Five-Stars with an Asterisk: Shorter the right player at the right time

Apr 2, 2020 | 0 comments

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Through two full recruiting cycles as head coach of the Florida Gators, Dan Mullen and his staff have signed just one composite five-star prospect from the high school ranks.

However, they’ve utilized the transfer portal perhaps more effectively than any other team in the country as they try to close the talent gap between themselves and the top teams in the country. They’ve landed three former five-stars in the past eight months via transfers: defensive end/linebacker Brenton Cox, running back Lorenzo Lingard and wide receiver Justin Shorter.

Obviously, they have the talent to succeed at Florida. You don’t get ranked as a five-star without possessing an elevated skill-set. However, it takes more than pure talent to compete with the nation’s elite, and each of the three players failed at their initial stop for various reasons.

Why were they ranked as five-stars to begin with? Why did they fail out at their first schools? Why might things be different for them at UF? Inside the Gators went on a mission to find those who know them best for the answers.

First up is Shorter.


The Gators lost four senior receivers who combined for 16 of the position’s 22 touchdown catches in 2019. They desperately needed to find an impact newcomer.

But not just any receiver will do in Dan Mullen’s offense. Unselfishness is as much of an asset as speed or size. In his two seasons as UF’s head coach, only one wideout (Van Jefferson in 2019) has cracked the 40-reception plateau. Freddie Swain is the only one to score seven touchdowns in a season. The position is also expected to play a key role in the running game as perimeter blockers.

Justin Shorter was looking for a new home after playing sparingly and catching just 15 passes in two seasons at Penn State.

The two sides quickly realized their mutual needs, and Shorter signed with the Gators in February. He is expected to enroll over the summer and will need a waiver by the NCAA to play in 2020.

This has all the makings of another transfer portal home run by Mullen and his staff.

First, there are the physical tools. He’s listed at 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds by UF, although Penn State coach James Franklin said he weighed close to 250 pounds last season. He runs the 40-yard dash in 4.4 seconds, according to Joe Goerge, his head coach at South Brunswick High School in Monmouth Junction, New Jersey. He should provide a large target in the vertical passing game and a physical presence in the running game.

“He could take this thing as high as he wants,” Goerge said. “Certainly physically, he’s got all the tools to go into the NFL.”

However, what sets Shorter apart is his work ethic, he said. Five-star prospects have a reputation for sometimes being prima donnas who expect to coast by on their rare set of physical tools instead of working hard. Shorter is not one of those players.

“I think he’s really a hard-worker,” Goerge said. “I think for a guy in high school that I’ll be honest with you, it was a challenge in high school for us his senior year for us to really have someone that could challenge him. But to his credit, he worked awfully hard every day at practice.

“He does have that drive, that will, that little extra stuff that sometimes you don’t see, especially in high school when kids are just that much better than the competition.”

Shorter was a bit of a late bloomer compared to a lot of other top high school prospects. He was primarily a baseball pitcher and only played in three football games as an eighth grader before he broke an ankle, Goerge said.

He started to put together his physical tools and learn how to play wide receiver as a sophomore, and the results started to show with some big games toward the end of the season, he said. The offers started rolling in after the season, and he committed to Penn State just before his junior year.

Shorter “went off the charts” his junior season and put on a terrific showing at The Opening, cementing his place as one of the top receivers in his class.

Despite his increased stardom, Shorter remained a selfless teammate who did whatever he could do help his team win as a senior, Goerge said. He also played cornerback and special teams as a senior because they didn’t have great depth.

Shorter never wavered from his Penn State commitment, and his departure remains a bit of a mystery. There were reports that he had trouble with his weight and was passed on the depth chart by a walk-on.

He seems to be a very private person. He has yet to offer any public comments since entering the transfer portal, and Goerge had almost no involvement during either of his recruitments. By the time Goerge got to talk to him earlier this year, he had already made the decision to come to Florida.

Shorter is a giant mystery – both literally and figuratively – but Goerge thinks he has what it takes to succeed at UF and beyond.

“Things are going to have to work out for him, break for him,” he said. “He’s going to have to stay healthy. He’s going to have to continue to learn and grow with not just the physical part of the game but all the other parts of the game. And that’s where I think he’ll work – the route-running, the ball-catching. What can he do that can just elevate him a little bit higher than the great talent that he’s going to be competing against right now at Florida?”

That mentality is what makes him the right player at the right time for the Gators.

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