Two years ago, Florida coach Will Muschamp opened his National Signing Day press conference with this statement.
“Recruiting is all about developing relationships and trust,” he said.
That is no more evident than in the recruitment of DeMarcus Walker.
This time last week, the Jacksonville Sandalwood defensive end was scheduled to visit Florida following the Under Armour All-America Game. Many thought he would back off his long-standing commitment to Alabama and stay in-state.
And he did.
But not to play for the Gators.
In a shocking turn of events, Walker flipped to Florida State late Monday night and will enroll early in Tallahassee today. The ESPN150 member never showed serious interest (if any) in the Noles, but that changed in late December. Jeremy Pruitt, his primary recruiter at Alabama, left the Tide to become Florida State’s defensive coordinator.
Pruitt is the reason Walker took a second look at UF — and privately began considering FSU.
“It helped the Gators a lot,” Walker said last Wednesday. “Football players go through so much (in college) and your parents are there. If I went to Alabama, I would be nine hours away and I can’t just drive to my parents. Talking to coach Pruitt every night, me and him bonded with each other. I had the best connection with him out of all the coaches that recruited me.”
In the closing seconds of Friday’s UA Game, Walker told The Sun he was still visiting Florida over the weekend. However, after pressure from the Alabama coaching staff — and a recruiting violation by assistant Lance Thomspon — he canceled his trip to Gainesville and appeared to be sticking with the Tide.
But Walker’s relationship with Pruitt ultimately won him over, according to his high school Adam Geis.
“He really got kind of nervous about going that far away from home. I think DeMarcus, in the end, felt more comfortable with Jeremy,” Geis told The Florida Times-Union.
With Walker now off the board, the Gators will turn their attention to other defensive ends and they have three targets taking officials this month. Auburn commit Tashawn Bower (Somerville, N.J./Immaculata) visits on Jan. 18, USC commit Jason Hatcher (Louisville, Ky./Trinity) visits on Jan. 25 and Elijah Daniel (Avon, Ind.) visits on Feb. 1.
UF offered Mississippi State DE commit Chris Jones (Houston, Miss.) on Saturday, but he’s solid with the home-state Bulldogs and will be hard for Florida to flip.