With barely more than three weeks to go until national signing day for high school football players, the Florida Gators are sitting perilously short on commitments with only eight total. The combination of a second consecutive poor season and the instability of a coaching staff on the hot seat and ultimately fired wreaked havoc on a recruiting class on which the Gators were expected to clean up.
On our countdown to signing day series, Swamp Music has taken a look at the top prospects on the Gators recruiting board by position. Previously, we covered quarterback and running back. Today we look at the position of greatest recruiting significance this cycle: the offensive line.
When Will Muschamp was introduced as head coach of the Florida Gators he made a significant point about the SEC being a line of scrimmage league. He would echo that point many times during his tenure but, ironically, one of his biggest failures at Florida was his inability to recruit/coach talent along the offensive line. Fortunately, first year (at Florida) offensive line coach Mike Summers did an admirable job coaching a beat up line to perform at a higher and more consistent level last season than in any previous season under Muschamp. And even more fortunate, Summers is the lone holdover from the previous staff.
Unfortunately, however, the Gators lost starting center Max Garcia and right tackle Trenton Brown to graduation as well as starting left tackle D.J. Humphries and G/OT Tyler Moore to NFL draft early entry. The Gators are left with eight scholarship offensive lineman (you like to have 12-13 minimum). This is a worst case situation for a new coach who was brought in to revive a moribund offense.
Currently, the Gators have three offensive lineman committed Tyler Jordan (C, 6-4 280), Brandon Sandifer (G, 6-4 335), and Mike Horton (T, 6-4 310). Sandifer may as well be considered a soft recruit as he is taking visits and very well may not be in this class on signing day.
Tyler Jordan is the unabashed player/recruiter of this class. Not only has he not wavered, he actively recruits on Twitter and repped the Gators well at the Under Armour All American game as well.
Realistically, the new staff would like to add at least 3-4 more offensive line prospects to this recruiting class. In fact, they are recruiting this position harder than any other at this point and have done a great job at getting some last minute looks by some top prospects.
Of course, at the top of the list is unquestionably the top prospect on their board regardless of position: five star offensive tackle Martez Ivey. Ivey has been at the top of this list from the moment signing day ended last year. For just as long he has been considered a strong Gator lean. He makes no secret that he’s a huge Gator fan and there’s always been this feeling that he would just end up there.
Of course, the other team in contention for his services, Auburn, has a lot of pull in this recruitment as well. His best friend and high school teammate, Chandler Cox, is committed to Auburn and has openly been recruiting his buddy for the Tigers. He says, however, in a story by Andrew Spivey of Gatorcountry.com that Cox’s decision won’t affect his own. *
“It’s my decision, just like it was Chandler’s decision to commit to Auburn,” Ivey said. “I do like Auburn though because of the coaching staff and the players and how they get along together. They’re all great guys. That’s one amazing coaching staff and there’s a family atmosphere there. That’s just like my program at my house.”
It also can’t hurt that former Florida head coach Will Muschamp, with whom he has a strong relationship, is now on staff at Auburn albeit on the opposite side of the ball.
But for most recruitniks as well as professional analysts, the sense has always been that in the end Ivey would be a Gator. When you listen to his words, he talks little about football and mostly about being comfortable.
“The main factor is being comfortable,” Ivey said. “Anywhere I go, I’m going to play great football and have the opportunity to get a great education, so it’s just about being comfortable.”
Comfortable sounds more like close to home where family can come watch him play. I think losing Muschamp may have hurt the Gators chances somewhat at first but keeping Summers and bringing in some proven offensive assistants with a good track record of success will ultimately be enough to secure his signature come signing day.
After Ivey, there’s a host of guys the staff is eagerly pursuing. First up is Jalen Merrick (G, 6-5 310) from New Smyrna Beach, Florida. Merrick is big and strong as well as freakishly athletic for a big man.
He’s admittedly looking for early playing time and Florida certainly offers that. In fact, prior to taking official visits, the Gators were considered the leaders going into the clubhouse. However, with a new staff (other than his position coach), the Gators may not have had enough time to build enough connections to overcome what either Arkansas (power run game) or FSU (losing four starters and coaching/system stability) have to offer.
He mentioned the coaching change and it’s effect in his plans in a 247sports article by Ryan Bass. **
“I’m cautious with Florida with their new staff but I’m still considering them because I like the environment, Merrick said.
Merrick was also expected to be an early entry which means he would have to decide by Monday and enroll at the school of his choice. However, he backed out of an expected commitment on Friday and he may end up not being an early entry after all due to some NCAA scrutiny of an online course he completed.***
Regardless, I think if there was more time, the Gators might have a chance but as it sits right now it’s a more likely a battle between Arkansas and FSU, with the in-state school holding the edge. Coincidently, FSU edges out the Gators 50% to 37% on the 247sports crystal ball.
– editor’s note: Before publishing, Merrick tweeted that he was cleared for early enrollment by the NCAA.
So look for him to enroll somewhere on Monday. No word on if he plans to verbally commit over the weekend. –
Editor’s note: Merrick committed to Arkansas on Sunday and will enroll on Monday.
Christian Pellage (T, 6-7 290) from Brooksville, FL Nature Coast is a South Carolina commit that coach McElwain would very much like to flip.
As soon as he arrived and saw the extreme and immediate need for offensive lineman, coach Mac identified Pellage as a prospect he would like to keep in-state. He visited Pellage on December 8th only four days removed from being introduced as the Florida head coach.
McElwain and Summers have turned up the heat on Pellage so to speak and they are expected to get a visit from him. Nothing official has been announced as far as a visit date but considering he is presently committed elsewhere they may be simply keeping it hush-hush to this point.
If he does indeed take a visit to Gainesville, Mac and Summers have a good shot to flip this prospect. Of course, according to the old recruiting adage, if he doesn’t make the trip, then don’t wait on a commitment.
Another offensive tackle currently committed elsewhere but is being hotly pursued by the Gators’ staff is Tyree St. Louis (6-5 300) from IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida. He is committed to the Miami Hurricanes but, like Pellage, was also identified by Mac and Summers as another O-line prospect they would like to flip to the Gators. Either of the two would be a solid addition to the Gators, both would be even better. My sense, though is that Pellage is higher on the board than St. Louis and of course both are behind Ivey.
Expect Pellage and St. Louis to get the full court treatment in case they don’t get Ivey. For pure numbers sake, though, they want at least two of the three in addition to Horton. Would they take all four if they all wanted in? With the likelihood they don’t even approach the 28 signees they have room for and the extreme lack of depth on the O-line, I’d say, yes, they would take them all and sort it out later, particularly if they lose Sandifer. He and Horton both visit Florida on January 26th.
Frederick Johnson (6-6 300) from West Palm Beach is another big body the Gators are giving a look. He was previously committed to Virginia Tech but is currently uncommitted. The new staff has reached out to him and secured a visit on January 23rd.
The consensus three star prospect will also be visiting Miami (1/16) and Tennessee (1/30). With Tennessee’s class almost overfilled, this one very well come down to a Florida-Miami battle come in the end. My sense is Florida would take him if they miss on two of the three: Ivey, Pellage, or St. Louis, assuming Horton sticks.