Now that national signing day 2014 has come and gone with the Gators reeling in another top ten haul, it’s time to focus on the 2015 recruiting class. The 2015 class in the state of Florida will be deeper and more talented than any in recent memory and it will be very important for the Gators to load up on top in-state talent in this cycle.
As a sidenote, it’s important to mention that the Gators have struggled somewhat recruiting top in-state recruits and top programs going back to Urban Meyer’s days as head coach. For whatever reason, and there are many theories, the Gators lost some solid connections and in-roads throughout the state. This is another somewhat overlooked area when assessing the impediments that Will Muschamp has faced since taking over the Gator program. It’s very important to note this because it is partly to blame for the demise of the Gator program and the rise of the FSU program. To Will’s credit, he has done a great job of opening up some of these pipelines, particularly in the Miami and Tampa areas, the last couple of seasons not only with recruits but with coaching staffs.
The trust he and his staff have built among top in-state programs helped very much the last two cycles but should really pay off in 2015. The Gators have built solid relationships with many of the top 2015 recruits and are poised to land a top five and possibly number one rated class next year, particularly if new offensive coordinator Kurt Roper is able to turn the Gators’ offense around in the upcoming season.
On that note, let’s take a look at the top targets by position for the Gators for 2015. Along the offensive line, the player sitting at the top of the Gators’ board is the top overall recruit in the 2015 class according to Scout.com: Apopka, FL offensive tackle Martez Ivey. Ivey, 6’6 280, is exactly what you like in an offensive tackle, an enormous frame with long arms and quick feet. He reportedly has the frame to carry another 30-40 without a dropoff in movement and is extremely talented way ahead of most offensive lineman coming out of high school with another year left to go. He anchored an offensive line that set a state record for points scored in a season and went to back to back state championship games.
The Gators loaded up on offensive lineman in the last two classes in order to regain depth that had fallen precipitously the last few seasons. However, with staff targets at 15-17 for the line, expect them to target 3-5 in every recruiting cycle. With offensive tackle being a premium position in football and with the Gators seeking improved line play, gaining a commitment from Ivey will be one of the staff’s top priority.
On a good note, the Gators have already gotten Ivey on campus last weekend for their junior day and many feel the Gators are the team to beat. They will have strong competition from a lot of programs, however, most notably Alabama and Florida State. Teammate and friend Chandler Cox, whom the Gators are recruiting as a fullback although converted to quarterback last year due to season ending injury to starter Rick Darlington, favors the Gators and could possibly help aid in the Gators’ recruitment efforts.
The top position of need overall for the Gators next cycle will be linebacker. After loading up on four top rated linebackers in 2013 the Gators chose not to sign any in the 2014 class after missing on their top targets. The good news for Gator fans is the 2015 linebacker class, especially in Florida, is deep and talented and the Gators have set themselves up well to clean up.
At the top of the board at linebacker for the Gators is Jacksonville, Florida Trinity Christian’s Jeff Holland. Holland, 6’2 230, is one of the nation’s top ten players overall regardless of position and is considered the top linebacker according the ESPN recruiting database. Holland is a versatile player who has the size, speed, and skillset to play inside or outside in college and is a highly skilled pass rusher as well. He’s very physical and aggressive with great horizontal speed and is known as a big hitter.
Holland is part of one of the state’s best football programs in Trinity Christian and is a teammate of 2015 Gator commit Deontai Williams. The Gators have been targeting him for some time and have built a solid relationship. They have to be considered the frontrunners here but Alabama, FSU, and Ohio State, among others, can’t be overlooked.
The Gators signed two running backs in the 2013 cycle and targeted only one for 2014, a speedy scat-back style back different from the big backs the Gators currently have on the roster. With Mack Brown graduating after next season, the Gators will certainly target at least one possibly two for the next cycle. The top back on their board has to be the top back in the state Jacques Patrick, 6’1 220, from Orlando, FL Timber Creek high school. Patrick has been on the radar for the Gators since he completed his freshman season with over 1,100 yards. As a sophomore and junior he rushed for over 2,000 yards in each season and has a three year total of 5,300 yards and 67 touchdowns.
The Gators likely are the favorites right now as he’s visited UF more than any other team but Alabama, Ohio State, and FSU, who reportedly have him atop their list as well, aren’t far behind. On a good note for the Gators, in an interview with Orlando Sentinel recruiting reporter Chris Hays after he attended the FSU-Miami game last season Patrick said that he wasn’t interested in the outcome of the game but rather the atmosphere in the stadium. Asked about the Doak-Campbell atmosphere he said it was crazy but not the craziest.
” ‘I would say it (Doak-Campbell) was tied for second with Ohio State, but the Florida-LSU game last year, that was the craziest by far that I’ve experienced’ Patrick said. ‘I was sitting next to Mitchell [Timber Creek linebacker Estrada] and I couldn’t even hear him.’ “
The one area the Gators have struggled the most the last few seasons has been at wide receiver. The Gators have lacked a strong playmaker at the position since the days of Percy Harvin, Riley Cooper, and Andre Caldwell. The staff loaded up on receivers in the 2013 cycle mostly with tall downfield receivers while taking only two in the 2014 cycle which would be considered more slot type receivers. In 2015, their top target at wideout and one of the most coveted in the nation is George Campbell from Eastlake high in Tarpon Springs.
Campbell, 6’3 185, is a talent unlike any the Gators have right now. He is a tall receiver with speed, great hands, and athleticism. He is a legitimate sub 4.4 forty guy with a nice long frame able to handle another 20 pounds without missing a beat. He has a great vertical able to go up and grab passes over the top of smaller defenders and great hands.
The Gators would have to be considered the frontrunners with Campbell despite him making an early commitment to Michigan and then backing off of that commitment. He may go all the way until signing day before announcing his choice but you have to like where the Gators are at with Campbell. How the new offense looks and fares next season under Roper may end up being the determining factor in his and many other offensive players’ recruitments.
Ever since Will Muschamp took over the Gator program he has talked about the SEC being a line of scrimmage league. The one area that has separated the SEC from other conferences is defensive line play. When analysts talk about SEC speed they’re not talking about offensive skill position speed. Everyone recruits that. He’s not talking about defensive back speed, everyone recruits that. No, when they talk about SEC speed they’re talking about defensive lineman who can run. They’re talking about big guys who can get after the quarterback or chase down ball carriers sideline to sideline.
One guy that fits that mold to a tee in the 2015 class is defensive end CeCe Jefferson from Baker County high in Glen St. Mary, FL. At 6’3 260, Jefferson has great size but it’s his speed and instincts that make him one of the top defensive line recruits in America and has him sitting atop the Gators defensive line board for 2015. The Gators have been lacking in a consistent pass rush the last few years particularly from the outside and that’s where Jefferson excels. He has a quick first step and constant drive that makes him very hard to block in passing situations. He also has great size and length to be able to set the edge and hold his gap against the run. Jefferson appears to have a great relationship with the Gators coaching staff and is certainly a must get for the Gators next cycle. He is rumored to be transferring to Trinity Christian for his senior year and could help the Gators pull a major recruiting coup locking up several of a talent loaded team similar to what they did in 2006 with the kids from Lakeland high.
At defensive back, the Gators recently offered consensus five star corner Tavares McFadden from American Heritage high in Plantation, FL. At 6’3 195, McFadden certainly fits the profile that the Gator staff prefers in it’s defensive backs: tall with length, great instincts, great footspeed, quick hips, and outstanding ball skills. McFadden is a hard hitter who excels in press coverage, is highly disruptive, and can shut down an entire side of the field. If he were to sign with Florida it would mark the third straight season the Gators have signed a five star corner joining Vernon Hargreaves III and Jalen Tabor. He was reported to be waiting impatiently on a Gators offer and was very excited when he received it saying that Will Muschamp himself called him with the Gator offer.
Finally, the Gators prefer to bring in a top quarterback every cycle and the top guy for 2015 is likely the nation’s top dual threat qb Torrance Gibson who is also from American Heritage high in Plantation, FL. Gibson, 6’4 207, is very mobile quarterback with a strong arm who is developing into one of the top passers in America. His upside at the position is high and the Gators, who are switching to a spread offense under new offensive coordinator Kurt Roper next season, would love for him to come run the offense for the Gators. Skill-wise Gibson reminds of Cam Newton coming out of high school with a big arm, great wheels, and a developing passers touch.
While the Gators will certainly be in the mix for Gibson, they may have a tough uphill battle after taking two top qb’s in 2014, Will Grier and Treon Harris. Nonetheless expect the Gators to battle to the end for Gibson’s signature.
While it’s still early with signing day 2015 still a year away, the Gator staff is hard at work recruiting top talent and the job they’ve done has them sitting pretty for more than a few top Florida prospects. 2015 is setting up to be a banner year for the Gators and could very well result in a top rated recruiting class come signing day.