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Can UF plan for new trophy?

The last recruiting class so highly touted _ 1992's _ brought a national title to Gainesville.

A strong finish gave Florida what many experts are calling the nation's best recruiting class. Still, the biggest news was some of the oldest.

Brock Berlin is official.

A consensus All-America quarterback and the Gatorade National Player of the Year, Berlin was the headliner among 30 players who signed binding letters of intent with Florida on Wednesday.

"I think that Brock Berlin committing in October was a key part of our recruiting class," coach Steve Spurrier said. "Certainly, high school players want to play with other really good players."

Berlin threw for 4,219 yards and 36 touchdowns as a senior at Evangel Christian in Shreveport, La. He was 45-0 as a starter and led his team to three state titles.

Several recruiting services rated Florida's class No. 1, including SuperPrep, Prep Football Report and the National Recruiting Advisor.

"It could potentially be the best group we've signed," Spurrier said. "I say potentially, because we've got to see how all these players finish up. We did get most all the guys we went after this year."

The Gators were well on their way even before the fax machine spit out a few pleasant surprises. Of four blue-chip players making last-minute decisions, all chose Florida: offensive linemen Jonathan Colon of Miami and Max Starks of Orlando, defensive back Tre Orr of Lake City and receiver Kelvin Kight of Lithonia, Ga.

"We thought if we got one of the last four that we would have had a successful recruiting class," Spurrier said. "Lo and behold, all four signed with us."

The class includes five Parade All-Americans: Berlin, running back Willie Green of Kissimmee, linebacker Travis Harris of Decatur, Ga., defensive lineman Darrell Lee of Kirkwood, Mo., and offensive lineman Shannon Snell of Tampa.

Florida signed 20 of 24 players who made official campus visits in January.

"To see how many guys we ended up getting was just amazing," said Berlin, who is enrolled in classes and could challenge incumbent Jesse Palmer for the starting job during spring drills. "It was hard to believe at first. This ended up being a great class. I can't wait to play with these guys."

The class might be too good.

Florida signed five more than the annual scholarship limit. Berlin and junior college transfer Kennard Ellis officially are part of the 1999 class because they are enrolled in school, and linebacker Thomas Pittman is a professional baseball player who will walk on at UF.

Still, the Gators are two over the limit.

"It will all take care of itself at some point," said UF recruiting coordinator Jim Collins, who mentioned academics as a possible reason not all of UF's signees would be in class for the start of the fall semester. "You never know what's going to happen."

Already, the 2000 class is being compared to Florida's 1992 class, which included quarterback Danny Wuerffel, offensive lineman Jason Odom and defensive back Lawrence Wright.

"If this class can live up to what that class did, it would be outstanding since that class won four SEC titles, played for two national championships and won one, and graduated 80 percent," Collins said. "This group has that kind of potential."

The 2000 class was unaffected by the weekend arrest of Jason Respert, an offensive line prospect from Warner Robbins, Ga.Defensive lineman Kenny Parker, Respert's teammate at Northside High, signed with the Gators.

"Kenny comes from a good, strong family," Spurrier said. "They were able to isolate the incident and see that it didn't involve them and didn't involve the University of Florida."

Florida lost its final three games to finish 9-4, the worst record in Spurrier's 10 seasons at UF. The tailspin, he said, may have helped recruiting: "Maybe some of these players said, "I want to go play for these guys because they need help.' "

Help is on the way.

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