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Florida Football Recruiting

At Florida, recruiting is a family affair

July 31, 2018
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Summer nights were made for family reunions; under the lights, surrounded by loved ones as the kids play catch in the yard. That’s what it felt like on Friday as prospects, targets, commits and their families filled Ben Hill Griffin Stadium for the annual Friday Night Lights Camp.

With the Gators largest annual recruiting event now behind us, Inside the Gators spoke to the parents of players in attendance, learning how head coach Dan Mullen and staff handled their first go of FNL in The Swamp in the eyes of the parents. These are the people that not only often act as sounding boards for the athletes going through the process but also are just as vital to the young man’s development as any coach—and therefore the recruitment as well.

RECRUITING THE PARENTS

Understanding the importance of the parents is something many families have noticed with Mullen’s staff and admit it’s made the biggest impression of any other factor.

For Rosemary White, mom to Ethan White‍ —a four star 2019 offensive line commit from Superior Collegiate Academy—this means she still gets to be a parent to her son and that makes all the difference.

“The staff has always been great to me. I think they played the game the smart way so to speak. They didn’t really recruit Ethan; they more so contacted me, asked my opinion on things.

“I’m a very in your face kind of mom. If my kids’ gonna go to your school, I’m gonna need your cell phone numbers, I need to know your wives, your husbands - because that’s my life that you’re taking from me and I’m entrusting you for the next four years to be his parent. And that was for me what made it special and important that even though Ethan was their football great I was still the one they came to—‘we’d like to talk to Ethan about this or can we do this.’ So it was still like I was mom, not like I just was there as a chauffer.

"From that Junior Day onward, I’ve never been told no. I can go on the field, I can ask questions of who I want to, if I want to see someone, I’ve never been told no. It’s great, it’s been great, it’s actually really solidified his decision with me.”

2020 quarterback Anthony Richardson‍ - a Gainesville resident  - who is now a UF commit. His mom, Lashonda Lane says from the very beginning she and her son have been treated as family.

“The staff has always treated Anthony good. They came and talked to me, I always get to see Coach Mullen, Coach [Brian] Johnson, everyone is always pretty good…they always just come and say hey, see how I’m doing, tell me how much they are impressed with Anthony.”

JoAnn Humphries, her husband and her family are from Georgia. It’s been home for as long as they’ve known and as she says, “I look good in black and red.” But for her son Jaelin Humphries‍, a four star 2019 defensive tackle, Florida has been his school of choice since childhood and it only took one trip with Mullen and staff to start to sway mom and dad as well.

“Coach Mullen, he’s working his angle, and whatever way he’s graphing it out, as my brother-in-law says, he is winning with Jaelin Humphries and his mom and his dad now.”

This connection in their son’s recruitment made more of an impact when they made a stark comparison.

“The trips that we have made to Georgia, which is about three maybe four, there has not been one personal conversation with me and Jaelin and Dad and Coach [Kirby] Smart,” explains Humphries.

“So that there in itself, you don’t have time to talk to me as a parent—even just five minutes—then I don’t have time to consider you as a priority and a factor as if my son’s gonna come to your school…I’ve been to Florida three times—they still, Coach Mullen, every time he saw us, he stopped and said something to us, every single time. If we were on the golf cart with one of the guys, his wife, she made it her business to make sure she spoke to us before we left.”

AFTER THE LIGHTS GO OUT

After camps, it’s more common than not to hear players say they want to go home and discuss things with their family. Seeing the above attitude from Mullen and staff in action on Friday night led to a lot of conversations on the way home for athletes and their parents.

White says on the ride home with Ethan his decision was solidified.

“Our discussion when we came home, when we were driving home; for Ethan they’ve always made him feel very special, very well taken care of, any questions he’s had. If I need to pick up the phone and call someone. Friday just made our decision 100% where it might have been teetering on a 70 or 80, it’s 100%.

Betsy Nunu, mom to 2020 defensive tackle target Agelu Nunu, says the conversation centered around her son’s performance and his relationship with his recruiters, Coach Sal [Sunseri] and Coach [John] Hevesy.

“He felt really good about the whole night. He felt he did, he had some really great moments. He does feel really comfortable there; he has a good rapport with the coaches so that’s always a plus in these situations.”

And for JoAnn Humphries, the ride home was filled with discussions on how the family would be ok foregoing Jaelin’s other four official visits and just returning to UF (something she wishes the NCAA would allow to count towards all five officials).

“Me and [his] dad were talking about it and I’m so ok with him not taking them. I said what we can do is go down to Gainesville on our dime and just hang out.”

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Florida commit Ethan White and his mother meeting with Dan Mullen and John Hevesy

LEARNING EXPERIENCE

Now that they are all back home, the parents are preparing to do their part for their son’s future by staying on track with all rules and regulations. This is possible thanks in part to a presentation that was made available to the parents by the staff.

Jordan and Jaden Sandlin are 2021 offensive line twin recruits from Tampa Catholic. Their mom, Kimberly Kokocha, knows things are just starting to heat up for her sons and feels better prepared for her role moving forward now.

“Actually the meeting that we attended, it was all about being eligible for D-1 schools and being eligible for NCAA and stuff like that which is their long term goal for both Jordan and Jaden.

“It was fantastic and it was very appropriate because they catered it,” adds White.

“I wish I had known about this stuff earlier, which is fine that I didn’t, but they catered it for if you have a son in 9th grade, what you need to do; 10th grade, what you need to do and so on and so forth so it was very clear, very concise, I understood it and know what I need to do, it was great…and they did not do that last year.”

Some parents, like the Humphries, elected not to attend the meeting largely because, as JoAnn says, she’s been taking the course since she first met the staff.

“I’ve think I’ve had them every other day that I can call or text,” she laughs.

“Whatever’s within the guidelines that I can do as a parent, I’ve reached out as far as academics, as far as the Hawkins Center, just football, Coach Savage, the trainers, everybody that will be in his life on a daily basis, I have personally made contact with them and they have not had an issue with me reaching out.”

Inside the Gators
Jaelin Humphries' family showed up two vehicles deep

THE OVERALL EXPERIENCE

The logistics were and are important, but the reason for the night was the athletes; giving them a chance to impress coaches and provide an experience that endured the University of Florida across recruiting classes, making them feel at home and comfortable. According to the parents of attendees, it worked on all accounts.

“He actually had a good time, enjoyed himself,” says Lane about Richardson.

“But when we were there it was just like he was at home. He knew exactly where to go, what to do, he was confident in himself so that made me feel pretty good.”

For Mrs. Kokocha it was an eye opener for the Sandlin twins.

“I didn’t realize it was like regimented and structured like they do everything. I guess they almost train like professional athletes with all the things they do. I don’t see them doing that type of training at the high school level. It’s a little more advanced…but we really enjoyed it, it was awesome to watch them out there. It was a good experience, a good learning opportunity. It was actually our first camp too…it was a learning experience for us too.”

And when Rosemary White left, she was still a bit in shock. After attending last year’s Friday Night Lights, she told Ethan they’d never go back to University of Florida. He asked her for another shot with the new staff at a Junior Day that went well enough to lead to a Friday Night Lights trip. And that trip this past weekend changed everything for the mom.

“I went to the one last year when there was the old staff and comparatively speaking last year, I walked out of there thinking that I would never come back to that school again. It was disorganized, it was dirty, the staff was just not friendly. I really felt like—and I’ll be frank—I felt like there was a black cloud over the school. I was just not happy at all. That’s the one thing I said to my son was ‘we are not coming back here again. This is not what I expected. I really feel like you need to take this school off of your list.’ And it’s a complete change. I said this to the new staff, that it really is like night and day, like there’s been a black cloud lifted from the school. It was bright, the staff was friendly, everybody’s smiling and said hello. It’s organized, the place is clean. It’s like a completely different atmosphere.

“It’s a good thing honestly that no parent spoke to me after last year because I would’ve been the first to say there’s no way my son’s going there and you shouldn’t send yours there either. And now I’m like a Gator advocate, like come to UF. I don’t know what they did. I don’t know if the other staff just had a bad aura or, it’s just really night and day.”

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THE ATMOSPHERE

Those types of experiences, the parent meeting and every moment in between all led to an atmosphere those parents can’t stop talking about. They talk because, as one mom said, this is their life they’re sending away to school, and there’s no one you’d rather have take care of your kid than family.

“For a school like that, you would never imagine that they are so down to earth, it’s more like family there,” says Lane.

Adds Kokocha, “they were treated amazing. Everybody was just the nicest people. The coaches, the recruiters, just everybody was very, very nice, they were very welcomed there at the campus.”

Humphries and her blood family enjoyed the whole day, “outside in The Swamp and with our Florida family. And when I say our Florida family I mean Coach Mullen, his wife Megan, Coach [Todd] Grantham and his wife. Coach Sal, Coach Otis [Yelverton], John and Tyler and Carter and Shonee and Leah, just everybody.

“No matter what other prospects were down there, no matter what else was going on, they were totally engaged in our experience at Friday Night Lights…and it’s not like they had to pull out bells and whistles, it was just inviting, the entire visit was just good.

“We’ve been to other campuses, not a lot but we’ve been to others and yea that feeling—Florida’s warm; the atmosphere at the University of Florida is even warmer. It’s not even about the physical environment; it’s about the emotional connections that we’ve made.”

And as Rosemary White tells it, the atmosphere at Friday Night Lights was enough to shine a light, so to speak, on a new dream.

“I think when I sat back in the stadium and watched everything that was going on; the coaches, the kids, the excitement. It was really at that moment that I just; I can’t wait to see my son on that field.”

At Florida, recruiting is a family affair

7,139 Views | 5 Replies | Last: 3 yr ago by Mark Wheeler
SORT14
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Good read. I am really happy we have Mullen and co. now.
ChiefGene
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Great article. I am now even more impressed with Coach Mullen and company. I hate to get so enthusiastic so early but I really think the Gators are going to be back on top sooner than later.
Deljuanj
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Awesome Awesome read!
upstateg8tor
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Very encouraging.
Well done Kassidy ...great read
Mark Wheeler
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Staff
Our holdup here was me actually trying to get Diwun Black's mother so she could take part or it would have been up earlier.
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