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Florida makes a late dash, splash to vault into signing day prominence

 
TAMPA - Jesuit running back Malik Davis takes a quick selfie moments after signing his national letter of intent to the University of Florida Wednesday morning at Jesuit. Taken 2-1-17 by Scott Purks
TAMPA - Jesuit running back Malik Davis takes a quick selfie moments after signing his national letter of intent to the University of Florida Wednesday morning at Jesuit. Taken 2-1-17 by Scott Purks
Published Feb. 2, 2017

TAMPA — From the state capital to the Swamp to the Selmon Center, the national signing day objectives and outcomes varied.

For Charlie Strong, the day was about salvaging.

For Jimbo Fisher, it was about solidifying.

And for Jim McElwain, it was about stunning. Perhaps even stupefying.

A solid Gators class got a bit more prosperous — or dubious, depending on one's perspective — in the 11th hour Wednesday when the school accepted a letter of intent from Lakeland High receiver James Robinson, cited for marijuana possession on his official visit to Ohio State.

It had been widely reported that Florida would not allow Robinson to sign, and Robinson himself had tweeted two days before he wouldn't be signing Wednesday.

Toss in UF's signing of Clearwater running back Adarius Lemons, reassigned to Pinellas Secondary during football season for a marijuana-related infraction, and McElwain had to do as much explaining as extolling Wednesday.

"Obviously, as in all players, the important thing is you do your research and your background," he said. "My guess is there's a few people in this crowd right here that have some regrets on things they've done, and yet at the same time take responsibility for it."

Thanks in part to that late surge, McElwain, whose recruiting chops had come under scrutiny from the UF demographic, finished with the nation's No. 10 class according to 247Sports. Four spots ahead stood FSU, which got a late boost when five-star Houston defensive tackle Marvin Wilson chose the Seminoles over Ohio State and LSU.

Miami's 24-player group, featuring 11 south Florida players as well as Jefferson High quarterback Cade Weldon, was ranked in the top 15 by three of the four major recruiting services.

"We really hit, across the board, all the position needs we have," Hurricanes coach Mark Richt said.

Then there was Strong, who managed one of the nation's top salvaging jobs by landing an 18-player class rife with three-star prospects only seven weeks after being hired to replace Willie Taggart. Strong's group featured a trio of three-star recruits from Class 6A state champ Miami Carol City.

"I have to congratulate our coaches for the job they did in the short period of time that they had," Strong said. "The work they did, just relentless."

Speaking of relentless, there was Alabama's ongoing assault on the nation's recruiting landscape.

Twenty-three days after its waning-moment loss to Clemson in the College Football Playoff title game at Raymond James Stadium, Nick Saban notched another national title of sorts.

All four major recruiting services ranked 'Bama No. 1. Twenty-one of Saban's 29 signees were ranked in the ESPN 300, the most in one class since ESPN started keeping the rankings in 2006.

"It just speaks to the process that (Saban's staff) has put in place there and the machine that is really unstoppable," said Barton Simmons, director of scouting for 247Sports.

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Clemson's ranking fluctuated from No. 10 (ESPN) to 26th (Scout.com) as the national champs signed 14 players. Then again, the Tigers' 2014 class — featuring two-time Heisman finalist Deshaun Watson and all-time leading receiver Artavis Scott — couldn't merit a top-10 ranking from at least two services.

Stupefying.

Contact Joey Knight at jknight@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.