Jan 2, 2013; New Orleans, LA, USA; Florida Gators head coach Will Muschamp on the field prior to kickoff of the Sugar Bowl against the Louisville Cardinals at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Florida Gator Recruiting: Post-Sugar Bowl

With the recent decommitment of defensive tackle Caleb Brantley, the Florida Gators are currently sitting on 24 commitments for the 2013 recruiting cycle. The message board fodder regarding recruiting in the wake of the huge upset over Florida by Louisville was whether or not the big upset would affect the Gators recruiting efforts for this cycle. The answer is an unequivocal “NO”. At least it shouldn’t.

Recruiting is all about relationships. Like any other relationship, a good recruiting relationship is built over a long period of time and cannot be simply undone by one loss or one negative event. If it does than there really wasn’t a commitment at all and a fan would have to question whether or not they would really want that player on the team. Adversity, especially at the collegiate level, is as much a part of football as X’s and O’s. If a player runs at the first sign of adversity, what’s he going to do when he has to redshirt, or doesn’t win a starting position, or when his team gets down early in a game, etc…  So recruits just like fans get disappointed when their team loses a big game but they rarely jump ship. Usually they feel an increased need for their services and makes them even more eager to get on campus to help out.

Speaking of recruiting relationships, the big question Gator fans want to know is what’s up with Caleb Brantley. He was the second commitment in this cycle and has been committed for a year, why would a guy who has long been committed up and decide to back out so close to signing day? Usually this happens for one of three reasons. First would be a coaching change. Either the head coach is replaced like with Auburn, or a position coach/main recruiter leaves ala Jeremy Pruitt and DeMarcus Walker who we’ll talk about later. This, of course, is not the case with Brantley and the Gators.

Secondly, a commit gets spooked by continued recruiting of other players at his position. Sometimes a player feels lied to, sometimes they’re just afraid of the competition. Gator fans saw just such a thing with the recruitment of running back Mike Davis last season. Like Brantley, Davis was one of the first Gator commitments in the 2012 class. Throughout he was one of two running backs committed and appeared to be ok with that. His story was the staff told him they would not recruit any more running backs. Barely a month before signing day it became public that the Gators were giving top rated running back Keith Marshall a look and were actively pursuing his commitment. As a result he publicly decommitted and ended up in a ridiculous sparring war via Twitter with Gator fans over his decommitment.

Of course, the staff cannot, and should not, respond due to NCAA regulations and so the truth remains somewhat murky as to the whole story involving Davis’ recruitment. Regardless, this is also not likely to be the case with Brantley. It is true the staff continues to recruit defensive tackles and are going after some big time talents which we will get into shortly, but it has never been indicated by Brantley or anyone involved in his recruitment that he has an issue with this.

That leads us to the third and final reason long time commits back out late in the process: namely, attention. Period. Recruiting has become a big time game and has resulted in a billion dollar industry with websites and major media players such as ESPN, Yahoo, CBSSports, etc… As a result, many kids are exposed to an extreme limelight which they do not necessarily know how to handle and may never get again. The problem with a lot of top ranked kids who commit early is they feel like they miss out on the attention that media outlets, and, unfortunately, fans as well, pay to top “uncommitted” prospects late in the game. Guys that wait til All-American games or til signing day to commit get lots of media exposure and stay in the spotlight in the month leading up to signing day. Guys that commit a year early generally do not.

This is most likely what’s behind the Caleb Brantley saga. In a way, this bodes best for Gator fans who don’t want to lose a top talent like Brantley as guys who do these things generally end up back in the fold by signing day. Remember, recruiting is about relationships and schools haven’t really built that with a kid that has been committed to one school for so long. That makes it difficult for him to make a choice to go elsewhere so late. Usually the head coach and his primary recruiter make some calls or an in-home and he’s all good, Sometimes they just want to take a couple of late trips because they can and they return to their original commitment. Many think this will be the case with Caleb Brantley. He said he’s talking to Alabama, and wants to check out Georgia and South Carolina, but in the end he will likely be a Gator.

On to some big time prospects left on the Gators board who are likely to visit before signing day. First, and foremost, the biggest buzz has been surrounding defensive lineman DeMarcus Walker. Walker has been recruited by the Gators since this staff has taken over. He agonized for months going back and forth between the Gators and Alabama before choosing the Tide right before the season started. Of course, with him being so close to three Gator commitments and being highest on the Gators defensive end board throughout the process the staff has never stopped recruiting him.

There has been much speculation heading into the All Star games that Walker was rethinking his Bama commitment and would take a visit to Florida this coming weekend after the Under Armour All American game is over. It all started with a message board post by Gatorsports.com recruiting analyst Zach Alboverdi who stated that Walker was applying for January enrollment at Florida and was considering flipping. By last weekend the reports were that he was definitely coming, then yesterday his high school coach made a statement saying he wouldn’t come and was solid to Bama. Right on the heels of that report a few analysts said they spoke to him and his mother and that he is definitely coming this weekend.

The truth? Right now I’m leaning with he’s coming and is a serious threat to flip to the Gators. All along the thought has been that his recruitment wasn’t over and in the end he might wind up in Gainesville. Strangely as the season wore on he appeared more and more committed to the Tide despite the Gators exceeding all expectations on the field and showing great defensive promise from the NFL coaching staff. However, his primary recruiter, and admittedly the only staff member he was close to, Jeremy Pruitt left Bama to become the defensive coordinator for the Seminoles. Add in the fact that Tuscaloosa is a long drive for his family to see him and for him to visit home, then there’s the fact that his buddies are all in his ear to come to Gainesville to play with him and it all adds up to a strong pull to stay close to home.

There is one wild card in this situation that few are considering as well. When his coach announced he would not visit Gainesville this weekend he mentioned that instead he would take an unofficial visit to Tallahassee. Considering, the Seminoles were not ever really in the picture for his services that seemed like an oddity. However, remembering that recruiting is about relationships, and realizing that Jeremy Pruitt has built a strong relationship with him which got him to commit to Bama, and then adding in that Pruitt is the new defensive coordinator at FSU, there is reason to be worried if he does indeed spurn the Gators for a trip to Tallahassee.

Right now, I’m going with the thought that he does take the trip to Gainesville and is a strong candidate to flip to the Gators if he does indeed make the trip. If he does not make the trip, Fugitaboutit. I really don’t think FSU is a player here, if he does actually spurn Gainesville for Tallahassee it’s likely simply to see the guy he built a strong relationship with and will likely stick with Bama.

On to some more top rated guys reportedly considering the Gators. Elijah Daniel, a former Clemson commit, is a big time defensive end that has long been considering the Gators. He has really showed out this week in Under Armour game practices as one of the best ends in this recruiting cycle. Fortunately for Gator fans he also has long been a Gator lean.

Over the summer, there were reports that his grades were a serious concern and the staff had all but dropped him. He ended up committing to the Clemson Tigers and many thought that would be it for the Gators as they seemed to move on to other targets. However, the staff never did quit recruiting him as they had him very high on their board, especially after DeMarcus Walker, their top choice, spurned the Gators for the Tide. It paid off for the Gators as he got serious about his grades, reportedly made the qualifying ACT test score and improved his grades. He eventually decommitted from the Tigers almost two months ago and the Gators seemed to be the odds on favorite going into the clubhouse. He’s not entirely out of the water with the grade issue just yet but he is scheduled to take a visit this month and if things go well he could very well end up in Orange and Blue. Stay tuned.

Next we come to the paradox that is Demarcus Robinson. Robinson is a top flight wide receiver that had long been committed to Clemson but had flipped to the Gators last month BEFORE visiting Florida. The weekend after committing to the Gators he took an official visit and left on the Sunday before the dead period. When he got back home he had a sit down with his high school coach who many have asserted was pushing him back to the Tigers telling him to honor his original commitment. Of course, that Sunday night he announced, or more correctly his high school coach announced, that Demarcus had flipped back to the Clemson Tigers. Headscratching at it’s best.

Since then Demarcus has been relatively quiet until arriving at the Army All-American game practices where he showed up sporting a Gators hat and announcing that he was undecided and going to commit during the game to either Clemson or Florida. Of course, there has been much speculation since his recommitment to Clemson and even more since he arrived in San Antonio. Personally, my feeling is that he has trouble telling authority figures “no”, i.e. his high school coach and the Clemson staff. I think he really has his mind set on playing in the SEC and thinks he can come in and start from day one at Florida which is probably the case. I don’t usually make predictions, but pencil this one in for the Gators. If there is one position on the field that the Gators need IMMEDIATE help it is at wideout and I feel that Robinson will start from day one if he indeed heads to Gainesville. Before going to press for the article there has been some info that Demarcus will not announce at the game but will simply enroll on Monday at the school of his choice. You can take it any way you want to but that leads me to believe it will be Florida and he won’t announce because he doesn’t want to deal with the fallback over the weekend from those pushing him to Clemson. Again, take it any way you want to but we will know come Monday.

The biggest fallout from the Caleb Brantley saga is IF he will still be in this class as Muschamp has made it clear that he wants team players not prima donnas in his program. He has shown a willingness to let current players go if they are not vested and to ignore top rated players if they don’t fit the mold that he has for his program. On that note, the Gators are actively recruiting top rated defensive tackle Montravius Adams out of Georgia. He arrived in Orlando, Florida this week for the Under Armour All-American game to much fanfare as analysts expected him to show why he was considered the top rated prospect at the tackle position. Instead he has been nursing an ankle injury that has all but kept him out of the week long practices.

Regardless of whether or not he plays in the game, the Gators are actively making a push for his services and he is scheduled to visit this weekend after the Under Armour game is completed. He’s still a longshot and the Georgia Bulldogs, with Clemson a close second, are still the odds on favorite here, but once he gets on campus you never know. With Floyd leaving for the NFL, the staff might just be able to convince him to be the next Sharrif Floyd. Of all the defensive tackle prospects the Gators are pursuing, he reminds me the most of Sharrif Floyd.

Another top rated recruit, that previously hadn’t been mentioned as considering the Gators is overall ESPN number one recruit and top rated defensive end Robert Nkemdiche. The 6’4″ 260 pound defensive end was previously committed to Clemson but backed out of that commitment some time ago. Since then he has been rumored to Auburn and now Ole Miss as his brother is a starting linebacker there. The Gators have never been on his list so it’s curious as to why he might be rumored to be considering them. When he arrived in Orlando for the Under Armour game practices he made it clear he was considering a number of schools but his top two were Ole Miss and LSU. Since then a number of the Gator commits who were practicing with him have tweeted that they have been working on him trying to get him to come to Gainesville with him. While he now lists the Gators as a team he’s considering, there’s a low probability of him choosing the Gators at this point. Most expect him to head to Ole Miss to play with his brother.

Two others the Gators are looking at for the defensive tackle position are JUCO tackle Jarran Reed, an Ole Miss commit and teammate of Gator signee Darious Cummings, and South Florida DT Jaynard Bostwick. Reed, committed last month to the Rebels but isn’t among the January JUCO enrollees and is still taking visits. He is taking an official visit to Florida this weekend and we’ll know more about his recruitment by Monday. Bostwick is a kid who schools were cautious about due to concerns with grades but recently it appears he will qualify so the heat is on now. Recently he gave a top three of Miami, Florida, and Alabama. While there is always some concern about the Hurricanes with South Florida kids, and Bama is always a major player for any kid looking at them, most feel the Gators are in the driver seat with him.

Of the five, Adams, Nkemdiche, Reed, Bostwick, and Brantley my feeling is that Reed, Bostwick, and Brantley are most likely to sign with the Gators with Bostwick, and Brantley locks and Reed a luxury.

The Gators are still on hold with running back Alex Collins, who has been impressive this week in Army All-American game practices, as he’s still visiting schools, but the Gators seem to have as good a shot as any school with him at this point.  Fullback Kennard Swanson is still a likely candidate to sign, it just seems the staff is waiting to see how the class rounds out before they make an offer. He is still likely to be a signing day decision for the Gators. Finally, a tight end to look out for is Texas recruit Durham Smythe who recently decommitted from the Longhorns and has been talking with the staff. Again, I think the staff will take one of the two guys in the end and both if the numbers allow.

As a postscript, before publishing of this story Caleb Brantley tweeted,

“Just committed to University Of Florida !#Again ! #GoGators

That didn’t take long, now did it. Go Gators!

Tags: Caleb Brantley Demarcus Robinson Demarcus Walker Elijah Daniel Florida Gator Football Recruiting Jarran Reed Jaynard Bostwick

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