Need for speed driving Purdue, Michigan to recruit Florida
Purdue has made Florida its biggest priority, landing 13 Sunshine State recruits
Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez has also gone to Florida to find players
In a down year for Midwest recruits, even Florida's "leftovers" can be superior
Danny Hope has spent much of the past month driving up and down I-95. The newly elevated Purdue head coach and his staff have taken up part-time residency in South Florida recently -- and the Midwest's record-cold winter has nothing to do with it.
Hope's team, like so many others in the Big Ten, has a need for speed. A six-game BCS losing streak and 1-6 bowl record last season have only reinforced the conference's lagging national reputation. This recruiting season, several Big Ten teams are addressing that discrepancy by raiding the nation's richest state for fast football players.
While it's not unprecedented for schools from the Midwest to poach skill-players from Florida -- Ohio State has been doing it for years, luring recent standouts Chris Gamble, Michael Jenkins, Santonio Holmes and Nate Salley, among others -- the conference as a whole has plucked Sunshine State commitments at record numbers this year.
"It's definitely something we haven't seen in a long time in the Big Ten," said Rivals.com's Big Ten recruiting analyst, Jeremy Crabtree. "It's a self realization that, when they go play top flight BCS programs from other conferences, they don't have the speed to compete. They need to go to where the speed is, and the speed unfortunately isn't in the Midwest."
Second-year Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez, desperate for speedy skill players to rev up his preferred spread-option offense, has landed six commitments from Florida -- one more than the Wolverines signed from the state over the previous seven years. They remain in the hunt for four-star athlete Denard Robinson (Deerfield Beach), a potential dual-threat QB, as well.
Meanwhile, Buckeyes coach Jim Tressel -- whose latest class could wind up ranked as high as No. 2 on Rivals.com -- nabbed two of Florida's top 20 players, running back Jamaal Berry (Miami) and receiver Duron Carter (Ft. Lauderdale), as well as four-star RB Carlos Hyde (Naples). Illinois, led by former Gators coach Ron Zook, has landed five Florida commits, and Wisconsin got three.
But no Big Ten school has made the Sunshine State as big a priority as Purdue, where 13-of-18 committed players hail from Florida. Hope, who was named head Joe Tiller's successor in January 2008 and officially succeeded him after the season, is a Gainesville, Fla., native and attended high school at Miami powerhouse Killian. Prior to returning to West Lafayette (where he was an assistant under Tiller from 1997-2001), Hope was the head coach at I-AA Eastern Kentucky, where he estimates about a third of his 2007 playoff team hailed from Florida.
"We have a lot of relationships down here," said Hope, who recently named Florida Atlantic offensive coordinator Gary Nord to the same position at Purdue. "Purdue had not been as heavy in South Florida the past few years. I was surprised. There's a lot of kids down here who would love to be a Big Ten player and know they can have an immediate impact."
Purdue's plan was born partly out of necessity, as this is considered a down year for recruits in most Big Ten states.
"There were maybe a half-dozen kids in Indiana we thought could help us win the Big Ten in the next couple years, and not a great year in the Chicago area," said Hope, whose class also includes two players from Georgia and one from Texas but not a single Midwesterner. "We recruited and offered the very best ones, there just wasn't the numbers there.
"This year, we have a lot of senior skill guys leaving our program. There are a lot of fast guys in Florida, skill players that can come in and help us right away."