Florida Gators college football recruiting: National Signing Day storylines, targets to watch

By Adam Silverstein
February 1, 2018
Florida Gators college football recruiting: National Signing Day storylines, targets to watch
Football

Image Credit: ESPN Images

With less than a week to go until 2018 National Signing Day, the only thing to say about the Florida Gators at this juncture is that that head coach Dan Mullen still has a lot of work to do in his first class at his latest gig.

Florida is set to host a slew of top-tier recruits on its campus Saturday during the final official visit weekend of the cycle. This on the heels of the Gators gaining two verbal pledges in the last two weeks, including four-star wide receiver Justin Watkins (Clermont, FL) and three-star center Griffin McDowell (Leesburg, GA). Watkins is rated 89th overall nationally, while McDowell was a flip from Mississippi State.

UF is also waiting to see whether it can hold onto four-star offensive tackle Richard Gouraige (Tampa, FL), who has been committed since Oct. 20, 2017, but is being pursued by a number of top programs including Clemson, Auburn and Ole Miss.

The Gators’ transition class is currently rated 17th nationally, fifth in the SEC and behind both of its in-state rivals. With less than a week to go until the big day, let’s take a fair and honest look at where Florida stands as it looks to make a major move.

Storylines

1. It’s a transition: Here’s how Florida has ranked in every transitional recruiting class since the departure of Steve Spurrier: No. 10 (2002), No. 12 (2005), No. 11 (2011), No. 21 (2015). Considering the program has just gone through its lowest period in ages with two four-win seasons in the last five years, expectations should be relatively tame. If the Gators can wind up with a class ranked around No. 15 when all is said and done, that’s a relative win for new head coach Dan Mullen. Anything above that is gravy, especially if it includes some of the more talented players listed below.

2. Still looking up: Regardless of how well Florida closes, it will be looking up on its former coach Urban Meyer (Ohio State is currently No. 1), Georgia (currently No. 2 with six — again, six! — five-star commits), Miami (currently No. 5), three other SEC teams (Alabama, Auburn, LSU) and potentially Florida State (currently No. 15) and three other SEC teams. In other words, the Gators could do a tremendous job locking up a talented class and still fall behind all of its rivals perhaps with the exception of Tennessee. Oh, and back to UGA for a second: For comparison’s sake, hasn’t signed a single five-star since 2015 and has totaled six since 2012. No matter how the 2018 cycle concludes, Mullen has some major work to do going forward to recruit on the level of his peers.

3. A brand new staff: There are generally a couple coaching holdovers that help new head coaches through their first recruiting cycle, particularly when it comes to making commitments feel comfortable enough to keep their pledges and ultimately sign. While former running backs coach Ja’Juan Seider did stick around for a while, now that he’s off to Penn State, Florida is working with a completely new coaching regime in 2018. It will be curious to see if any of those departures truly hurt UF down the stretch or if Florida is able to completely overcome the newness of its staff over the next week.

Top targets

Five-star OT Nicholas Petit-Frere (Tampa, FL): The No. 7 overall player in the nation, Petit-Frere is Mullen’s big fish. He took his official visit to Florida on Jan. 26 but heads to Ohio State on Feb. 2 with the Buckeyes looking to make major ground on the Gators and others, primarily Notre Dame. If UF can land Petit-Frere, it will do a lot to them salvaging the Class of 2018 during a transition period.

Four-star OT William Barnes (Apopka, FL): The Gators were far ahead of the pack for Barnes, the No. 54 overall prospect, at one point, but as the season got away from Florida and Jim McElwain was fired, North Carolina emerged as the leader for his services. There may be too much ground to make up here, but it does help that UF is the in-state program.

Four-star WR Jacob Copeland (Pensacola, FL): A one-time Gators commitment, Copeland backed off his pledge following the departure of McElwain. He now appears to be 50-50 between Florida and Alabama with UF getting the final official visit on Feb. 2 (Copeland visited Bama last weekend and Texas A&M the weekend prior). Copeland is the 14th ranked player in the state of Florida, No. 12 WR and No. 69 overall nationally.

Four-star DE Andrew Chatfield (Fort Lauderdale, FL): Florida and Miami are battling for the services of the nation’s 213rd-ranked player with the Gators seemingly making up a lot of ground after hosting Chatfield on an official visit in late January. The Canes met with him Wednesday in his home and got the last word.

Four-star DE Malcolm Lamar (Seffner, FL): A long-time Florida State lean, Lamar finished an official visit to Florida on Jan. 26, and the Gators suddenly look to be in contention for his services. A fan of UF growing up, Lamar has reportedly canceled a planned FSU visit this weekend, which could indicate him swaying in the direction of the Orange and Blue.

Four-star CB Noah Boykin (Washington, D.C.): Just days after officially visiting Florida in mid-January, Boykin decommitted from Maryland, where he had been pledged since July 2017. The Gators appear to be the clear leaders for his services going into signing day.

Flip possibilities

Four-star DT Nesta Silvera (Fort Lauderdale, FL): A current Miami commit, Silvera is giving Florida a legitimate look down the stretch but is likely to keep his pledge to the Canes. He visited UF back on Jan. 19 but also visited Tennessee prior to his UM official on Saturday. It would be a coup for the Gators to flip the nation’s No. 54 prospect.

Secondary targets

Here are some other prospects on the Gators’ board that are either three-star recruits or are only takes if Florida misses on other higher-ranked players.

Three-star DE Dorian Gerald (Florence, SC): There is a lot of competition for Gerald, who has taken official visits to Texas A&M and Arkansas despite appearing to be a Tennessee lean for quite some time. An official to Florida is set for this weekend, which is why many believe the Gators may be the team to beat for the 26th-ranked junior college player’s services. He’s also set to check in at Ole Miss.

Three-star DE Caleb Johnson (Columbus, GA): The highly sought after prospect has visited UF, Georgia and Auburn over the last three weeks as he attempts to decide between three SEC powers. One hundred percent of the 247Sports Crystal Ball Johnson pegged as a future member of the Gators.

Three-star OL Ed Montilus (Apopka, FL): Close friends with Barnes, they are expected to attend the same school, which at one point looked to be Florida but may now be North Carolina. He will also visit this weekend.

Three-star TE Glenn Beal (New Orleans, LA): SEC teams are in hot pursuit of Beal, a massive 6-foot-5, 265-pound jumbo prospect. He will take an official visit to UF on Saturday after recently making stops at Alabama, Ole Miss and Texas A&M. Tennessee was once his leader. The Aggies look like the team to beat, but no one really knows.

Three-star DE Fabien Lovett (Olive Branch, MS): In what is expected to be an all-Mississippi battle, Lovett should choose between Ole Miss and Mississippi State. But with Mullen and Co. having so many in-state ties, Lovett will give Florida an opportunity when he takes an official visit on Saturday.

Longshots

Florida is technically a finalist for …

Four-star DE Malik Langham (Huntsville, AL): Florida nabbed an official visit from Langham on Jan. 26, but he’s headed to Auburn this weekend and looks poised to commit to Alabama, where he visited back on Jan. 19.

Four-star DE Caleb Tannor (Lithonia, GA): The Gators have made a push for Tannor, but Florida looks to be behind Auburn, which he recently visited last weekend. Tannor visited Nebraska back on Jan. 12, UF on Jan. 19 and Florida State a few days later. He’s likely set to commit to the Tigers.

Commitments

CommitPos.Rating
Jacob Copeland (69)
WR
Emory Jones* (85)
QB
Richard Gouraige (81)
OT
Justin Watkins (89)
WR
Kyle Pitts* (161)
TE
Amari Burney* (177)
S
Trey Dean* (195)
DB
Dameon Pierce* (201)
RB
Andrew Chatfield (213)
DE
David Reese* (296)
LB
Iverson Clement*
RB
Malik Langham
DE
John Huggins*
S
Chris Bleich*
OL
Randy Russell*
S
Dante Lang^
TE
Evan McPherson*
K
Griffin McDowell
C
Noah Banks*
OL
JUCO

* Early Signing Peirod signee

All rankings referenced in this story are via the 247Sports Composite

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