Newberg's Mailbag - No. 2

Calvin Ridley

It's the most competitive I have ever seen recruiting in the state of Florida and I will tell you why. Plus, there's Q and As regarding Deon Cain, the offensive transition in Gainesville, a quartet of running back commitments and more regarding this mailbag from the Sunshine State.

I grew up outside of Ocala and followed the Gators. I went to school at USF but this was before they played football. So I cheer for the Gators and Bulls and love recruiting. I now live in South Florida and understand the talent this state produces. What I don't understand is why so many kids are leaving Florida? Do you see the same thing I am seeing?
Bill – Fort Pierce, Fla.

Great question Bill and there are several ways to go at this.

First, I believe that we are seeing the most competitive recruiting environment for the "Florida prospect" that I can recall and I have covered this state since 1992. Let me explain.

There's the big three of Florida State, Florida and Miami. Obviously, they wield the most recruiting power in the Sunshine State. It goes in cycles with who runs as the top dog between this trio. Currently, it's FSU. Actually, it's been the Seminoles for a few years now and that's a big reason why they are national champs. Prior to this Jimbo Fisher run it was Urban Meyer and the Gators. Meyer and Florida won two national titles. Just saying, when you are the top dog in this state you tend to play for championships.

But it's not just the ‘Noles, Gators and ‘Canes in-state. Look at what UCF did last fall. It was a historic season for the Knights and George O'Leary. This should take them to the next level in terms of recruiting.

Then you have Willie Taggart and the Bulls. Certainly, USF hit rock bottom last season. But Taggart has a plan and you have to be impressed with how they have recruited, particularly in the Tampa Bay area.

And don't forget FAU. What Charlie Partridge is doing down there has been amazing in the few short months he has been on the job. Can the Owls sustain it, hang on to their commits and build off this class? It's a great story to watch.

But you are right. Despite what these in-state programs are doing in recruiting it appears many high end recruits are leaving the state of Florida. Just look at the Florida prospects that are rated five or four star recruits in this Class of 2015. Obviously, there are so many great options with potential out of state destinations.

Kevin Tolliver (Jacksonville Trinity Christian Academy) is headed to LSU. Calvin Ridley and Shawn Burgess-Becker are teammates from Coconut Creek (Fla.) Monarch that are committed to Alabama. Deon Cain (Tampa Bay Tech), Garrett Williams (Orlando The First Academy), and Jake Fruhmorgen (Tampa Plant) are committed to Clemson. Chandler Cox (Apopka) and D'Anfernee McGriff (Tallahassee Leon) have pledged to Auburn. Kendrell McFadden (Miramar) and Jovan Durante (Miami Norland) are committed to West Virginia.

That's just the tip of the iceberg. It's only June.

Having said all of this, you have to look at the big picture here. Over the past five years, the state of Florida has produced, on average, 346 Division 1 signees.

346.

That's a big number. They all can't go to FSU, Florida and Miami. They are not all going to UCF and USF or FAU and FIU. Even if each of these in-state programs signed 20 Florida recruits in each class that's only 140 kids between the seven. That leaves 200 plus each year that leave the state.

On the other side of it, just about every program in the nation comes to the Sunshine State to pull kids. It's coast to coast from UCLA to Washington State to Syracuse. It's everybody in the Big 10, the ACC and even the Big 12. Whether you are a Cornhusker, a Tar Heel or Cyclone, you are recruiting the state of Florida.

My conclusion is this, never before has the recruiting climate for the Florida prospect been so high and so competitive. The fight is in on, as there are battles on all fronts, whether it's in south Florida, Jacksonville, or the Florida panhandle. It's doesn't matter if you are the national champs, a powerhouse school or a program wannabe football titan, you are coming to this state to try and get your share.

I love the running backs that Miami has in the fold. Do they stick with my ‘Canes?
Nate, New Orleans, La.

Nate, I am not sure if you know this but there are actually three running backs committed to Miami right now for the 2015 class. There have been rumors since the Miami Nike Football Training Camp that 2016 commitment, Mark Walton (Miami Booker T. Washington), would move up a year and be re-classified as a 2015 recruit. That happened yesterday and was reported by Mike Bakas here.

This kid is a terrific running back prospect. But like so many, he also plans on taking some visits.

As far as Dexter Williams (Winter Garden West Orange) and Jordan Cronkrite (Miami Westminster), I agree you, what a duo that would be in Coral Gables, as they are both currently committed to the Hurricnaes. I love it.

But can Miami hang on?

It will be tough. Williams just visited Ohio State and told Scout.com's Amy Campbell that he would also like to visit other schools like Kentucky, Tennessee, South Carolina, Cincinnati and Clemson.

I have learned where's there's smoke, there's fire. Today's recruit, especially ones that commit so early, tend to change their decisions down the line. For me, I am not a big believer in the early commitment. I interpret it this way, an early pledge means one thing, that's the team to beat at that time. That goes for every single one of them no matter who they are committed to.

Meanwhile, Cronkrite is still being recruited by and talking to a handful of schools like Ohio State, Notre Dame, FSU, Louisville, Florida and others.

So to answer your question, chances are they don't get all three of these guys come national signing day. It's just a sign of the recruiting times.

Do you think Deon Cain will make a successful transition to wide receiver and what kind of impact do you see him making at Clemson?
Keith – Atlanta

There's always concern over every recruit as they transition from high school to college ball although I will admit it's to varying degrees. With this cat though, I wouldn't be too concerned. For me, the only thing that will derail Deon Cain's career is injury.

I think he has star written all over him. This kid is an elite athlete with good size, length and speed. Cain's primarily played quarterback and does so for his high school team. This makes watching him play wide receiver during the off-season even more extraordinary.

Cain's just a natural when it comes to playing the wide receiver position. He never fights the ball and catches everything with his hands away from his body. Cain possesses terrific hand-eye coordination and is very good in the air, showing body control.

Cain possesses very good speed. He may not be the most explosive player from the state of Florida but he's no pedestrian either. This kid can run and run away from people.

The best two words to describe his game at receiver are smooth and effortless. Like I said above, it's even more impressive considering this isn't his full time position… yet.

The irony here is that last spring Cain played on the 7-on-7 team Unsigned Preps. He couldn't beat out the starting quarterback at the time, Deiondre Porter (signed with Florida). Instead of sitting on the bench, Cain wanted to play. So he made the move to wide receiver on the 7-on team and the rest is history. That was his first time playing the position.

So thank Porter for Cain the wide receiver.

When a team completely changes offensive scheme and philosophy, as Florida did this year, does it really put a team that far behind relative to recruiting? And, should you just recruit top athletes no matter what the scheme and mold them into your system?
G8ters

I don't think it bodes well for a program to completely go from one scheme to another mid-stream of a regime. It's one thing to go from a pro-style to spread or from 4-3 to a 3-4 when you go through a coaching change. It's completely another doing it in year four of your coach, who also happens to be on the hot seat.

Having said that, today's recruit wants to play yesterday. For the most part, early playing time is big for most. Therefore, when you go through a scheme change, like the Gators are, Florida needs players and playmakers. So yeah, it should certainly make the Gators appealing in this regard.

To answer the last part of your question, I have always believed you should mold you schemes around your talent. I think good coaches do just that. You can't run a spread attack without playmakers. You can just recruit great athletes and plug them into a pro system. You have to evaluate, recruit, and sign players that are scheme specific for what you do. A good coach and staff will find and develop the right fits for all three phases of the game for what they do.

What's your take on Arthur Westbrook, the safety that has committed to FSU?
Tommy, Charlotte, N.C.

I didn't know much about it at the time of his commitment but upon further review I really liked what I saw on film. Here's my commitment analysis piece on Westbrook that I wrote a few weeks ago.

Does USF hang on to commitment Karon Higdon?
Mike, South Tampa

There's no question that Higdon is the Bulls biggest catch to date but can they hang to this three-star running back prospect from Sarasota Riverview? Since his commitment to USF in January he has garnered scholarship offers from schools like Arkansas, Iowa, Kentucky, Syracuse, Tennessee and Wake Forest. Notre Dame and other big schools are showing a ton of interest. Certainly he will add more teams and offers along the way.

Higdon told me this morning he plans on visiting USF, Arkansas, Iowa and Kentucky this summer.

I think there are two obvious things to watch for here. First, how do the Bulls actually do this fall? How much improvement will USF make in year two under Taggart. This will be big for Higdon and other recruits. Second, who will ultimately offer this 5-foot-10, 180-pounder? Certainly if Notre Dame and other big name schools do offer Higdon that could prove tough for South Florida to overcome.

At this point, I think it will be hard for USF to hang on to this one but you just never know.

If you would like to submit a question for next week's mailbag please email me at jamienewbergbw@yahoo.com

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