GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Former Ole Miss receiver Van Jefferson is the 14th player to sign with the Gators on Wednesday.
Jefferson is by far the most experienced.
The 6-foot-2, 195-pound Jefferson caught 91 passes for 999 yards and four touchdowns in two seasons with the Rebels. Jefferson took official visits to Louisville and Michigan earlier this month but opted to sign with the Gators, which fills a big need heading into Dan Mullen's first season as UF's head coach.
Florida's top returning receiver in 2018 is junior Tyrie Cleveland, who caught 22 passes for 410 yards as a sophomore.
The Gators lost Brandon Powell to graduation and Antonio Callaway, who missed all of last season due to suspension after leading the Gators in 2015-16 in receiving, has declared for the NFL Draft.
Meanwhile, the Gators hope Jefferson is granted immediate eligibility for next season. Several Ole Miss players have transferred due to NCAA sanctions against the school, and the NCAA has already granted eligibility waivers to the team's seniors to play immediately in 2018.
Jefferson has two seasons of eligibility remaining. He was ranked one of the nation's top receivers in the class of 2016 coming out of Ravenwood High in Brentwood, Tenn.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- On Friday when Gators head coach Dan Mullen announced the hiring of secondary coach Charlton Warren, defensive back Trey Dean and his family arrived in town from Hampton, Ga., for Dean's official visit.
No introductions needed.
"I have recruited him for basically two years,'' Warren said Wednesday. "The day they came in, it was like we're an old married couple. Nothing was dropped at all."
When Warren starts to talk about Dean, a 6-foot-2, 180-pound safety/cornerback from Dutchtown (Ga.) High about half an hour south of Atlanta, his voice cranks up.
"A long, versatile, athletic corner. He's a guy that is 6-2-plus, super long arms and really good feet,'' Warren said. "A tremendous competitor and a great, great young man."
In fact, once Warren breaks down Dean's ability as a player and starts to discuss his attributes in the locker room and away from the field, that's when Warren, who spent last season as a Tennessee assistant, really starts to rave about Dean.
Dean is a natural leader and chose the Gators over Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky and Georgia.
"A tremendous student and a great family. He is a program guy all the way,'' Warren said. "He's going to benefit you in multiple ways, not just playing defense, but by the character of that young man. He's got tremendous competitive character. With his skill set, his length, his ball skills -- he was a punt returner and played wideout -- he's a guy that when you look at a long corner, those are the kind you want."
Dean is scheduled to play in the Under-Armour All-American Game on Jan. 4 in Orlando.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The Gators are still getting to know new head coach Dan Mullen.
The Gators' newest quarterback has known Mullen for three years, which played a big role in his decision on early National Signing Day.
"I know he will develop me and get me to where I want to be,'' Emory Jones told reporters at his announcement ceremony Wednesday in Atlanta.
Meanwhile, shortly after celebrating the news of Jones' decision with staff in Florida's football offices, Mullen still had a grin from ear to ear.
"That was big for us,'' he said. "We were the first major program to offer him when I was at Mississippi State years ago. His recruitment exploded after that. He had options to go anywhere in the country."
Mullen and new Gators assistant Brian Johnson, who served as Mississippi State's quarterbacks coach prior to leaving to be offensive coordinator last season at Houston, began recruiting Jones early in his prep career at Heard County High in LaGrange, Ga.
Their connection paid off when the 6-foot-3, 195-pound dual-threat quarterback chose to sign with Florida over Florida State and Ohio State.
"As it came down to it, he's four hours away from home, to be able to come down here to Gainesville to play for us, coming into an unbelievably great quarterback situation that we're going to have and the opportunity to come play,'' Mullen said. "The most important thing is he is a winner. He has some of that 'it' quality that you look for, that you want in your quarterback. It's those other qualities to me that are most important. You see that he has those things. That's what special."
Tim Barron, his high school coach, saw the same physical qualities Mullen and Johnson saw three years ago.
Over time, Jones developed the mental part of his game and now has a scholarship to Florida.
"He had the talent. You could see he could throw it and run it. You didn't know the intangibles but you knew the talent,'' Barron said. "He was a sponge for knowledge. We always knew he was a special guy as an athlete. We always knew he threw a pretty ball. But those intangibles that separate a good quarterback from a great quarterback, to see that part of his game develop and mature over the past couple of years ... that's what makes him really special."
Jones joins a roster that already includes quarterbacks Feleipe Franks, last season's primary starter, Kyle Trask, Jake Allen and athlete Kadarius Toney, who played the position in high school but worked mostly at receiver during his freshman season with the Gators.
Jones' announcement Wednesday made it a winning day for the Gators.
"Others look to the quarterback as the leader,'' Mullen said. "Having the quarterback in this class, I think helps all the guys who signed today, but equally important, the guys who are going to sign in February as well. That they can look and know that we have a big-time leader at the quarterback position coming in to play for us."
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The action inside Florida's football offices moved at a brisk pace this morning as 12 players sent National Letters of Intent in to be part of head coach Dan Mullen's first recruiting class at UF.
Defensive back David Reese -- yeah, that's right, same name and spelling as current UF linebacker David Reese -- and tight end Dante Lang are two of the latest to sign.
We'll have more on Reese and Lang later, but for now, let's check out their highlights.
First, Reese (6-1, 213) signs with the Gators out of Vero Beach High ...
Next, Lang is a 6-foot-5, 222-pound tight end out of Boca Raton High.
Lang played defensive end in high school, too, racking up 20 sacks as a junior. He made the move to offense as a senior.
Check out Lang in action ...
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Time to pause on National Signing Day to wish one of the best guys on the team in recent seasons good luck.
Gators defensive end Jordan Sherit, whose fifth-year senior season was cut short last season due to a hip injury and subsequent surgery, announced Wednesday that he is retiring from football.
Sherit was playing at a high level when he was injured in an October home loss to Texas A&M. Sherit ranked sixth on the team with 23 tackles and second with 2.5 sacks at the time of the injury.
Sherit played at Hillsborough High in Tampa prior to coming to UF.
Here is Sherit's announcement on Instagram:
Today, I am reluctantly retiring from the game of football. After receiving final feedback this week from a number of doctors and medical staffs, it has become clear that I will be unable to continue playing the game I love due to my recent hip injury. Playing the game of football for the past 16 years has taught me so much about life and has helped build countless lifelong relationships, and for that, I am forever grateful. My only wish is that I would have accomplished more here at the University of Florida, but sometimes life is out of our control. Although it hurts accepting that I will never suit up again, I am eager to tackle the challenges ahead of me. #ForeverFlorida #10/90 #SYAF
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Gators assistant coach Ja'Juan Seider grew up in Belle Glade, Fla. He knows all about South Florida recruiting and the different flavors mixed into arguably the country's largest pool of talent.
Randy Russell fits right in.
Russell is a hard-hitting defensive back who starred at safety for Carol City High in one of Miami's toughest neighborhoods.
"Knowing this kid and where he grew up, you can't help but be tough,'' Seider said. "He was a state champ a year ago. "He's a leader. You talk about a kid who is loyal, who kind of helped this class stay together. That's what you like. He's football smart. He's got some intelligence that you like at that position, able to line guys up. He's a kid that we can move around. He's not just a safety, he can be a nickel guy."
Russell was coached in high school by former Gators receiver Aubrey Hill, who took a job last season as receivers coach under Butch Davis at Florida International.
Former UF coaches Randy Shannon and Corey Bell recruited Russell primarily, but when they were not retained under new UF head coach Dan Mullen, Seider helped make sure the 5-foot-10, 176-pound Russell stayed committed to the Gators.
He is glad he did.
"He's coached up well,'' Seider said. "He's one of those good kids. He's been raised the right way. The thing about him is the physicality he plays with. You watch his film, he plays downhill. When you talk about having an enforcer that receivers don't like to go over the middle, that's what you kind of get with him at that position."
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Gators head coach Dan Mullen has a reputation as a quarterback specialist.
He proved Wednesday he can recruit quarterbacks, landing Emory Jones from Heard County (Ga.) High. The 6-foot-3, 195-pound Jones had narrowed his choices down to Florida, Florida State and Ohio State.
"Getting to coach a kid like that is special,'' Heard County head coach Tim Barron told reporters at Jones' signing ceremony.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The Gators' young secondary got deeper on Wednesday with the addition of defensive back John Huggins from Daytona Beach Mainland.
Huggins was once a Florida State commit, but that changed during the coaching carousel as Florida and FSU changed head coaches since the schools played less than a month ago.
New Gators assistant Charlton Warren spent his first weekend on the job hanging with Huggins and his mother to get to know each other. Gators defensive coordinator Todd Grantham made a favorable first impression as well, helping land Huggins.
Warren came away impressed at Huggins' commitment to the game. Huggins and his mother moved from Bronx, N.Y., to offer Huggins a better opportunity to earn a football scholarship.
"He really wanted to take the next step for football,'' Warren said. "Up there, that's not really in the culture. So what they ended up doing, he and his mom moved down here. That tells you how important football is to that young man. It has paid off for him."
Huggins (6-0, 200) plans to enroll next summer and join a team that features a strong returning class of defensive backs.
Warrens sees Huggins fitting in nicely.
"He's a big, versatile, athletic young man,'' Warren said. "He's played some corner, he's played safety, he can come off the edge. He is really physical and imposing. He's worked hard on his frame and his size. He's a guy you feel like can grow into multiple positions.
"When you look for DBs, you are looking for versatility, explosiveness, ball skills. He has that. I think him being in Florida for four years, he has sort of transplanted himself into the way Florida plays football."
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The Gators have added a pair of offensive linemen among the eight players signed so far on the early National Signing Day.
They are on different ends of the spectrum.
True freshman Chris Bleich is your typical prep prospect with a huge upside because of the way he approaches the game.
"He plays with tremendous passion,'' Gators assistant coach John Hevesy said. "He plays the game hard finishing. He played both guard and tackle. Chris brings all the things -- the mentality of the game, the work ethic, the toughness -- that you are looking for. He is chomping at the bit to get down here and do those things. Right now, he brings everything you are looking for to me in an offensive lineman."
The 6-foot-6, 313-pound Bleich plans to enroll early after a stellar career at Wyoming (Pa.) Valley West High. Growing up in a state that values hard work and a blue-collar approach, Bleich fits the bill. He played guard and tackle in high school.
"He loves playing the game, the dirty stuff. He loves lifting weights, loves the hard work. He doesn't shy away from it. He brings that mentality of a football kid. That's who he is."
Meanwhile, junior-college transfer Noah Banks also plans to enroll early to get a jump start on playing right away. UF will be the third stop in three years for Banks, who started his career at Murray State in 2016. He played at Iowa Western College last season.
Hevesy said the 6-foot-7, 305-pound Banks has a can-do attitude despite not being heavily recruited out of high school in Pensacola.
"I think he missed the recruiting part of it,'' Hevesy said. "He felt he could play at a higher level and he went for it. He walked away to go to a junior college to see if he could get recruited."
Auburn, Iowa State, Texas, Arkansas and others showed interest in Banks during his sophomore season. Banks could provide important depth for the Gators should junior Martez Ivey declare for the NFL Draft.
Banks played in 20 games the past two seasons to earn a shot at making an impact on a bigger stage at Florida.
"Great size and athletic ability,'' Hevesy said. "He has the drive and ambition to want to succeed at this level. That's huge. He wanted to do it and wanted to push himself. It's a 24-month sprint for him. He's different than a high school kid."
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The Gators added a kicker to the roster on Wednesday, signing Evan McPherson out of Fort Payne, Ala.
McPherson served as kicker and punter during his four seasons in high school and was selected to the Under-Armour All-American team.
He chose the Gators over Mississippi State, where UF head coach Dan Mullen spent nine seasons as head coach before taking over the Gators last month.
McPherson's addition is important due to the loss of Eddy Pineiro, who announced Tuesday that he would forego his final year of eligibility to enter the NFL Draft.
McPherson has a big leg like Pineiro. He booted a 60-yard field goal as a senior and also had an 84-yard punt, both kicks a yard shy of the Alabama high school state record.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The Gators announced a few minutes ago the official signing of offensive lineman Noah Banks from Iowa Western College.
Banks stands 6-foot-7 and checks in at 305 pounds. He played in 10 games a season ago at Iowa Western as the Reivers finished 11-1 and averaged 515.4 yards of offense per game. Banks started his career at Murray State in 2016 and provides experience.
He will be a redshirt junior with two years of eligibility remaining.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The Gators have added seven new players in the last hour and as each one becomes official, a graphic is posted on a wall inside Florida's "war room."
You can see for yourself in the tweet below (and those new shoes head coach Dan Mullen is sporting):
Let’s go!!!!!!!!! 🐊🐊🐊🐊🐊🐊 pic.twitter.com/ZTsdn5rkXh— Lee Begley (@leewdavis17) December 20, 2017
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Dan Mullen has spent most of his three-plus weeks as Florida's head coach on the road recruiting.
He is hunkered down on campus today as the first early National Signing Day in college football history unfolds. The Gators are expected to sign between 12 to 15 players in what will serve as the first half of Mullen's first signing class at Florida.
"It's been pretty crazy,'' he said. "We have had three weeks to prepare for this day."
Mullen took a couple of minutes to chat with Mitch Gerber of GatorVision a moment ago.
Check out the interview below:
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The Gators added a big addition at tight end on Wednesday morning.
Did I mention big? Florida signed 6-foot-6, 239-pound Kyle Pitts out of Abington, Pa. Pitts is a 2017 Under-Armour All-American selection who was a two-way standout at Archbishop Wood.
Pitts caught five touchdown passes his senior season and split time at defensive end for the Vikings, who finished 11-2 and played for a state championship.
Pitts chose the Gators over offers from schools such as Georgia, Alabama, Miami, Ohio State and Tennessee.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The Gators have added another running back to the mix early on National Signing Day, signing Iverson Clement out of Mount Holly, N.J.
Clement starred at Rancocas Valley Regional High, where he rushed for 3,404 yards and 46 touchdowns in his career.
Clement had offers from Ohio State, Michigan, Tennessee and Baylor. Check out Clement's highlights:
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The Gators have officially signed versatile athlete Amari Burney out of Calvary Christian High in Clearwater.
The 6-foot-1, 219-pound Burney played defensive back and receiver in high school. He finished with 182 career tackles and three defensive touchdowns.
On offense, Burney was a go-to receiver who finished with 992 yards on 54 catches, including 12 for scores. He had 33 catches for 558 yards and five touchdowns as a senior.
Burney chose the Gators over Florida State, Miami, Ohio State, Tennessee and Auburn, among others.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Defensive back John Huggins from Daytona Beach Mainland has sent in his National Letter of Intent.
Huggins chose the Gators over Louisville, Missouri, Miami, Florida State and USF.
Huggins played safety in high school and moves around well for a 6-foot, 200 pounds.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The Gators have officially signed running back Dameon Pierce of Bainbridge, Ga.
Pierce started all four seasons in high school and he racked up some major yardage: 6,779 for those counting.
How does that rank on the state's all-time rushing list? The 5-foot-11, 208-pound Pierce broke College Football Hall of Famer and former Georgia great Herschel Walker's all-time prep rushing record.
Pierce had offers from such schools as Alabama, Florida State, Miami, Georgia, South Carolina and Auburn.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Gators head coach Dan Mullen just announced the signing of offensive lineman Chris Bleich of Hanover Township, Pa.
The 6-foot-6, 313-pound Bleich played at Wyoming Valley West High and chose the Gators over UCLA, Penn State, Pittsburgh, Maryland and Nebraska.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- If you don't follow Lee Begley on Twitter, check her out. She is Florida's new director of recruiting operations and came with head coach Dan Mullen from Mississippi State.
Begley is up and early this morning in Florida's football offices as you can see ...
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- It has been 24 days since UF announced the hiring of new head football coach Dan Mullen on the late afternoon of Nov. 26.
Mullen's return to Florida brings back memories of some of the Gators' greatest days. He was offensive coordinator when Florida won national titles in 2006 and 2008. He was the quarterbacks coach when Tim Tebow won the Heisman Trophy in 2007.
At his introductory press conference a day later, Mullen revived memories of that era in discussing the future and the implementation of a new early signing period from Dec. 20-22.
It's a new challenge for everybody in college football,'' Mullen said. "Recruiting is the lifeblood of the program.
"You know, when I was here 10 years ago, we were blessed to have some truly spectacular players. I mean, it's fun calling plays when Tim Tebow is your quarterback and he's throwing the ball out to Percy Harvin or a Louis Murphy or a Bubba Caldwell. And the defensive guys: when you have a Joe Haden out there covering field, a Brandon Spikes hitting people at linebacker.
"You look at some of the talent we had here, it was special and we have to do a great job recruiting to get that level of player back here to lead us back to championships."
That will take time, but Mullen hopes the Gators take an important first step toward that destination starting today.
Check back with us here on our FloridaGators.com National Signing Day blog for updates throughout the day as National Letters of Intent begin to arrive.
The first ones are expected in the next hour.