The Gus Bus is starting to fill up, and several top recruits in Central Florida are on board.
Gus Malzahn, who has yet to coach his first game at the University of Central Florida, already landed commitments from six recruits within 70 miles of the school.
Sanford Seminole senior linebacker Kam Moore, who announced his commitment Tuesday morning, is the latest Central Florida recruit who decided to stay home.
Recruiting post-dead period:Football Recruiting: Who’s done well in Florida since the dead period ended … and who hasn’t
Lakeland defensive end Keahnist Thompson and interior offensive lineman Miguel Maldonado, Apopka cornerback Nikai Martinez, Boone offensive tackle Leyton Nelson and DeLand long snapper Aidan Fedigan are the others.
“I think the biggest thing has just been the relationships that these assistant coaches have tried to build with coaches in the area and players in the area,” Seminole coach Eric Lodge said. “They understand that if they take care of business at home in recruiting, they’re going to have some of the top players in the country and I think that level of detail and focus in the area haven’t been there since (former coach) Scott Frost was around.”
UCF’s 2021 recruiting class, primarily put together by former coach Josh Heupel, included a total of five in-state players.
Heupel left UCF for Tennessee in late January, one week before National Signing Day the following month.
Malzahn, who was fired in December after eight seasons at Auburn, was hired less than two weeks after Heupel left.
Malzahn, staff bring cache, energy
Malzahn and his staff, led by co-defensive coordinator/recruiting coordinator Travis Williams, immediately brought cache and energy to the recruiting trail.
“I can’t say enough about it,” said Thompson, who committed to UCF in June. “They really impressed me. They seemed to have a good bond together. It was amazing.”
Thompson and Martinez, who announced his decision in July, are two of the highest-ranked recruits UCF has reeled in since 2000, according to 247Sports.
Martinez is the No. 31 cornerback in the nation and the No. 289 overall recruit in the nation on the 247Sports composite rankings. Thompson is the No. 59 defensive lineman and the No. 406 overall player. Both players has more than a dozen Power 5 offers but chose UCF.
Playing for the Knights — and staying close in the Orlando area — wasn’t a realistic option for Martinez until Malzahn arrived.
“It feels good to be staying close to home,” Martinez wrote in an exclusive story for the USA Today Network announcing his decision. “It’s shocking to me, really. Through the whole process, I was determined that I was not staying home. I would not stay this close. Before when I say something about UCF, people knew I was joking. Now it’s happening.
“Coach Malzahn is a big reason why I’m going to UCF. I was thinking about Auburn when he was there just because of him. It’s how he is, the coaches’ respect for him is on another level. Him getting that job in my hometown, you can’t ask for anything better. We already had that relationship. It’s not like he’s just a new coach.”
Lakeland’s Maldonado leads the way
Maldonado was the first player in the class of 2022 to commit to UCF. The 6-foot-4, 325-pound lineman said he liked the way UCF approached the recruiting process.
“I had a lot of schools that were texting me every single day, a lot of schools calling me every single day,” Maldonado said. “Schools that didn’t even offer me before I committed, they were wanting to talk to me. They wanted to have online meetings with me for an hour, and I already had football going on. I would come home after having 3 1/2 hours of football, and I’d have to answer every call. It was like spamming. A lot of coaches would spam me.
“But UCF, they really didn’t do that to me whenever I started talking to them. They talked to me on a real level. They asked me good stuff. It seemed like they really cared about me.”
UCF currently has 10 commitments in its 2022 class and is in the mix for several other top recruits in Central Florida, including Seminole twin defensive backs Demari and Ja’Cari Henderson.
“It’s only getting better,” Henderson said. “When they got here, they recruited local players.
“It’s growing. It’s a no-brainer. Coach T-Will is cool. You can vibe with them.”