Since the start of the 2009 season, it seems like the Florida and Texas football programs have been mirror images of each other. Both were at the top of the world in 2009. Both suffered embarrassing 2010 seasons. Each has seen major coaching turnover. And both needed some positive momentum to quell a growingly disenchanted fan-base. And thankfully, both got that this weekend, when each picked up a major verbal pledge in the high school class of 2013.
First in Gainesville, Saturday’s Junior Day came and went, with quite possibly more fanfare than the Gators Signing Day itself earlier this month. That’s because the Gators got four big-time commitments to start of their 2013 class with a bang, with none bigger than the state’s best junior running back, Kelvin Taylor.
With Taylor, we must first get the obvious out of the way, and say this: He is the son of former Florida and NFL great Fred Taylor, meaning that this move wasn’t entirely surprising. Throughout the early recruiting process it has been believed that Taylor was expected to follow in his father’s footsteps and was always considered a heavy Florida lean. Then again as we learned with Barry Sanders Jr. this past February, family bloodlines mean little when picking a college. As you may remember, Sanders Jr. elected to play his college football at Stanford, over his father’s alma mater Oklahoma State and a number of other suitors.
But back to Taylor, because he is exactly the kind of explosive offensive weapon that Will Muschamp needs, a player that can step in and play right away, and could quite possibly be a program-changer when he arrives on campus. It’s no secret that Muschamp wants to run a pro-style offense (he’s said that since Day 1 of taking the job), but entering 2012 seems to have fewer players who fit that system than ever before. Along with uncertainty at quarterback (Jacoby Brissett and Jeff Driskel will split reps this spring), the Gators also lost their top wide receiver (Deonte Thompson) and two running backs in Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey, meaning that young players will get reps early and often in the coming years at UF.
And while it may be a full 18 months before Taylor steps on the field in Gainesville, his commitment remains an important one. Last season Taylor entered Florida schoolboy lore, breaking Emmitt Smith’s state high school rushing record, finishing his junior year with 9,698 total yards. Granted, Taylor started playing high school ball in eighth grade, but at the same time, those numbers don’t lie. Neither did his scholarship offers from Alabama and pretty much every other school in the country.
As for Texas, well, the Longhorns made headlines last weekend, when their Junior Day came and went without a single commitment from a major high school recruit. Sure at some schools that’s no big deal, but at Texas- where most high school juniors wait for scholarship offers from Mack Brown like a kid waiting next to the tree on Christmas morning – it was another sign that Brown might be losing his grip of things in Austin. Heck, in 2011 alone, Texas received over a dozen offers from its Junior Day events.
Well, apparently, it was no big deal after all, since on Friday Texas got a commitment from the best player within their state’s borders, and maybe the best quarterback in high school football, Tyrone Swoopes. You can all breathe a sigh of relief, fine folks of Austin, the verbals will now continue to role in.
Looking at Swoopes’ measurables it’s hard not to see why Longhorns fans are excited, and why they’re already comparing him to former Longhorns great Vince Young. Swoopes stands at a 6’5 and a solidly built 220 lbs., and along with Texas, had offers from pretty much everyone under the sun, including Alabama, LSU and Ohio State. Then there the numbers, which, umm, are pretty darn impressive. As a junior last year Swoopes rushed for over 2,000 yards and 29 touchdowns, while also throwing for 1,300 more and 15 touchdowns. Yeah, maybe those “Vince Young 2.0” comparisons aren’t so surprising after all.
Maybe more importantly, each of these commitments may present a changing tide in the perception of these programs with high school players. While obviously neither of these programs will be made or broken by one player, it also isn’t surprising that once these two bell cows announced their intentions, they were followed by a slew of other commitments. Florida got one five-star defensive back Nick Washington, while Texas added four-star athlete Kyle Hicks the day after Swoopes’ announcement.
Once again, the Florida and Texas football programs are attached at the hip.
But for the first time in a long time, it seems to be for a good reason.
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What will be interesting to watch is how Texas tailors its offense to suit Swoopes. The power schemes that the Longhorns are running now wouldn't seem to maximize his skill set. Moving back to more of a zone-read scheme like what UT ran with Young seems best, but Mack Brown has made a concerted effort to get away from the style of offense. Either way, Swoopes is a great talent.