Florida football: Catching up on key recruiting battles for the Gators at the midseason mark
After a slow start to the 2019 recruiting campaign, Florida fans spent much of the summer restless about whether Dan Mullen would be able to attract high-end talent to Gainesville. No matter how well you coach kids up, success in recruiting and a roster full of blue-chip personnel is critical to the championship aspirations of any program. Jim McElwain’s failure in the aftermath of the Credit Card Nine Scandal happened at least in part because he simply couldn’t land enough elite talent on the trail.
The reasons for Florida’s slow start were complicated, but as the Florida staff heated up over the summer, landing elite linebackers Diwun Black and Mohamoud Diabate, among others, many fans calmed down, willing to give Mullen some time to show recruits that his coaching made a difference on the field and, hopefully, to set the stage for a strong close in December and February.
Mullen and the Gators have certainly done all they can on the field thus far to show recruits that this is a new regime and era in Florida football. The 6-1 start, and an electric home environment in a 27-19 win over No. 5 LSU, have created a buzz and energy around the program that has been missing most of this decade.
Nevertheless, the infusion of optimism and energy has yet to pay dividends on the recruiting trail. Florida hasn’t landed a single commitment since Sept. 6, 2018 (four-star cornerback Jaydon Hill), and the class has again fallen out of the top 20, ranking 21st and, perhaps more vitally, a discouraging 11th in the SEC.
In other words, Florida needs a big November and December on the recruiting trail or they’ll be hoping to buck the inevitable narrative of a disappointing early signing day come February.
Florida will use the bye week, at least in part, to hit the recruiting trail and see some of the staff’s high-priority targets in both the 2019 and 2020 classes. Friday night, the staff will check in on three-star safety Trent Whittemore, along with four-star offensive tackle Jalen Rivers, considered the state of Florida’s best OL in the 2020 class and likely to decide between Florida and rival Florida State. Gators coaches will also attend games played by four-star targets and Florida leans Lloyd Summerall (DE) and Kaiir Elam (CB), as well as highly-coveted four-star tight end Keon Zipperer, who most accounts suggest will choose among Florida, Miami and late-arriving but always convincing Alabama.
The Gators are hoping to gain momentum on the trail ahead of the November close, regardless of whether they are victorious in the Cocktail Party and get the help they need to reach Atlanta or qualify for a New Year’s Six Bowl.
Here is a closer look at five recruiting battles the Gators hope to win over the next three months. If the Gators sign even a few of these players, they would likely, according to the 24/7 class calculator, propel this class into a strong top 15 or 10 finish.
RB Nay’quan Wright (4 stars)
The nation’s 18th-ranked running back according to 24/7, Wright is compact and quick and shows an elite burst hitting the hole even if he doesn’t have top-end speed. The Miami Carol City product is difficult to tackle and shifty and has long been considered a Florida lean despite a lengthy offer list that includes FSU, Alabama and Georgia. The only real player here is Georgia, but with Gators running back Jordan Scarlett likely off to the NFL, the Florida depth chart may be somewhat more inviting.
The Pick: Florida
DE Kayvon Thibodeaux (5 stars)
One of the nation’s most coveted players, the five-star defensive end from California just moved up his commitment date to Dec. 15 following a visit to Oregon, which he described as the best college atmosphere he’d ever seen.
In truth, Florida State remains a larger player at present for Thibodeaux, as the young man had an excellent visit to Tallahassee over Labor Day weekend and liked the idea of playing near FAMU, a campus he also visited over the summer.
The Gators remain in contact with Thibodeaux and hope to get him back on campus after his unofficial visit this summer, but I wouldn’t hold my breath.
The Pick: Oregon or FSU
DE/OLB Lloyd Summerall (4 stars)
Lakeland has been kind to the Gators over the years, and Summerall appears to be a Florida lean, though like his 4-star teammate, tight end Keon Zipperer, Miami looks to be the first school he’ll visit officially this fall. He’ll head to Coral Gables and then make the trek north on the Florida Turnpike to see the Hurricanes play Duke next month. Summerall has also scheduled a visit to finalist Nebraska, presently set for Nov. 17 when the Huskers take on Michigan State.
The Gators remain the team to beat, according to insiders, and are almost certain to get a visit of their own, even if it comes in December. I’d imagine that seeing the Gators staff on the sidelines this weekend will help.
The Pick: Florida
DB Chris Steele (4 stars)
Steele decommitted from USC on Thursday, and thoughts immediately shifted in the Twitterverse to the Gators. Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham, safeties coach Ron English and the Florida staff made a priority of Steele over the summer and kept in contact with him even after his commitment to USC.
Steele recently tweeted that he felt Florida was the “real DBU,” and the Gators will likely make a big push to add him to the class, especially given the team’s precarious depth at corner and the fact that Marco Wilson will be coming off a second ACL injury next autumn.
The Pick: Florida
DE Nathan Pickering (4 stars)
The Gators would love to flip a defensive end, whether it’s one of the Alabama pair of Byron Young and Justin Eboigbe or Auburn commit Jaren Handy.
The one we think is the best bet is Pickering, the Mississippi State commit who was on hand for Florida’s upset win over the Bulldogs in Starkville and is already slated to visit Gainesville later this fall. (Handy will visit, too, but Mullen and Grantham have recruited Pickering at least a year and a half longer.)
On a hunch …
The Pick: Florida