The Sunshine Showdown
The Big 3 battle for Willie Williams
The Big 3 battle for Willie Williams
National Recruiting Analyst
Posted Jan 30, 2004

Who will win the recruiting battles between the Big Three in Florida? Right now it's close with less than a week away from National Signing Day.

When it comes to recruiting, count on Florida State and Miami to be at or near the top of the rankings each and every year. But Ron Zook's arrival in Gainesville challenged the tradition Sunshine State power structure. Last season, the Gators brought in a better class than the 'Noles and 'Canes. Who will get the nod this year?

Right now, Miami and FSU are neck-and-neck with Florida trailing ever so slightly. With just a few days to go and all three programs waiting on a bunch of recruits, it's up in the air as to who will have the highest-rated class.

FSU has the most momentum as things stand right now. In typical Florida State fashion, prospects started committing, and committing often, over the last week for Bobby Bowden. On Sunday, they picked up the nation's No. 2-rated quarterback prospect in Xavier Lee (Daytona Beach, Fla.). So now the Seminoles have two big-time quarterbacks headed to Tallahassee with the other being Drew Weatherford (Land O'Lakes).

Perhaps the biggest surprise of the weekend was the commitment of Kenny O'Neal (Oakland, Calif.), perhaps the fastest wide receiver in the nation. O'Neal moved to Oakland from Savannah, Ga., and it was expected that would sign with the Dawgs. Instead, he committed to FSU.

Things didn't stop there for Florida State. They picked up two huge commitments on Wednesday night from safety Kenny Ingram and defensive tackle Aaron Jones. The 'Noles edged out the 'Canes in a bitter recruiting battle for these teammates from Orlando (Fla.) Edgewater High School. Running back Jamaal Edwards (Greensboro, N.C.), offensive tackle Courtney Abbott (Atlanta.), wide receiver Carl Grimes (Detroit), cornerback Trevor Ford (Miami, Fla.) and safety Jonathan Warren (Madison, Fla.) are just some of the other big-time recruits headed to the state capital.

The Hurricanes have an advantage over every team in the country because of their location. All they have to do is recruit their backyard of Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties, and hit their pockets throughout the country and they're set. Locally, Larry Coker hit the jackpot with running back recruits Charlie Jones (Miami) and Bobby Washington (Miami). Other local recruits staying home for the 'Canes are safety Anthony Reddick (Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.), offensive tackle Chris Rutledge (Miami) and defensive tackle Antonio Dixon (Miami).

Miami went to Texas to land quarterback Kirby Freeman (Brownwood), Louisiana to get running back Derron Thomas (Reserve), Colorado to nab defensive end Calais Campbell (Denver) and New Jersey to get defensive lineman Dwayne Hendicks (Millville). The point is this, once again Miami has done well in-state, especially locally, and gone out of state to land All-American type recruits.

The Gators, like their two in-state counterparts, get their share of the Florida kids. Zook and Co. are bringing in one of the top OL classes in the country with Drew Miller (Sarasota, Fla.), Jason Watkins (Lakeland, Fla.), Jim Tartt (Crawfordville, Fla.) and Phil Trautwein (Voorhees, N.J.). They scored big in the secondary with safeties Kyle Jackson (Neptune Beach, Fla.) and Tony Joiner (Haines City, Fla.) and cornerbacks Dawayne Grace (Jacksonville, Fla.) and McIntosh Nicolas (Immokalee, Fla.).

Brandon Siler (Orlando), one of the many elite linebackers from Florida, decided on the Gators, as did Mike Mangold (Merritt Island, Fla.), a super defensive end prospect. Florida went to Alabama to get that state's top running back prospect in Markus Manson (Tuscaloosa).

Is there one team that's more dominant when it comes to recruiting than the others?


The bottom line is this: FSU, Miami and Florida will go head-to-head-to-head on a ton of prospects. At the end of the day, all three schools will win some and lose some. Here are some examples from the past few weeks.

Lance Leggett, a dynamite wide receiver prospect from Arlington, Texas, (originally from Bartow, Fla.) committed to the Gators over the Christmas break but has since de-committed from UF and is now headed to Miami. Dawayne Grace grew up a huge Miami fan but picked the Gators over the 'Canes. Teammates Aaron Jones and Kenny Ingram picked the 'Noles over the 'Canes. Defensive tackle Joe Joseph (Orlando) committed to Miami over Florida. Drew Miller decided on the Gators instead of the Seminoles or Hurricanes.

Many of the prospects, especially the in-state ones, were bitter battles between two of the three or in some situations three of the three schools.

So what happens between now and Signing Day? There are several big fish out there for all three schools. Linebacker Willie Williams (Miami) will announce on Signing Day. Miami and Florida State are neck and neck for his signature but Williams will visit Gainesville this weekend. Brandon Miller (Colquitt, Ga.), perhaps the best big athlete in the country, will visit Georgia this weekend and decide from among the Dawgs, Yellow Jackets and Seminoles.

The 'Canes are awaiting the decisions of other big-time prospects, such as linebackers Brian Toal (Ramsey, N.J.), James Bryant (Reading, Pa.) and defensive end Rhyan Anderson (Oak Creek, Wis.). FSU would love to land Tallahassee standouts in offensive guard Calvin Darity, linebacker Rodney Gallon and cornerback Joe Manning. The Gators are hot after quarterback Cornelius Ingram (Hawthorne, Fla.), wide receiver Derrick McPhearson (Hyattsville, Md.), linebackers Javier Estopinan (Miami) and Robert Ayers (Bennettsville, S.C.), defensive end Derrick Harvey (Greenbelt, Md.) and many others.

Who will go where? It's still hard to say. But if we have learned one thing about recruiting in the state of Florida is that the Big Three will battle hard, mostly against each other. They will each win some and lose some along the way. And in the end don't be surprised if all three end up in national top 10 team recruiting rankings on Wednesday night.

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