One year after reeling in a consensus top five recruiting class and only two months removed from the worst season in Gainesville since they went 0-10-1 in 1979, the Florida Gators put the finishing touches on another top ten recruiting class.
The Gators went into national signing day with 22 commitments, nine which are already enrolled, after securing an 11th hour commitment from Tucson, Arizona offensive tackle Andrew Mike. Mike had actually committed to Vanderbilt on Monday but flipped his commitment after being contacted by the Gators staff on Tuesday. They then added quarterback Treon Harris and receiver C.J. Worton, both prior FSU commitments, on Wednesday to close out a 24 man class which was considered a consensus top ten group by the major recruiting services.
The Gators actually had room for 26 signees as corner back Cody Riggs had already informed head coach Will Muschamp of his decision to transfer out after he graduates in May to pursue a master degree. The staff thought they had another commitment from offensive tackle Derrick Kelley from Havana, Florida but to their surprise he signed with Florida State after receiving a late offer from them on Tuesday evening. Two-way and two sport star Adoree Jackson who lives in southern california chose to stay close to home at USC after strongly considering the Gators as well.
Of the 24 commitments, 14 are considered offensive players and 10 defensive. On offense, they signed 6 offensive lineman, 3 tight ends, 2 quarterbacks, 2 wide receivers, and one running back. On defense, there are 5 defensive lineman and 5 defensive backs.
The class was skewed numbers-wise towards offense by design. After the offensive debacle of last season, Muschamp decided to scrap his pro-style offense for a spread offense. With the switch, the Gators needed to recruit a slightly different type of player at running back and wide receiver than what they had in the past.
After signing two running backs and five receivers in last year’s cycle there wasn’t a huge need numbers-wise to load up on either position this time. However, they did target a certain type of recruit at each position. With four 200+ pound running backs on the roster the staff wanted to bring in a smaller scat-back type with speed that could better fit the spread style of offense and be a change of pace to the guys already on the roster. They did just that with Brandon Powell, a 5’9 175 speedster with great footwork and good instincts.
“I’m excited about Brandon Powell,” Muschamp said at his signing day press conference. “A guy that’s got great speed, he’s a dynamic guy with the ball in his hands, a guy that was on our radar. We were really going in the class wanting to sign one back, and you’ve gotta continue to recruit because of things you never know may happen.”
“He’s a dynamic guy,” Muschamp added. “Sticks his foot in the ground, change direction; really pleased with his movement skills.”
At receiver, they wanted to bring in two this cycle and with the switch to the spread, the staff felt like they needed to bring in a little different style receiver than the big receivers they landed last year. Ryan Sousa and C.J. Worton are both more of a slot receiver type both with great hands and good athleticism. Both were at one time committed to FSU before flipping to Florida. Worton was the top receiver in talent rich Dade County this past season and led his South Dade team to the class 8A state championship catching three touchdown passes in the title game. Sousa was a prolific pass catcher with over 250 receptions in his career at Lake Nona high school in Orlando.
“(the Gators signed) two slot receivers in Ryan and C.J., a little different than what we’ve signed last season,” said Muschamp. “Alvin (Bailey) is kind of similar to them, but good change‑of‑direction guys. You know, Ryan caught over 100 passes, and C.J. was as competitive a guy in the state championship game as you’ll ever see, three touchdown catches in the state title game there for South Dade.”
The offensive line class was headlined by offensive tackle David Sharpe, an ESPN top 100 recruit, whom the staff targeted very early on as their top choice. Sharpe’s a big strong player who moves his feet and hands very well for a kid coming out of high school. He has natural instincts for the position and he likely can follow in the footsteps of a long line of top flight tackles to play at Florida.
“Well, he’s a really good athlete,” Muschamp said of Sharpe. “Like a lot of big guys sometimes think they’re a basketball player coming through, until he bought into it. Tony Boselli is actually the offensive line coach there at Providence under Bobby Raulerson, and he was a guy that bought into the football side of it and he bought into the physicality of the game, and you combine that at athleticism at 6’5 and a half, right now he’s probably 318, 325, something like that, and he’s got great feet. You can’t coach that. So he’s a guy that I think, again, he will continue to improve, and his best football is ahead of him, because he’s still very young at the game. He hasn’t played a lot of the game. But we felt pretty good about David the whole time.”
With the Gators switching to a spread offense next season and needing to reshape their line it’s a positive that three of the six incoming recruits enrolled early in January and will get a jump on things having the advantage of going through spring practice. Junior college transfer Drew Sarvary, a 6’6 310 tackle, who started as a true freshman at FAMU, Nolan Kelleher, a 6’6 305 guard, and Kavaris Harkless, a 6’5 275 tackle, all have great length and girth. They really fit the profile the staff is looking for in their offensive lineman, long arms, great feet, good hands, and intelligence.
I always caution fans to not get caught up in stars when evaluating offensive lineman. It is the most developmental position in college football. As such, the staff really works hard to evaluate prospective recruits and seek out players that fit their target projections for size, skill set, and instincts. With a lot of the Gators struggles on offense the last few years being blamed on offensive line troubles, keep in mind that the staff has had to work with players who were recruited by the previous staff. They also have had to deal with significant depth issues that left them handcuffed at times. With the staff loading up on offensive lineman two consecutive years the Gators are finally near targeted numbers for depth and are loaded with players that fit the staff’s profile.
“We’re getting our numbers back on the offensive line,” Muschamp said. “We’re right at 15. You’d like to have 15 to 17 offensive linemen on scholarship. That’s a developmental game, but that’s a huge developmental position, and that’s where you’ve gotta have guys in your program, so it’s good to see that.”
One of the largest areas of need in this cycle was at tight end where the Gators had zero production last season following Jordan Reed’s departure for the NFL. The staff apparently had targeted two in this class Deandre Goolsby, 6’4 225, and Cyontai Lewis, 6’5 215 and got commitments from both.
“Cyontai is a guy that we targeted,” Muschamp said. “Brian White was actually watching another player practice last spring and just kept noticing this guy’s athleticism. We challenged him to come to camp. He came to camp and had an outstanding camp, and a guy that showed all the athleticism and ball skills to be really, really good. And then the growth potential on that, now, when he committed to us, I want to say he was probably 205 pounds and now he’s about 225, 228 pounds, and he’s going to continue to grow because he’s a young 17. So I think that that’s exciting.”
“DeAndre Goolsby is a guy we targeted early on,” Muschamp added. “Derrick Lewis went out and evaluated him in the last spring evaluation, really liked his movement skills, his growth potential, his toughness, his point of attack and those things, and excited to have him on campus and a guy that can do some different things for you.”
Moral Stephens, 6’4 200, was a nice surprise that kind of fell into their lap. A tweener who really has the build and skillset of a big wideout but is expected to grow into a tight end’s body, Stephens came to camp, made the staff take notice, and earned a scholarship offer after an extra spot opened up with the unexpected transfer of Kent Taylor.
“Moral Stephens is a guy that we didn’t think we were going to have room for,” Muschamp said. “He came to camp. He did an outstanding job in camp. We really liked him, and then when we had some attrition, it opened up a spot for him, and we’re really happy to have him. He’s a guy that vertically down the field can really make plays on the ball.”
All three are very athletic tight ends with great pass catching and leaping abilities, very similar to Jordan Reed. All three will have the opportunity to see early playing time as the staff seeks to find playmakers on offense.
At quarterback the staff gained a commitment from their top target, Will Grier, 6’3 187, very early on in the process. Grier is as decorated a ballplayer in the 2014 class as there is in America. A U.S. Army All American he was the Parade Magazine Player of the Year. As a junior he set a record for passing yards in a single game when he threw for over 800 in a state playoff victory and overall threw for almost 15,000 yards in his high school career.
The staff was content to get their guy and were done at the position until both Tyler Murphy and true freshman Max Staver transferred out after the season. Suddenly they realized they needed to find another quarterback for this class long after most top qb’s were already committed. Once the decision was made to scrap the pro-style for a spread attack and bring in new offensive coordinator Kurt Roper from Duke, they realized they wanted to bring in a more mobile, dual-threat type quarterback as the second qb.
“We needed to be able to be more mobile at that (quarterback) position,” Muschamp said. “To be able to be a dual‑threat guy that can throw it and run.”
To that end, the staff collectively identified Florida State commit Treon Harris, 5’11 180, from Booker T. Washington high school in Miami, a two time state championship quarterback with a big arm and great athletic ability who is very intelligent. Getting two top quarterbacks in one class is a coup for this staff, particularly two with different skill sets. Hopefully it will work out better than the Jeff Driskel-Jacoby Brissett experiment which famously ended with Brissett transferring out after the 2012 season.
“Competition is the best motivator,” Muschamp said about signing Grier and Harris in this cycle. ” and there’s no question those guys will both work. They’re both winners. Treon won two state championships there at Booker T, one of the best high school programs in the country. And I’ve known his father, Ice, for a long time. He does an outstanding job. We’re excited about Will on campus and Skyler and Jeff, and you want to have four quarterbacks on scholarship. Then you want to sign one every year because of the attrition sometimes you go through at that position. But having both of those quality players is exciting.”
On defense, the Gators continued their run of great success recruiting top flight talent. The Gators biggest need was at corner where three of the top four corners departed. With senior Cody Riggs, a versatile player who lined up at corner, nickel, and safety leaving the program to attend graduate school elsewhere, it put even more pressure on the staff to load up at the position. And load up is exactly what they did, both in numbers and in talent.
One of the first commits in the Gators’ class was Duke Dawson, 5’11 190 from Cross City, Florida, a versatile defensive back very similar in size and skill set to the departing Cody Riggs. Dawson is very fluid with good speed, quick feet, and great ball skills. He might be the most underrated player in this class and most certainly on the defensive side of the ball.
“Duke Dawson, again, another guy, 5’11, 197‑pound, bigger DB that can go line up inside, can line up at corner, can line up at nickel, can do a lot of different things for us and as far as covering down,” Muschamp said. He added, “Watching Duke Dawson’s movement skills, he’s a guy that can play a lot of different spots. He can play corner, he can play nickel, he can play inside if he needs to, but he’s a guy that can do some different things as well.”
J.C. Jackson, 5’10 180, is another versatile defensive back that can line up at multiple spots in the backfield. Although projected at corner, Jackson is a very talented offensive player as well. No indication if the staff intends to utilize him on offense as well. His recruitment was one of the few drama-filled recruitments this cycle. Almost from the moment he flipped his commitment from FSU to Florida many recruiting analysts expected that he would not stick in this class. From FSU throughout and Miami late, there was no secret that Jackson wasn’t completely convinced that Florida was the place for him. But perhaps that was blown out of proportion?
“You know, J.C., it’s amazing, I don’t really follow the Internet much, but there’s so much hearsay and as much information there is out there, in my opinion, there’s a lot of misinformation,” Muschamp said concerning rumors that J.C. was looking around. “I have to go off fact, and I go off talking to Lisa, his mother, and Chris, his father, and J. C. Himself, and I deal with the family and I talk to them. And certainly I don’t think our season helped, but I think that he saw his best opportunity to come in and play corner at Florida. You know, seeing Marcus and Loucheiz and Jaylen, our three top corners leaving and moving on that were upper classmen, seeing his opportunity here to play here at Florida, it was something he was excited about.”
Was he looking around or a threat to decommit? Muschamp, for his part, says he wasn’t worried.
“I know he looked at some other places, no different than a lot of kids do,” Muschamp said. “And I encourage kids to do, to go make sure they’re making the right decision, to go take a look at another place. And so, you know, again, I never ‑‑ we never felt it was that much in the balance, maybe as what a lot of people seemed to think. We never felt that way.”
Apparently, Jackson’s parents really wanted him at Florida.
“Chris and Lisa Jackson wanted their son to be here,” Muschamp said concerning J.C. “They felt like it was the best opportunity for their son to be at the University of Florida, to be in the academic resources that we have here at Florida, to be coached by some coaches that know a little bit about secondary play because of the track record that speaks for itself.”
Every class has a guy or two that really becomes the leader of the group. The guy that takes it upon himself to recruit other great players to play with him. For the Gators 2014 class, that player was cornerback Quincy Wilson. Wilson, 6’1 196, was a very vocal proponent of the Gator program, Gator chomping for the cameras and recruiting players at all star events to come to Florida. He also is very active on social media sites hamming it up and trash talking. His confidence is legendary much like that of his favorite player the inimitable Richard Sherman. Wilson famously got into a trash talking war with former Gator commit Ermon Lane after he backed out of his commitment. He has already become a fan favorite before ever enrolling in school at UF.
“These guys play it,” Muschamp said when asked about Wilson’s recruiting skills. “They go out there to Oregon in the summer, and they go to these different combines with each other. They take these different unofficial visits together, and they form a bond and relationship with each other. And more than anything, these guys want to play with each other. They want good players. They want to play with each other. So there’s no question that the camaraderie they build helps us or other schools if they’re going with the other schools. But certainly he did a fantastic job of holding some guys together.”
Wilson is a true outside cover corner who fits the staff’s physical projection for the position. At 6’1 he’s very tall with long arms and active hands. He has quick feet and great hips. He’s very fluid in coverage with great ball skills and solid tackling skills. He’s equally strong in press man to man coverage and or sitting back in zone coverage. He’s a natural at corner with great instincts and should continue the Gators recent string of great corner back play.
The jewel of the defensive back class and likely jewel of the entire class was consensus five star Jalen Tabor, a top ten player overall nationally according to ESPN, who originally committed to Arizona at the Under Armour All American game but flipped his commitment to Florida just before he was set to enroll. It was the second consecutive year that the Gators flipped a five star commitment during the week of early enrollment and the second straight year they picked up a consensus five star corner.
Tabor, 6’1 182, is another tall, lengthy corner with great feet, great speed and excellent cover skills.
“Jalen Tabor, the 6’1, 190‑pound corner, that’s what they’re supposed to look like,” Muschamp said. “He’s got really good movement skills, and a guy that watching him move around has been exciting.”
Tabor went toe to toe with Ermon Lane throughout Under Armour week practice providing blanket coverage and repeatedly showing why he is one of the best cover corners in America. He is projected to come right in and slide into the corner spot opposite freshman all american Vernon Hargreaves.
Finally, Deiondre Porter, 6’1 166, is a former high school quarterback that was recruited as an athlete but projects in the defensive backfield. He’s another tall kid but is a little slight right now and most likely will redshirt while the staff gets his weight up. Porter is a smart player with solid football instincts and great speed. He is very versatile and should provide solid depth down the road for the Gators.
“Deiondre is a guy that we knew about down at Tampa Jefferson High School,” Muschamp said. “And I love being able to sign guys that are quarterbacks to play different positions, because when you play the quarterback position, you have to be able to communicate with the other guys; you have to obviously have some sort of leadership abilities to affect other people, and he’s a guy that has that. He’s really a fun young man to be around, watching his tape at quarterback. And then he ran 10.7 last year in the 100 meter. So he’s over six foot, about 170, 175 and a guy that we think will project very well to the defensive back position.”
While the defensive back class may be one of the best in the nation, the defensive line class isn’t far behind as they loaded up with numbers and talent there as well.
The biggest name in this class would likely be defensive end Gerald Willis who surprisingly picked the Gators when he announced during the Under Armour All American game over the home state LSU Tigers. Willis, 6’3 275, was an ESPN top 100 player who is versatile enough to play at end or inside at tackle at Florida although he projects at end.
“Gerald Willis is a guy that can play in,” Muschamp said. “but he can play multiple positions because he’s got enough girth to play inside.”
He’ll get the opportunity to come in and earn some playing time providing depth backing up at end or helping rebuild the interior of the defensive line which lost both Dominique Easley and Damien Jacobs.
Willis will get competition for top name in the defensive line class and for early playing time from two others, defensive tackles Thomas Holley and Khairi Clark. Holley, 6’4 300, who flipped to Florida from Penn State after losing their head coach to the NFL, is another ESPN top 100 recruit with great size and instincts as is Clark.
Holley is also a versatile player who could easily slide outside if needed but is projected inside at defensive tackle. He’s very athletic for a big man with great feet and great pass rushing skills. He’s also very active with a great motor and highly disruptive inside.
“Thomas Holley is a 300‑plus‑pounder that plays on Abraham Lincoln’s basketball team in Brooklyn,” Muschamp said. “Which says a lot to be on that starting five where I think three guys are signing Division I off of that team tells you what kind of athlete he is. There’s no question you can never have enough defensive linemen.”
Clark is a massive run stuffing, block eating defensive tackle that really projects well at the nose when they go to a 3-4 look. He’s another player, like Wilson, that has not only been solid in his commitment but active in recruiting other players. His enthusiasm is infectious and should be a locker room favorite at Florida.
“Khairi Clark is a 6’2, 6’3‑and‑a‑half, 320‑pounder that moves very well,” Muschamp said. “He’s got really good lower‑body flexibility, so he can change direction.”
He should pair well with Caleb Brantley and Holley to provide a formidable interior line for the Gators for the next few season. The threesome of Clark, Holley, and Willis are very comparable to the triumvirate of Floyd, Easley, and Powell a few seasons ago.
The remaining members of the defensive line class are defensive end Justus Reed and tackle Taven Bryan. Reed and Bryan are likely the most unsung players in this entire class. Reed, 6’3 218, is a little slight coming in and will certainly redshirt while the staff puts some weight on him but he has as much upside as any in this class. As is the case with many recruits, he had to come to camp and earn his spot and he did just that impressing the staff with his athletic ability.
“Justus, again, another guy that we said, you know, in order for you to get offered, you need to come to camp,” Muschamp said. “And he came to camp, he verticaled 36 inches; he broad jumped over ten feet. He’s a very explosive guy. He weighs, I think right now, probably 215, 218. You gotta look at two years from now. Probably would be best for him to redshirt. And he’s going to be a 235‑pounder and be able to carry that, and then he’s got the explosive power to go with that. So that’s kind of what you’re looking for, especially at that position, a guy that’s kind of a hybrid outside linebacker, defensive end. But he shows natural ability to flip his hips in the rush. He does some things you can’t coach or it’s very difficult to coach and get a guy, but he’s very fluid in his hips and being able to flip his hips in a rush to rush passer, and we worked him out hard and we’re excited about him being a Gator.”
That’s a ton of high praise from the head coach especially considering he was one of the least talked about players overall coming in.
Bryan, 6’5 260, was an offensive tackle who the staff recruited for the defensive line. If you’ve never heard of him it’s probably because he played high school ball in Wyoming. That’s right, Wyoming. Name the last recruit from Wyoming to earn a scholarship to a big time BCS school. Take your time. Anyways, he’s a kid that kind of fell into the staff’s lap after tripping down with his father to visit some southern schools. The staff liked his size, strength, and athleticism and the rest is history.
“Taven Bryan, 6’5, 260 pounds is exactly what we wanted as far as a big athlete,” Muschamp said. “You watch him go through the off‑season program, he’s explosive, he’s got really good flexibility in his lower body. He’s got a great motor, a great work ethic. We are extremely pleased with him so far in what we’ve been able to see.”
So there it is the 2014 Florida Gators signing class. Undoubtedly, the staff missed on a few players they really wanted, every coach does. Realistically, though, the class they brought in meets their needs positionally and depth-wise, and is loaded with top flight talent across the board. How good they are ultimately won’t be decided for a few years but there are a number of players in the class that will have an opportunity to compete for early playing time as they rebuild their defensive backfield, interior of the defensive line, offensive line, and search for offensive playmakers.