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December 31, 2010

Blog: Tipping the Scales

This whole season, I have had a theory on what is wrong in Gainesville. Unfortunately, I have always been a little uncomfortable sharing it...until now.

Let me start off by saying this...I love Urban Meyer. I love what he has done for the University of Florida. I have personally watched him change many of his players' lives. I could not be more proud to say he was my team's coach for the past six seasons.

Because of this, I have been hesitant to write an article about my theory, because I would never want it to come across as a slight to Meyer.

He gave us arguably the best six-year time span in Florida Football history.

BUT...

I think he inadvertently helped create the problem.

In college football powerhouses, there is a very important balance that cannot and should not be upset.

The scales have tipped in Gainesville.

When putting together a recruiting class, the head coach has the tedious and precarious task of picking a class that benefits the program for both the immediate and the future.

It is incredibly important for the short term to sign to sign a certain amount of 5 star guys that will come in and contribute immediately. The downside to many of these guys is that they will never step foot on UF's campus again once they are finished playing football.

Is there a chance that a 5 star recruit could end up as a huge contributor to Gator Nation after his time on the gridiron is finished? That he will excel in the classroom and be a selfless, hard worker? Of course. But recent history at UF shows that this isn't likely. Unfortunately, too many 5 star athletes have come in with a self-entitled attitude and a poor work ethic. In the past, Urban Meyer and his staff were fantastic at breaking these types down and building them back up the right way. For some reason, that isn't happening anymore at UF.

As important as it is to sign big name 5 star recruits, it is equally important to sign guys that will be a member of Gator Nation for life. This is the "future" portion of the equation. I think I'd prefer a 3 star athlete that is going to work hard to prove his worth, do the right things off the field, and truly buy in to what it means to be a Gator.

While sitting at a Florida Football Alumni event earlier in the year, I asked myself this question…"Who on this current team will be sitting at these alumni events twenty years down the road?"

Unfortunately, not many names came to mind.

I consider myself incredibly lucky. I was born with orange and blue blood. I had the honor and the privilege of spending every summer at my grandfather's "Golden Era" football reunions. I also spent many days at "Super Seventies" events. As a result of my gator brainwashing, I consider the long-term health of the program very important. I am not okay with the idea of winning today, but leaving a mess to clean up tomorrow.

I am not so naive to think that every recruit we sign should be a Gator from birth. I know that will never happen. I don't even think that should happen.

I had a great conversation with Matt Patchan the other day. It wasn't an interview or anything. Matt and my brother have been friends well before both arrived in Gainesville and we were all just hanging out. Matt has always been incredibly intelligent and very witty. I always enjoy being around him. But something he said the other day really stuck with me. He said something to the effect of "I didn't grow up a Gator. My whole family's Hurricanes. There are still some members of my family that don't really talk to me because of my choice. But I'm a Gator now. That's not going to change because my head coach or position coach changes. Once I made my decision; that was it. This is where I will bring my kids one day. I'm a Gator for life."

I have never been more impressed with Matt. This is a kid that shunned the family school. Since coming to UF, he has battled a string of injuries and had some questionable medical decisions made on his behalf. He has yet to see the field for more than a couple games. But he isn't bitter.

He's a Gator.

My firmest belief about Florida Football recruiting is this...

You don't have to come in a Gator. But, you sure as hell better leave as one.

I got to experience the flip side of the coin while sitting in the stands on Senior Day. I sat next to a very nice mom whose son was a senior. Towards the end of the game, when her son exited to a large cheer, she turned to me and said, "It's sad this will be my last game ever in the Swamp."

Sad indeed.

I immediately said "You mean you won't come back to watch any games in the future?"
She said, "Well, if one of my other children signs here, I'll be back."

It's incredibly alarming to me that a family could spend four or five years with the Florida Football Program and not leave a fan for life.

How about the family members of players who sit in the stands and cheer AGAINST everyone but their kid? I have watched (in horror) this happen more than once this season.

Another thing that drives me absolutely insane are the people that go to the game with player family tickets, but wear the jersey of the opposing team. And cheer AGAINST the Gators. Everyone is free to support whatever school they want…but don't do it in tickets provided by the University of Florida…for free.

I think of the makeup of a signing class the same way that I think about high school grade point averages. It is much easier to ruin it than it is to fix it once the damage is done. (Not that I know from personal experience).

I know that every player that comes through the program isn't going to come back to every game, practice or alumni event. Not every player is going to love the University of Florida as much as I do. Not every player family is going to be rabid Gator fans.

But I think there should be more that DO than don't.

What's Meyer's famous saying? Oh yeah, that's right.

Some DO, some DON'T.

That starts with recruiting.

I understand that the Gators have been recruiting the fastest and the highest rated kids available.

But I think Florida has gotten so obsessed with winning the recruiting rankings battle that they are losing the long-term war.

In short, the University of Florida, like many major programs, has been willing to sacrifice character for the sake of talent.

That's right, I said it. Many in this current group of Gators are missing character.

There is a way to win recruiting without having the highest ranked class.

It starts by only taking guys that LOVE football. I'm not talking about players that LOVE the idea of playing on national TV each week or LOVE the idea of playing in the pros. They can want those things too. But I only want kids that love the game of football.

I want kids that are going to work hard for the program, not just themselves.

Lou Holtz is famous for encouraging coaches to take a class full of 3 star recruits who are going to work their tail off for their coach, instead of a class of 5 star prima donnas.

I wish in some instances Meyer had paid closer attention to his mentor's words.

This team has a lot of 4 and 5 star prima donnas who care more about themselves than their teammates. Many don't care about the history and tradition of the University of Florida. Many will never step foot on campus after their playing days are over.

This needs to change, and fast.

I'd take a whole team filled with guys like Ahmad Black, David Nelson, Billy Latsko, Ryan Stamper, James Smith and Chas Henry if given the choice.

I want to be able to look out on the field and know that at least half of our players will be bringing their kids back to games at Florida Field one day.

I want to know that at least half will attend reunions, alumni Bar-B-Ques and spring practice.

I want to know that at least half of our players care more about their team than they do themselves.

And most importantly, I want all of them to know and fully understand what it means to all of us (the fans) to watch the Fighting Gators run out of the tunnel on fall Saturdays.

They don't have to come in as life-long Gators.

But they better leave as one.
As a third generation Gator, Ali Peek has a longstanding love affair with the University of Florida.

In 2007 she graduated with a degree in Telecommunications News and a minor in Sports Management.

In high school she was the first student host of Brighthouse Network's "High School Scoreboard" and while in college she hosted "The FHSAA Sports Report" for Sun Sports.

Ali currently hosts Gator Game Day, a weekly one-hour pre and post game day show on WKMG CBS 6 in Orlando.

She also does a daily radio show called Inside the Locker Room on Orlando 740 The Game (Mon 6-8 p.m; 6-7 Tue-Thur).
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of GatorBait.net.


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