The Gators landed nearly every player they wanted on Wednesday and were rewarded by recruiting wizards as the team with the best group of high school hotshots.
"Florida was No. 1 going in and came out with a bunch of stars to make the choice pretty easy," Tom Lemming of Schaumburg, Ill.-based Prep Football Report said Wednesday, the first day players were able to sign letters of intent.
"A landslide for the Gators, an easy win," Allen Wallace, publisher of Laguna Beach, Calif.-based SuperPrep magazine, said. "What an incredible day they had."
Florida State, though, made a tremendous surge by signing no less than seven top prospects who entered the day with several schools on their mind. Best among the group was Travis Johnson, a Parade and USA Today All-American defensive end from Sherman Oaks, Calif.
"Wow! What a great player he is," Odell Haggins, the Seminoles' defensive line coach, said as he laid eyes on the fax with Johnson's signature.
Florida State coach Bobby Bowden also beat out his son, Clemson coach Tommy Bowden, for three players, including wide receiver Michael Boulware from Columbia, S.C. Boulware is the brother of former Seminoles All-American Peter Boulware.
"That's just as well," Bobby Bowden said, smiling, "because I don't like him (Tommy) much anyway. What I had to do was try to get the parents to understand he was the only one of my children who lies a lot."
Kidding aside, Florida led the way in Recruiting Wars 2000 with an incoming class led by quarterback Brock Berlin, USA Today's offensive player of the year, and All-American linebacker Darrell Lee.
On Wednesday, the Gators landed five Sunshine staters who were up for grabs defensive backs Cory Bailey (Hialeah) and Tre Orr (Lake City), and offensive linemen Jonathan Colon (6-6, 285, Miami), Max Starks (6-8, 340, Orlando) and Kevin Deaton (6-4, 290, Merritt Island). They also plucked two away from the state of Georgia defensive tackle Kenny Parker (6-4, 300) and wide receiver Kelvin Kight.
"We did get most all the guys we went after this year," Spurrier said. "A few weeks ago, I didn't think we were recruiting enough players to sign 21 or 22. But it seemed lke they all wanted to come play for the Gators this year."
Bobby Burton of Austin, Texas- based The National Recruiting Advisor also gave the No. 1 nod to Florida, while Max Emfinger of Covington, La.-based National Blue Chips had Tennessee first with the Gators a close second. Alabama, Florida State, Penn State and Texas also showed up in at least one of the four recruiting gurus' top-5 lists.
"Tennessee signed some of the most dominant players in the country," Emfinger said. "They have two top quarterbacks already getting ready for spring training and they signed two top wide receivers today in Tony Brown and Rashad Baker."
Quarterbacks Casey Clausen and John Rattay, brother of Louisiana Tech's Tim Rattay, made early commitments and are set to take part in the Vols' spring practice.
So is the 6-1, 190-pound Berlin, the Gators' prize recruit from Shreveport, La., who threw for 4,219 yards and 36 TDs in his senior year at Evangel Christian. In four years, his team was 60-0 with four state titles.
Despite a perfect season and national championship, the Seminoles weren't on many top 10 lists until Wednesday.
By the time the day ended, Florida State was third on the lists of Emfinger and Wallace, fourth on Lemming's and seventh on Burton's. Burton said the Seminoles began the day rated 24th on his list.
In addition to Johnson, Florida State also grabbed two other homegrown All-Americans on Wednesday defensive back Bryant McFadden (Hollywood) and linebacker Eric Moore (Pahokee). All-American defensive back Yohance Buchanan (Atlanta) made good on an earlier verbal commitment.
Linebacker D.J. Williams, the consensus defensive player of the year from Concord, Calif., did not sign Wednesday. He was said to be considering Florida State, Michigan and California.
The four recruiting experts agreed it was a big year for Southern teams, specifically the Southeastern Conference. Alabama joined Florida and Tennessee with an impressive signing class.
"The South is cleaning up," Lemming, who had Florida, Tennessee and Alabama 1-2-3 on his top 10 list. Among the Crimson Tide's best prospects were All-American defensive tackles Albert Means and Anthony Bryant.
Michigan and Notre Dame, usually top 10 finishers, didn't fare so well. The Wolverines lost out on several players, including All-American wide receiver Charles Rogers from Saginaw, Mich., who chose Michigan State, and All-American offensive lineman Kwame Harris, who signed with Stanford.
The Irish didn't have a marquee player in their incoming class, says Emfinger. They didn't even sign Starks, the son of former Notre Dame star Ross Browner, who chose the Gators instead.
"They were about 15th the problem is they don't have a difference maker, a 7 in my ratings," Emfinger said. "They have some 6s and 5s and they also signed four quarterbacks. What are they going to do with all of them?"
Irish coach Bob Davie said he planned it that way. Jarious Jackson is gone and Eric Chappell has been suspended.
"Quarterback, no question that was a priority for us," Davie, whose team went 5-7 in '99, said. The quarterbacks are Matt LoVecchio, Jared Clark, Carlyle Holiday and Abram Elam, who also plays defensive back.
Until Wednesday, Penn State coach Joe Paterno had himself a No. 1 class no one spectacular, but a solid all-around group.
"Penn State dictated the process for seven months," Wallace said, "and Florida took over on signing day."
Among the Nittany Lions signees were quarterbacks Zac Wasserman of Westlake Village, Calif., and Zack Mills of Ijamsville, Md. Also, Wallace noted six linemen who made his All-America team Jeremiah Davis of Annandale, Va.; Scott Davis of Parkersburg, W.Va.; Sam Ruhe of Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio; Erik Noll of Gaithersburg, Md.; Dan Acri of Harrisburg, Pa.; and Jason Robinson of Swedesboro, N.J.
Texas, the winner of last year's recruiting fight, had another strong year. The Longhorns grabbed homegrown receivers B.J. Johnson (South Grand Prairie); Roy Williams (Odessa), Sloan Thomas (Klein) and Brock Edwards (Fort Worth).
Tennessee also signed 6-7, 285-pound offensive lineman Michael Munoz of Cincinnati, son of NFL Hall of Famer Anthony Munoz.
And finally, Virginia Tech benefited a bit from its ride to the national title game against Florida State with a better than average class, according to Burton.
Among Tech's top signees were Jonathan Dunn, a 6-6, 300-pound offensive lineman from Virginia Beach; Richard Johnson, a wide receiver from Baltimore, and Jason Lallis, a 6-2, 235-pound defensive end-tight end from Mitchellville, Md.
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