Countdown to Signing Day: Strange Things Happen on the Road to Signing Day for the Florida Gators

Isaiah McKenzie is quickly becoming the most intriguing recruit left on the Gators' board.

Isaiah McKenzie is quickly becoming the most intriguing recruit left on the Gators’ board.

Less than a week from national signing day and things seem to change daily for the final few recruits left on the Gators board. Less than a week ago it appeared the Gators were in a numbers crunch with more leans than spots available. Now it appears they may not even max out the 25 scholarships available. Strange things happen on the road to signing day. Let’s dive right in.

Isaiah McKenzie the speedy receiver from Ft. Lauderdale appears to be overtaking J.C. Jackson as the most intriguing recruit left on the Gators board. The Gators, though late in the game on his recruitment, appeared to have a good shot at landing him after his official visit two weekends ago. When he left Gainesville, it appeared he was likely down to Notre Dame and Florida. That was before tripping to Ole Miss this past weekend.

Originally the thought was Ole Miss would be a distant third and the trip was a mere formality. But after leaving his visit he made statements to the effect that he loved the visit and Ole Miss had moved into the lead in his recruitment with one visit left to Notre Dame, to whom he had been considered a soft commit for months. Earlier in the week he appeared to be losing interest in the Fighting Irish as well.

Now it looks as though Virginia Tech is his “dream” school and he basically said he would go there if offered. Apparently, the offer came on Wednesday and that has thrown his recruitment wide open. He was scheduled to visit Notre Dame this weekend but it will be interesting to see if he takes that visit or possibly heads to Virginia Tech. Regardless, it appears the Gators are fading fast and it’s unlikely that they’ll be anything but a hat on the table for McKenzie. This one appears to be down to Ole Miss and Virginia Tech both of whom were not even considered in the ball park a week ago. Strange things happen on the road to signing day.

Are things looking up for the Gators and Lorenzo Carter? Photo credit to  AJC. com

Are things looking up for the Gators and Lorenzo Carter? Photo credit to AJC. com

Lorenzo Carter the consensus five star defensive end from Norcross, Georgia has been pursued by every major school out there. After visiting Florida last summer he listed the Gators as his leader. Over the course of the season, however, he made multiple trips to Georgia while failing to return to Florida for the FSU game as originally scheduled. This led to speculation that the Gators had fallen and Georgia had taken the lead. After the Under Armour All American game, however, he and his family made an impromptu stop in Gainesville to visit unofficially and came away with high praise for UF from both him and his family.

Since that point he made an official to LSU, long thought to be a long shot in his recruitment, and he came away impressed from that visit as well. When Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham surprisingly left to take the same spot with Louisville many thought that might tilt things in the Gators’ favor as most figured his recruitment to be down to UF and Georgia. But after Georgia head coach Mark Richt announced that FSU defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt would take over for Grantham that appeared to appease Carter who had developed a relationship with him while at Florida State.

Florida State and Alabama, the other finalists, were lurking in the shadows for the longest time and were considered only wild cards in his recruitment. When his parents mentioned the hardship they faced when another sibling went to school out of state many felt that would mean he would likely end up at Georgia which is only an hour away from his home. The fact that they mentioned a strong and longstanding relationship with the Georgia staff further entrenched that feeling the home state Bulldogs would get his signature. However, his parents also mentioned how much they loved Florida and the staff there. Obviously, he and his family had the longest and strongest relationships with those two schools, once again making those two schools the leader.

What all this means is his recruitment is wide open despite the opinions of many recruiting analysts who felt it was Georgia for the longest time. The latest developments in the Carter saga is the weather which apparently prevented FSU head coach Jimbo Fisher from making his scheduled in-home visit with the family on Wednesday. According to Michael Carvell of the Atlanta Journal Constitution, who has been instrumental in providing up to date coverage of Carter’s recruitment, Florida head coach Will Muschamp was expected to make his in-home on Thursday afternoon and luckily would likely not be prevented by the weather.

Carter, for his part, is scheduled to take his official visit to Georgia this weekend which is expected to start immediately following his basketball game Friday evening and run through the end of the contact period on Sunday evening. All this bodes ill for Florida State, good for the Gators, even better for the Bulldogs who get the last visit and likely last word. Reportedly, he will make his decision by Monday and inform the coaching staffs at that point but will not announce until signing day.

Most analysts are still predicting Georgia while a large many, oddly to me, think Alabama is his destination. Not quite sure where that’s coming from simply because I’ve heard little mention of them throughout this process. Of course, you can never count out Nick Saban and company, but I just don’t see it. I still think he ultimately ends up at Georgia with distance being the deciding factor. Personally, I think he really loves Florida and if it is simply his decision maybe he chooses the Gators but with the close knit nature of his family, a longstanding relationship with the Georgia staff, and them getting the final visit and final word, I think they are too much to overcome for Florida. For what it’s worth, Carvell apparently is picking Florida as the destination which is huge because he’s close to the family and probably has a better natural feel for the situation than anyone else. He thinks the lack of a position coach ultimately hurts the Dogs in the end.

Receiver C.J. Worton, from Miami South Dade high school, who backed off of his long time committment to FSU on Tuesday still appears to be wide open. The standout receiver who led his team to the Class 8A state championship was thought to be ready to commit to the Gators, considering he decommitted coming off an official visit there, but has yet to do so. West Virginia and Central Florida appear to be squarely in the thick of the race for his commitment. West Virginia consistently has one of the top offenses in the nation and has a long established spread offense which could be a strong lure over heading to Gainesville where they are switching to a spread this season but have no prior track record to showcase. UCF has the lure of playing with his older brother J.J. who is a star receiver for the Knights. The hometown Miami Hurricanes were thought to be receiving an official visit this weekend, the last before signing day, but that it appears that visit may not happen.

I still feel like Worton ultimately signs with the Gators. The idea of playing in the SEC and a premiere school like Florida is likely too much to pass over. However, don’t sleep on WVU or UCF here. The longer this one goes, the worse for the Gators but for now I’m sticking with the Gators as his destination.

Damien Prince is visiting Florida this weekend. Will he be in the Gators' class? Photo credit to the washingtonpost.com

Damien Prince is visiting Florida this weekend. Will he be in the Gators’ class? Photo credit to the washingtonpost.com

Damien Prince, the five star offensive lineman from Maryland, had is in-home on Wednesday with Coach Muschamp and is scheduled to take his official to Florida this weekend. The good news for Gator fans is that he will be the only official visitor unless they sneak another in at the last minute. This will allow them to focus attention on him and give him the full court press. This one is certainly down to two teams Florida and the home state Maryland Terrapins. As previously reported, good friend Jalen Tabor, who is already enrolled at Florida, is recruiting him hard and the staff has made it abundantly clear he is their top choice at tackle. While I think Maryland led for much of his recruitment simply due to proximity to home, I believe this one has turned in the Gators favor. As long as things go well this weekend, I believe he chooses the Gators on signing day.

Two other recruits the Gators’ have given a look to in case they miss out on Prince are Tucson, Arizona’s Andrew Mike and Havana, Florida’s Derrick Kelly. At this point, I don’t see either coming to Florida with Mike signing with Arkansas and Kelly heading to Baton Rouge to play for the LSU Tigers. Neither are off the board at this point but I think the staff has a good feeling about Prince and they’ll take him and be done. However, were things to go south this weekend, I think the staff would likely go after Kelly rather than Mike. That’s the only scenario in which I see the Gators taking him.

J.C. Jackson, the talented cornerback who flipped from the Seminoles to the Gators over the summer, has been rumored to not end up in the Gators class almost from the moment he pledged. Most figured he would end up flipping back to the Seminoles. After visiting Florida two weekends ago his father said he had shut his recruitment down and would not be taking anymore visits. As soon as that was announced, however, it appeared Miami worked their way into the picture. The Seminoles have been trying to talk him into visiting and head coach Jimbo Fisher made an in-home visit this week hoping to convince him to visit. Will Muschamp also visited this week attempting to squash a visit to Tallahassee. It appears that Muschamp won out here as his father publicly stated J.C. wouldn’t be making any visits this weekend. That would appear to eliminate the Noles. However, since his visit to Florida, J.C. has visited Miami multiple times including this past weekend for a basketball game. While I think Florida still leads here, there is a strong possibility that Jackson ultimately flips to Miami on signing day. If so, it would be a fitting end to a very strange recruitment.

Strange things happen on the road to signing day indeed.

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