We’re number one, We’re number one…
Fans of college football teams love to chant this at every opportunity. Right now fans of the Florida Gators can chant that in regards to the ESPN team recruiting rankings. Currently the Gators are atop the rankings with a week left until signing day. With 26 current commitments and 11 of the ESPN top 150 as well as 15 of the top 300, the Gator coaching staff has assembled a class that can be described as simply amazing.
While it’s loaded with star power, it is also distributed well positionally and is heavy on meeting specific needs both short and long term. The two biggest needs are at offensive line and wide receiver and those two spots represent 10 of the 26 commitments. They also have 5 defensive lineman (4 tackles and 1 end), 4 linebackers (2 inside, 2 outside), 4 defensive backs (3 safeties, 1 corner), 2 running backs, and 1 quarterback.
With 26 committed, only one considered a threat to decommit but unlikely in defensive tackle Antonio Riles, the Gators can sign as many as seven more guys. Eight of the commits were early entries and can be counted back to last year’s recruiting class. The Gators are not, however, expected to sign that many. Unless there are some surprises, as there always seems to be on signing day both good and bad, the Gators are not likely to finish with more than four more commits.
With our last major recruiting update before the eve of signing day here’s the latest word on potential recruits left on the Gator’s board.
Probably the biggest recruiting battle left for the Gators is that of wide receiver James Clark out of New Smyrna Beach. He’s been at the top of the Gator’s board since Demarcus Robinson enrolled three weeks ago. He’s been recruited hard by the Gators since early December and is the only wide receiver left on their board. The staff likes his speed and versatility. He can play the slot, run the jet sweep, and can stretch the field vertically. The Gators want him very badly as they seek playmakers at a position that possessed none last season and realistically hasn’t had one in Gainesville since Riley Cooper left after the 2009 season.
The Gators, who appeared to be losing ground on Clark since he unofficially visited almost four weeks ago with Clemson and Ohio State turning up the heat on him, were considering a couple of other speedy wideouts Kermit Whitfield, a Florida State soft verbal commit, and Ryan Timmons. Whitfield was actually scheduled to take an official visit this past weekend after his track meet concluded but quickly left town after losing in a heat race. With him skipping out on the staff, it appears this ship has sailed. Timmons it appears was more of a feeling out situation from the staff and it appears that they will not pursue him any further.
That leaves Clark and Clark alone for the last wideout spot. Even if they do not land him, the Gators are still set with the five commitments they have already. Alvin Bailey is more of a true slot guy, not super fast on a straight line run, but with quickness and the ability to juke and break tackles he should be a good playmaker at that position for the Gators. Clark will provide more of a deep threat and jet sweep presence for the Gators and could be used as a returner as well.
He did not commit to Ohio State on his visit this past weekend as many thought he might and has decided to take an unofficial visit to Florida this weekend. While his recruitment had appeared to be trending down for Florida the past few weeks, the fact that he didn’t commit on any visit, with the weather being terribly cold at Ohio State this past weekend, and the fact that the Gators have distance and playing time in their favor as well as the last shot at him, it appears the Gators are looking good to receive his LOI next Wednesday. Stay tuned but this one is once again trending up for the Gators.
Defensive end/Buck linebacker is the one spot left that the Gators are in serious need and have a good shot to be shut out of. While there is not an immediate need for a player to come in and play right away with Ronald Powell returning from injury and Dante Fowler and Jonathan Bullard set to return as well after playing in every game their true freshman seasons, they would certainly like to bring one in for depth and long term numbers at the position. After missing on the main guy on their board in Elijah Daniel due to academic issues, and briefly getting a look from number one overall recruit Robert Nkemdiche, it appears the Gators are likely down to former Auburn commit Tashawn Bower. Bower has been looking around since the staff at Auburn turned over and the Gators have been thought to be the odds on favorite to receive his commitment with others ahead of him on the board dropping like flies. This one is certainly not a slam dunk for the Gators and he very well could still end up with the Tigers.
Another guy thought to be flirting with the Gators is USC verbal commit Jason Hatcher. He’s been rumored several times to be visiting the Gators but that visit never materialized. Then last week he oddly decommitted via Twitter and then quickly deleted the tweet and claimed to be solid to the Trojans. There are still rumors of a silent defensive commitment for the Gators and he is one of the guys that is bandied about as being a silent. This weekend will be key as more than a few recruits are expected to trip to Gainesville for officials or unofficials including a few unmentioned verbal commits to other schools. If he does indeed make it in this weekend then certainly there is a chance he could flip to the Gators. If he doesn’t actually take the trip then realistically there is no chance that he could be in this class. This one is certainly a wait and see but still highly unlikely.
Realistically, those are the only two defensive end recruits that have a realistic shot at being in this class. Of course, there is always a small minute percentage chance that Nkemdiche could “shock the world” as recruits love to boast annually and choose the Gators on signing day, but very, very small. He’s pretty much a lock to Ole Miss at this point, the centerpiece of a highly regarded defensive haul for the Rebels, better than any I’ve seen for them in my 30 plus years of following recruiting.
At defensive tackle, where the Gators lose both of their starters Sharrif Floyd and Omar Hunter, the staff would like to add one more player and preferably a guy that could potentially provide some depth this season. There were three main guys the staff was left actively recruiting at the spot, Montravius Adams, JUCO Jarran Reed, and Jaynard Bostwick. At this point it appears that Adams ship has sailed and the Gators are likely merely a hat on the table, especially since his main recruiter former defensive coordinator Dan Quinn has departed.
Reed was thought even a week ago to be a Gator lean and the most likely of the three to sign with the Gators, however, he didn’t make his expected trip to Kentucky and instead made a surprise visit to Alabama. Reed has a couple of friends on the team competing at the same position in 2013 commit Darius Cummings a former JUCO teammate and Damien Jacobs who signed with Florida last year out of the same junior college. For this reason, he was thought to be a lean to the Gators, but at this point for whatever reason his recruitment is trending downward for the Gators and he’s not expected to sign with the Gators. The thought is he will stick with Ole Miss but if not may very well end up with the Crimson Tide.
That leaves us with Bostwick as the only likely recruit still left on the board for the Gators at defensive tackle. He’s another that has long been considered a Gator lean despite his childhood affinity with the hometown Hurricanes. This one is still likely a Miami-Florida battle with Alabama having an outside shot but right now it appears to be down to UF-Miami. This one goes back and forth between the two. The Gators have already taken their in-home visit and Bostwick is still scheduled to take his official to Florida this weekend. With the threat of sanctions still looming and with the Gators getting last shot, the thought here is this one is trending upward slightly for the Gators and they likely hold a slight lead. Stay tuned for more signing day drama.
The Gators currently have four linebackers committed with the loss of longtime commit James Hearns to academic concerns. They have good balance with two inside guys and two outside guys. One guy the Gators are still actively recruiting is former outside linebacker commit Quinton Powell. He was an early commit to the Gators in this cycle and was committed for a long time before backing off a little over a month ago. Many felt it was only a matter of time before he committed to USC as his teammate and close friend is Leonard Williams who chose the Trojans over the Gators on signing day last season. He never did commit to USC and last week announced he would not take any other visits and would choose between USC and the Gators. Most had him penciled in for the Trojans but the last few days he has expressed a lot of agony over the decision via twitter. Monday night he said that coach Muschamp was in house for a visit and that he was torn between the two. Still think he is a Trojan in the end but Muschamp is not going to go quietly on this one. Stay tuned.
Finally, the only other position the staff is actively seeking another commitment from is cornerback. They have one, the top high school cornerback in the nation in Vernon Hargreaves III, and would like to get one more as they will lose at least one, Jaylen Watkins, to graduation after next season and possibly one more of Marcus Roberson and Loucheiz Purifoy to early entry to the NFL draft. The only player left on their board and one they are frantically trying to land is Jalen Ramsey, a four star USC Trojan commit and arguably the best corner during Army All American week. He is a high school teammate of Gator quarterback recruit Max Staver and has been considering the Gators since last summer. With the recent release of Ramsey’s position coach and other factors possibly weighing on the mind of Ramsey and his family many expect that he will not actually sign with the Trojans on signing day.
The thought was that if he didn’t sign with the Trojans he would likely choose the Gators. However, he took an official visit to Florida State the weekend before last and his father announced last week that they were in the mix and that the only three schools he would consider going forward would be USC, FSU, and Florida. Oddly, all three camps have expressed some level of confidence in their ability to land Ramsey. His father for what it’s worth came out with a statement that he has not made any kind of decision and anybody who thinks they know where he is going is simply guessing. Interestingly, besides teammate Staver who is likely stumping for the Gators, safety recruit Nick Washington, who hung out with Ramsey during the Army All American week, has apparently been actively recruiting Ramsey for the Gators as well according to tweets he posted the last few days.
With one week left to signing day, the Gators are in the stretch run. With 26 commitments and almost all of their needs met, the Gators will try to keep what they got and shoot for at least four more recruits by signing day. Even if they do not add another recruit this will be an extremely successful recruiting class and the best on paper since 2010. Whether they can maintain their number one ranking on ESPN Recruiting Nation if they do not add anyone else remains to be seen. But either way, this class top to bottom is exactly what Will Muschamp needs to bring in with his third and first true class with his stamp.
Stay tuned to HailFloridaHail for the latest in recruiting news from now to signing day and check in on signing day for live updates via Twitter @HailFloridaHail and Facebook as well as a running list of LOI’s and short bios on the signees on the website.