Posted: 9:26 pm Saturday, December 26th, 2009

Florida’s recruiting rivals ready to feed on Urban Meyer’s resignation 

By Jason Lieser

Get ready for a frenzy.

Within 30 min. of news breaking that Florida coach Urban Meyer is resigning after the Sugar Bowl, Dwyer senior Gerald Christian heard from Florida State, Miami and Georgia. Oddly, he did not hear from Florida during that timeframe.

It’s a safe bet they’ve called by now.

Christian, who played linebacker for Dwyer but projects as a collegiate tight end, committed to the Gators prior to the season. He is an all-American and one of the nation’s top prospects. He hardly considered any option other than Florida, but now schools are seizing what could be an opportunity to steal some of the Gators’ best commits.

“It was shocking,” Christian (6-3, 230, No. 4 on The Big Board) said. “They’re telling me I still have my options open and they’d me like to come to their school.

“It’s made me reconsider what I’m going to do. I think they’re going to lose a lot of (commits).”

Click here for the news story that will appear in Sunday’s paper.

Dwyer CB/WR Robert Clark and LB Matt Elam are also contemplating their commitments to Florida and reassessing their options, Panthers coach Jack Daniels said. All three players committed to Florida, graduated early and planned to begin school in Gainesville early next month.

Another issue for Florida is Pahokee WR Chris Dunkley (6-0, 177, No. 3 on The Big Board). He has long been seen as Gator and said throughout this season he favored Florida, but the coaching changes could sway him to Alabama. In addition to Meyer leaving, Florida also lost assistants Billy Gonzales and Charlie Strong.

“I know that when Gonzales left it had an affect on Dunk, but I don’t think it changed his mind,” Blue Devils coach Blaze Thompson said. “This might.”

Gonzales has been instrumental in Florida’s Palm Beach County recruiting, especially in Dunkley’s case.

A coach from one SEC power texted Daniels on Saturday to let him know the door was open for Christian, Elam and Clark.

An assistant coach from a different SEC school, who requested anonymity because the NCAA prohibits coaches from discussing certain aspects of recruiting, said he expects Florida’s competitors to treat this like, “sharks with blood in the water — will be all over it.”

However, he thinks Florida will retain most of its prized recruits.

“Florida is one of those jobs that kids go to regardless of the coach because it’s a great program,” the coach said. “They’ll hire a big-name coach and those committed guys will want to go play for the new guy, too.”

Palm Beach Central OL Shane McDermott, a Miami commit, thinks this will be a big opportunity for Hurricanes (and FSU) to pry top talent away from the Gators.

“It’s huge for us,” McDermott said. “There’s going to be a bunch of de-commits & hopefully a lot of them are coming to Miami.”

Potential signees that are not graduating early have until at least Feb. 3, national signing day, to change their minds, but those who plan to enroll in time for spring practices have a short span in which to rethink one of the biggest decisions of their lives.

“It’s horrible for those guys,” said Daniels, a former Florida defensive back. “I feel really bad for those kids and I feel bad for Coach Meyer, too.”

Christian added: “All the kids graduating early, we really don’t have a lot of time. I’m supposed to start school Jan. 10 at UF, and I don’t really know what I’m going to do.”

Elam (6-0, 210, 4.45 in the 40-yard dash, No. 1 on The Big Board) is the Gators’ biggest concern. He named the Gatorade Player of the Year for the state this season and was expected to play safety for Florida.

He committed to the Gators last fall, due in part to his history with Meyer. Meyer coached Elam’s older brother, Abram, at Notre Dame and talked Matt Elam down from de-committing at least once this season. Elam gave strong consideration to Florida State and West Virginia over the past few months.

Clark (5-9, 160, 4.39, No. 14 on The Big Board) committed to West Virginia prior to the season, but Meyer personally wooed him away from the Mountaineers in recent weeks. Clark said he ate dinner at Meyer’s home in Gainesville during a visit, then Meyer came to Dwyer to solidify his commitment to Florida last week.

Clark and Elam did not return messages, but Daniels said both players are contemplating their commitments.

“Matt’s a guy I thought would flip off the deep end because of his relationship with Coach Meyer, but he was calm,” Daniels said. “He said he didn’t know what he would do.

“(Clark) just committed there and he doesn’t know what to do, either.”

Prior to Meyer’s move, Florida already had lost Gonzales and Strong, both of whom had a hand in recruiting players from this area. The upheaval in the coaching staff could change the Gators’ entire offensive and defensive systems.

“Everybody’s gone now,” Christian said. “It could look totally different.”

Gonzales did most of the Gators’ recruiting in this area, but Meyer made several trips as well. He visited Palm Beach Central linebacker Jon Bostic and Pahokee wide receiver Nu’Keese Richardson last season. This year he made two stops at Dwyer, at least one to see Dunkley and stood on Treasure Coast’s sideline to watch linebacker Jeff Luc, who later committed to FSU.

“I think it’s going to have a huge affect on the recruiting class until they name another head coach and players can see what type of offense they’ll run,” Thompson said. “They lost their defensive coordinator, too, so it’s a little bit bigger than just the head coach. I’m sure kids were second guessing things before.”

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