Florida thrives on unofficial visits

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Some colleges emphasize the importance of receiving official visits from prospects they are recruiting, but for the University of Florida, nothing is more important than getting prospects on campus for unofficial visits.

Just how important are unofficial visits to the Gators? Consider that 17 of Florida's 20 2013 verbal commitments committed to the Gators within a week of unofficially visiting the school.

Five-star cornerback prospect Vernon Hargreaves III, who committed to the Gators after unofficially visiting the school on July 26, said the intimate setting of an unofficial visit allowed him to learn more about what a program is really like instead of when it's on a big official recruiting weekend with several other recruits.

"They were extremely important," Hargreaves said of his multiple visits to Florida. "You really get to see what the program is all about. I look at it as basically an official visit but without the game and you don't spend the night. You really get to see everything else, though, like the locker room and getting to hang out with the other plays. You get to hang out with the coaches. You get to see the academics. It's extremely important.

"You can sit down with the coaches and you can kind of do what you want to do. You can tell the coaches what you want to see and what you want to talk about. I think it would have been hard to commit without taking those unofficial visits to Florida."

For Florida head coach Will Muschamp, it's not just about a prospect getting to know more about his program, but rather it's an opportunity to learn more about what type of player the Gators are recruiting.

“Recruiting is about developing relationships and it is something you have to do every day," Muschamp said. "The more opportunities you have to develop that relationship, especially on the personal level, it helps both the prospective student-athlete and the coaches in the process."

Prior to committing to the Gators, Hargreaves took unofficial visits to several schools including Oregon, USC and Stanford. The 5-foot-11, 185-pound athlete said it was important to see what was out there, however, it was a strain financially with no assistance permitted from the NCAA or the individual schools.

"It's a lot of money to get a plane ticket or get gas to drive to some of the schools. Then you have to get a hotel if you were to stay," Hargreaves said. "It's a lot of money. I think the NCAA should definitely help with the cost of unofficial visits. I don't see anything wrong with that. It's not like they are giving you a car. They would just be helping you out so I could make the best decision for me. I don't see anything wrong with that."

It’s unlikely the NCAA will assist financially with unofficial visits in the near future, but the Gators have the good fortune to be sitting right in the middle of a fertile recruiting state. Gainesville is located within five hours of Tampa, Orlando, Jacksonville and Miami -- cities known for producing some of the top talent in the southeast.