Florida Gator Recruiting: An Early Look at the Early Entry Recruits

Army All American and future Gator quarterback Will Grier.

Army All American and future Gator quarterback Will Grier.

The Florida Gators fresh off the worst season since 0-10-1 in 1979 are in dire need of both talent and depth. The 2014 recruiting class, with some recent additions and subtractions, is currently ranked as the 10th best class nationally by Rivals.com.

While recruiting can be a roller coaster ride throughout the process, as this past week has proven, the recent tendency towards early entry signees helps to ease a little of the concern for fans as well as giving players a leg up on their college career. For fans it’s kind of like getting to open a few presents early on Christmas Eve.

The Gators have had a solid history of bringing in early entry recruits and this season is no different. Currently there are eight enrolled with one more expected on Monday.

Probably the most popular among fans and arguably most important recruit in this class is quarterback Will Grier. While the Gators struggles the last four seasons have been well documented, look no further than the quarterback position for why they’ve struggled.

For Gator fans hungry for offense, particularly in the passing game, Will Grier is seen as the savior. As a junior, he set a national single game passing record with 837 yards in a playoff victory. As a senior, he’s garnered every accolade imaginable. Army All American, Elite 11 finalist, the Opening participant. Will Grier has the skills to become the next great Gator quarterback.

At the Army All American bowl, Grier showed off a strong arm completing the longest pass in the game of 51 yards as well as drilling a sideline pass to set up a touchdown run. He also showcased his ability to make plays with his legs.

The only question mark was the level of competition he faced in high school playing at a small private school. Scouts, however, drool over his skill set, his strong showing in camp settings, as well as his overall leadership abilities.

After arriving and finally enrolling Grier tweeted

“@willgrier_: Feels like home. 🐊”

For long suffering Gator fans it’s more like

“Welcome home.”

Cornerback Duke Dawson was one of the first commits in this class and unlike many early commitments never wavered. With the loss of Loucheiz Purifoy and Marcus Roberson to early NFL draft entry, and Jaylen Watkins to graduation, the Gators are left with only one returning starter at corner in Vernon Hargreaves. That means a golden opportunity for early playing time.

Dawson is getting an early leg up to learn the system and show off his skills. At 5-11 197 lbs, Dawson has good size and plays with a physical style that Muschamp likes. He has good speed, quick feet, and plays well in both press man or zone coverage and has great off-ball skills. He reminds me of Roberson with his build and cover skills.

Coming in early is big for Dawson. Getting an opportunity to learn the defense and develop his skills might give him a shot at some early playing time. Muschamp often utilizes three, four, and five corner sets in their nickel and dime defenses. While recruited as a corner, he could find a home at both the nickel and dime spots or even as a safety similar to what they did with Jaylen Watkins and Cody Riggs.

Nolan Kelleher, a 6’6″ offensive guard out of Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, is a mammoth presence for the inside run game. With the loss of four year starters John Halapio and center Jonathan Harrison, the Gators have a need on the interior of the offensive line.

Getting in early with the opportunity to learn a new offense along side returning lineman is a big plus for Nolan and the Gators as they try to plug holes along the interior line.

A four star guard by Scout.com, Kelleher has great strength and plays with good pad level at the point of attack. He can drive through his man on inside runs, has good quickness to pull, good vision to spot his man in space, and the ability to get to the next level.

Check out his highlights here:

Gator fans have been somewhat frustrated over the last few years with the staff’s propensity for going after out of state lineman that are unknowns to fans while missing out on some higher rated, better known in-state players. No one fits that bill better than Taven Bryan, a 6’5″ 250 pound offensive lineman out of Wyoming.

A relative unknown in these parts, Bryan received interest from many big schools out west including Washington, Oregon, and Nebraska as well as Tennessee. While it’s always hard to evaluate players from areas with weak competition, the fact that many PAC 12 programs were interested is all Gator fans need to know.

He’s listed as an offensive tackle but will obviously need to put on some serious weight in order to compete effectively in the SEC. Getting in early and getting a jump on the strength program as well as learning the offense is key for Kelleher.

With the loss of center Harrison, it will be interesting to see if the staff gives him a look there or keeps him at tackle.

The Gators went out of state to Tyler, Texas to grab former Leon County, Florida high school offensive tackle Drew Sarvary 6’7″ 310. The massive junior college offensive tackle will have every opportunity to gain early playing time as the staff looks for some consistency from the tackle spot, an obvious weakness in last season’s offensive debacle.

He originally enrolled at Florida A&M out of high school where he started as a true freshman before transferring out to junior college in Texas. He was considered one of the top JC offensive line recruits and originally committed to Texas Tech before flipping his commitment to Florida.

Sarvary was a first team All-Southwest Junior College Team selection and helped anchor an offense which averaged over 270 rushing yards per game. After starting 11 games as a true freshman at A&M and another JUCO season under his belt, Sarvary could very well push for early playing time next season for the Gators.

Kavaris Harkless, a 6’5″ 275 lb offensive tackle from Jacksonville Trinity Christian high school was all set to enroll early for Charlie Strong’s Louisville program. That is until Strong bolted for Texas. Instead of enrolling at Louisville as planned, Harkless made a call to coach Muschamp that he intended to enroll at Florida, which had made a late offer. Boom, a last minute addition to a strong offensive line class for Florida.

Harkless is another slightly under the radar lineman like Bryan and Sarvary but had offers from Georgia Tech, Missouri, and Duke among others. He already has some familiarity with new offensive coordinator Kurt Roper as Roper recruited him while at Duke.

With the loss of the core of the Gators offensive line and the inconsistency of the line the last few seasons, it’s very important that 4 of the 9 early entries are offensive lineman. They get an early jump on the strength program and have the opportunity to learn the new offense alongside the returning lineman as well as participate in spring practice.

With the virtually non-existent production last season at tight end, the Gators had a huge need to bring in a potential playmaker at the position. The Gators filled that need with the top target at the position DeAndre Goolsby. The 6’5″ 235 lb prospect from Kansas has good size, decent speed, and great hands. Goolsby has great length and a frame which could easily add 20-25 pounds without losing his athleticism. With his size he presents a good target for the quarterback. He’s athletic enough to go up and get the jump balls and is a matchup nightmare for smaller linebackers and safeties, particularly on seam routes. His best asset, though, is his hands. He catches everything he gets his hands on and should be an effective weapon on third down and in the red zone.  He’ll get every shot to get on the field next season for the Gators.

Jalen Tabor during Under Armour All American game week practice.

Jalen Tabor during Under Armour All American game week practice.

Speaking of playmakers, positions of need, and top targets, Jalen Tabor was the Gators top target at corner. With the aforementioned losses, cornerback is one of the biggest positions of need for the Gators.

With three corners committed and 5 star Adoree Jackson assumed to be leaning toward the Gators, Tabor had previously eliminated the Gators and was down to Arizona and Alabama when he made his announcement at the Under Armour All American game to commit to the Wildcats.

Muschamp, however, never stopped recruiting Tabor and once Roberson made his decision to leave school early, Tabor pulled the trigger and flipped to the Gators. This is the second straight season that Muschamp flipped a five star recruit during the week of enrollment for early entries with linebacker Alex Anzalone joining the Gators last season spurning Notre Dame.

Tabor, 6’1″ 187, is a consensus top thirty player nationally and along with Jackson is one of the top cover corners in the country. He’s tall and rangy similar to Purifoy with great speed, good hips, and outstanding ball skills. Much more polished at this point than Purifoy was. He will pair very well with last season’s top corner and Freshman All American Vernon Hargreaves.

Expected to enroll at Florida on Monday, Tabor should benefit nicely from coming in early giving him a solid opportunity to learn the defense and earn early playing time.

The final early entry and surprise commitment is all purpose running back Brandon Powell who was formerly committed to the Miami Hurricanes.

After longtime commit Dalvin Cook decided to flip to FSU, the staff has been tireless in pursuit of another running back in this class. Powell, 5’8 175 lbs, has a similar skill set as Cook just significantly smaller. He has great speed, quickness, with a good burst through the hole. Powell runs with good balance and is shifty enough to make the first guy miss. He has the speed to get to the edge on stretch plays and can slip out of the backfield to catch passes as well as the ability to work as a receiver in the slot or outside on bubble screens.

Right now the Gators have good size at the running back position but are lacking in speed. With the staff switching to more of a spread scheme next season under offensive coordinator Kurt Roper they need a versatile guy like Powell that can stretch defenses horizontally opening the inside run game as well as the vertical passing game. Powell should fill that role nicely and be a good change of pace in the backfield from Matt Jones and Kelvin Taylor.

Originally, the staff targeted only one back in this class and Cook was that guy but with more scholarships available than originally planned due to transfers and early entries they’re still likely in pursuit of one more. They’ve offered both Jeff Jones, a Minnesota commit, and Derrel Scott out of North Carolina. Jones is scheduled to take an official visit to UF on January 24 while Scott is coming in on January 17. While both are considered longshots to pull the trigger for the Gators, Scott would appear to be the least likely. He is expected to choose between Tennessee and South Carolina.

With the Gator class sitting at 20 commitments, the staff surely isn’t finished. They still have a few top rated targets on their board, namely offensive tackle Damien Prince, a friend of Tabor’s, cornerback Adoree Jackson who has long been considered a Gator lean, and running back Jeff Jones an Under Armour All American game MVP. If he were to sign with the Gators it would be the second consecutive season the Gators nabbed an Under Armour game MVP along with Vernon Hargreaves last year. Also, with the expected decommitment of wide receiver Ermon Lane the staff is making a strong push for JUCO receiver Eric Lauderdale. They’ve also extended an offer to FSU commit C.J. Worton who is scheduled to visit on January 31.

The Gators are likely looking at signing up to 25 recruits in this class. With three recruiting weekends left before signing day, it should be an interesting stretch run for coach Muschamp and his staff as they try to reel in the few remaining big fish on their board.  Stay tuned to Swamp Music for the latest FREE information related to Gator recruiting.

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