GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- When he resigned from Florida in January 2002, Steve Spurrier hardly left time for his replacement to recruit.
But boy could Ron Zook recruit.
As Spurrier's successor, Zook capitalized on the Head Ball Coach's 12 years of prominence and kept the pipeline of talent flowing to UF.
Before Zook's final season in 2004, he signed his third consecutive class full of highly regarded prospects. Several members of that class went on to be the veterans of two national championship teams under Zook's replacement, Urban Meyer.
That makes Florida's Class of 2004 a lock for No. 3 in our week-long series of Florida's five most impactful recruiting classes of the last decade.
The stars: It's a good sign when the top prospect in the class turns out to be the best player, too. Defensive end Derrick Harvey was an elite prospect according to a consensus of recruiting services. He became an edge-rushing nightmare for Gators opponents. Few Florida (or Ohio State) fans will forget his performance in the 2006 national championship game for which he was named Defensive MVP. The other standout from this class was middle linebacker Brandon Siler, an instant leader who started 31 of 37 games at UF and tallied more than 200 career tackles.
The contributors: The Gators struck gold on the offensive line with their 2004 recruits. Phil Trautwein started every game at left tackle in the Gators' championship seasons of 2006 and 2008. Left guard Jim Tartt started all but one game in 2006 and was a team captain in 2008. Guard/center Drew Miller started every game from 2006-07, and tackle Jason Watkins started every game from 2007-08. Other contributors were DE Jeremy Mincey, a juco transfer who started every game from 2004-05; TE Cornelius Ingram, a gifted athlete who lived up to his potential before struggling with injuries; and S Tony Joiner, who started all but one game from 2006-07.
The letdowns: The 2004 class was not without its problems. Two of the top prospects -- WR Derrick McPhearson and DB McIntosh Nicolas -- failed to qualify academically. Two more, DB Dawayne Grace and DL Branden Daniel, were dismissed. And six players transferred, including highly touted recruits Michael Brown (Mississippi State), Dane Guthrie (Arizona State) and Mike McIntosh (Georgia Southern). Another heralded recruit, Mike Mangold, simply walked away after quitting football and withdrawing from classes at UF.
The results: A common meme after Florida's 2006 national title was that Meyer won with Zook's players. That point might be debatable, but the Class of 2004's two SEC championships and two national championships are enough to declare it a big-time success. Harvey busted in the NFL but was a high first round draft pick (No. 8 overall in 2008). Ingram was a fifth-round pick in 2009 who never played an NFL game due to injuries. Mincey has found the most NFL success from his recruiting class as a sixth-round pick in 2006 who has played on four teams and is still active. Siler was drafted in the seventh round in 2007 and played four seasons as a reserve for San Diego and one for Kansas City.