Once A Weakness, Florida Receivers Becoming A Strength

    Florida's wide receiving corps has gone from a glaring weakness to a slowly improving strength, as the Gators focus on the No. 11 receiver in the 2018 recruiting class.

    January 23, 2017

    Florida’s wide receiving corps has gone from a glaring weakness to a steadily improving strength, as the Gators focus on the No. 11 receiver in the 2018 recruiting class. 

    It wasn’t long ago when Florida fans speckled an unfamiliar Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, wondering where the magic had gone.

    Names like Carlos Alvarez, Cris Collinsworth, Chris Doering, Ike Hilliard, Jacquez Green, Reche Caldwell, Jabar Gaffney, Percy Harvin, et al. had become relics. Gator fans were left puzzled, trying to speak as confidently about Solomon Patton, Quinton Dunbar and Demarcus Robinson. It was like trying to fit a square peg in a round hole.

    That was until Jim McElwain took the reins of the program.

    In McElwain’s first season, Antonio Callaway, then a true freshman, burst onto the scene with 35 catches for 678 yards and four touchdowns. His coming out party was a victory over Tennessee in which the former 3-star recruit tallied five catches, 112 yards and a late go-ahead touchdown. That performance set the tone for a record-breaking freshman campaign.

    That same excitement was reincarnated by a trio of true freshman playmakers this past season. While Tyrie Cleveland, Joshua Hammond and Freddie Swain combined for only 36 catches, 593 yards and four touchdowns, they each showed glimpses of their potential throughout the season.

    Swain and Hammond both showed an ability to create separation off the line of scrimmage and find space down the field, with the former finding the end zone against both Kentucky and Tennessee. Meanwhile, Cleveland’s coming out party went down in Baton Rouge when he torched LSU for three catches, 124 yards and a 98-yard touchdown grab.

    Now comes the moment of truth for McElwain and offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier.

    With Callaway, Cleveland, Hammond, Swain and rising senior Brandon Powell returning with even more reps under their belts, Florida has an opportunity to break out in 2017.

    Four-star prospect Daquon Green, a 6-foot-1, 185-pound wide receiver, will look to find early playing time of his own and bring a downfield threat to The Swamp. And 6-foot-4, 235-pound Kemore Gamble will add an athletic receiving threat to the tight end position.

    There’s also a solid chance they’ll be joined by Lakeland Senior High School star James Robinson, a 6-foot-3, 190-pound pass catcher who feasts on making plays across the middle of the field.

    If Kadarius Toney doesn’t work out as a quarterback, the 2017 4-star signee will likely make the switch to wide receiver, adding yet another explosive, athletic presence to the perimeter.

    All of the sudden, a once bleak collection of wide receivers is now stocked with dusted off diamonds and blue-chip recruits.

    But McElwain isn’t satisfied.

    As it was mentioned by ESPN’s Derek Tyson, Florida has been knocked for its inability to start the recruiting process early with certain prospects, something that cost the Gators in their pursuit of players like cornerback Shaun Wade (now an Ohio State Buckeye).

    However, that appears to be the vantage point of someone staring down the rearview mirror.

    SEC Country’s Zach Abolverdi pointed out that Florida has heated up the recruitment of 4-star wide receiver Jacob Copeland, the No. 3 wide receiver in the Sunshine State.

    “Coach Mac talked to me for a good 30 minutes,” Copeland said. “I was one of the first players he offered when he got to Florida, so he’s wanted me for two years now. He’s shown me nothing but love, and he told me to join the Gator family.”

    Copeland has been thoroughly impressed by the playing time and success both Callaway and Cleveland had as freshmen in McElwain’s system, and that could pay dividends for Florida as it battles with Baylor, Clemson, Florida State, Miami and USC for his commitment.

    The No. 11 wide receiver in the 2018 class will announce his pledge at the Under Armour All-America Game next January, and he’s only one of elite pass catchers on the Gators’ board for the future.

    They’re also pursuing 4-star prospect Warren Thompson, the No. 4 receiver in the state of Florida. While Mark Richt’s Hurricanes will fight tooth and nail to land Thompson, McElwain’s staff has done a great job of getting him on campus and keeping the lines of communication open.

    If the Gators are able to nab both Copeland and Thompson, their 2018 receiving corps could be one of the best in the SEC – especially if Callaway were to return for his senior season.

    Prior to McElwain’s arrival, fans in Gainesville would be lucky to see a few sparks from Florida’s wide receivers. Now, the Gators have more than a few logs on that fire.

    MORE: 4-Star S Kendarian Handy-Holly Announces Commitment


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