mo.

Shannon Snell, OL, Hillsborough

Tre Orr, S, Lake City Columbia

Cory Bailey, CB, Hialeah American

Carlos Perez, WR/DB, Hoboken, N.J.

Florida State

Travis Johnson, DE, Sherman Oaks (Calif.) Notre Dame

Bryant McFadden, CB, Hollywood McArthur

Yohance Buchanan, S, Atlanta (Ga.) Douglass

Chad Mascoe, LB/TE, Kissimmee Osceola

Eric Moore, LB, Pahokee

Greg Jones, RB, Beaufort (S.C.) Battery Creek

Chris Rix, QB, Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif.

Miami

Willis McGahee, RB, Miami Central

Carl Walker, DB, Jacksonville Jackson

Vince Wilfork, DT, Lantana Santaluces

Willie Dixon, WR, Stockton, Calif.

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