Steve spurrier has made some impressive drives recently, and not just off the tee. After forsaking a life of leisure to take the South Carolina coaching job on Nov. 23, Spurrier hit the road in pursuit of blue-chip recruits to upgrade his roster. He traveled to Greenbelt, Md., to visit wide receiver Derrick Williams; turned up in Hope Mills, N.C., to talk to the family of tight end Jonathan Hannah; and crossed the Palmetto State to chat up Conway High running back Bobby Wallace and defensive lineman Hivera Green before signing autographs for everyone at the school who asked. ‚ÄúI was astounded by how available he made himself,‚Äù says Conway coach Chuck Jordan. ‚ÄúSteve Spurrier‚Äôs recruiting hard, no doubt about it.‚Äù
Yes, it‚Äôs the same Steve Spurrier who, by the end of his highly successful 12-year run at Florida (an .817 winning percentage and the 1996 national title), was weary of tap-dancing in recruits‚Äô living rooms. However, in returning to the college game after a failed two-year NFL stint with the Washington Redskins (he resigned in December 2003 after going 12‚Äì20), Spurrier has been leading the rush to bolster an incoming class that had only six oral commitments. ‚ÄúHitting the recruiting trail in full force is vital,‚Äù Spurrier says. ‚ÄúWe‚Äôve been working it fast and furious.‚Äù
He has no other choice if he intends to re-create the success he had in Gainesville. Spurrier will find that luring the nation‚Äôs best talent to the Southeast, especially to a team that lost four of its last six and finished 6‚Äì5, will be harder than it was before he left the Gators. In his absence Georgia‚Äôs Mark Richt and LSU‚Äôs Nick Saban strengthened their recruiting bases. Spurrier‚Äôs biggest challenge might be fending off Florida, where his successor, the fired Ron Zook, bequeathed a solid commitment list to newly hired Urban Meyer, who established himself as a savvy recruiter at Utah. ‚ÄúRecruiting is all about maintaining relationships,‚Äù says Jamie Newberg, national recruiting analyst for Scout.com, ‚Äúand Spurrier‚Äôs been out of the game for a few years.‚Äù
Two other schools hired coaches last week who haven‚Äôt had much time off at all. In fact, new Stanford coach Walt Harris now has two jobs. He is preparing his old team, Pitt, for its Fiesta Bowl game against Utah while also trying to lure recruits to Palo Alto. (He doesn‚Äôt officially take over the Cardinal until Jan. 1.) In Seattle former Notre Dame coach Tyrone Willingham will try to resuscitate Washington‚Äôs beleaguered program. He may have an easier time recruiting on the West Coast--he led Stanford to the Rose Bowl in 2000--than he did attracting prospects to South Bend.
As for Spurrier, his years away from college may not have hurt him after all. Conway‚Äôs Wallace committed to South Carolina during Spurrier‚Äôs visit on Dec. 3. Last weekend the Gamecocks received pledges from two junior college defensive backs, Brandon Isaac of Georgia Military College and Mike West of Butler County Community College in Kansas. Some prospects who had orally committed elsewhere, such as Daytona Beach Mainland quarterback Jonathan Garner (pledged to, of all places, Florida), say that South Carolina has entered the picture. ‚ÄúSpurrier called my cell during a pep rally, and my friends were, like, Is that really him?‚Äù says Garner, a lefthander who would become the cornerstone of Spurrier‚Äôs rebuilding effort. ‚ÄúIf there‚Äôs any chance that I won‚Äôt fit in Meyer‚Äôs offense, I‚Äôm definitely interested in what else Spurrier has to say.‚Äù
The Undecided Vote
With the Feb. 2 national signing day approaching, here are the top five high school football prospects who through Sunday had not made an oral commitment.
Derrick Williams, WR-CB, 6 feet, 193 pounds Roosevelt High, Greenbelt, Md.
Florida is the leading contender for this phenomenal athlete, the nation‚Äôs top recruit; Oklahoma is also in the running
Fred Rouse, WR, 6'3", 187 Lincoln High, Tallahassee, Fla.
It may be difficult to keep this speedster (4.4 in the 40) from hometown Seminoles
Jerrell Powe, DT, 6'3", 322 Wayne County High, Waynesboro, Miss.
Powe‚Äôs size will allow the team of his choice to use him on either side of the ball
Jonathan Stewart, RB, 5'10", 218 Timberline High, Lacey, Wash.
Four of eight schools with a shot at this record-setting back are in the Pac-10
Reggie Youngblood, T, 6'5", 285 Washington High, Houston
Surprisingly agile lineman has visited LSU and Miami, with Oklahoma next
STEPHEN MORTON/ICON SMI/ZUMA PRESS (SPURRIER)
Spurrier, off the recruiting trail since 2001, has lost ground to SEC rivals.
REX BROWN/WIREIMAGE.COM (SPURRIER INSET)
¬†[See caption above]
ROB TRINGALI/SPORTSCHROME (SABAN)
DOUGLAS C. PIZAC/AP (MEYER)
JUSTIN KASE CONDER/ICON SMI (RICHT)