The Florida Gators are dragging into 2016 National Signing Day, especially compared to one year ago at this time. That’s what happens when a program looking to hold strong at the crest of a tidal wave of momentum instead crashes down with it, losing their last three games in embarrassing fashion.
That’s why one year after head coach Jim McElwain looked to be a miracle worker as the Gators hauled in an impressive crop of players on signing day – including two of their top three remaining prospects in five-stars defensive end CeCe Jefferson and offensive tackle Martez Ivey – Florida may get shut out on the day … and could even lose one or more of its committed players.
Indeed, with signing day less than 24 hours away, there appear to only be three players legitimately considering the Gators and none of them seem to have Florida as a true leader entering Wednesday.
Four-star wide receiver Tyrie Cleveland (Houston, TX) is currently committed to Houston but also has Arkansas and TCU as contenders. He may be the most likely to pick UF, which got his last visit, but there is plenty of competition. Four-star defensive end Brian Burns (Fort Lauderdale, FL) looked to be headed to the Gators after an official visit on Jan. 22, but following a stop in Florida State one week later, nearly the entire 247Sports Crystal Ball predicts he will go with the Seminoles. The other prospect UF is hoping to sway? Four-star cornerback Kristian Fulton (Metairie, LA), who is almost assuredly going to stay in-state by committing to LSU over Florida.
As if that was not enough anxiety for the Gators, there appears to at least be some chance their second-highest rated commitment not currently enrolled in school, four-star defensive tackle Shavar Manuel (Bradenton, FL), is seriously considering flipping to FSU following a weekend visit. Ranked the No. 67 player in the nation per the 247Sports Composite, Manuel is an important get for UF, which needs to add talent to the middle of its defensive line. He is also seemingly one of the toughest recruits to get a read on, telling one outlet he was solid on his commitment and another (just hours later) that he’s 50-50 with a decision set to be made Wednesday. Is it all a front to create intrigue and attention on signing day? Perhaps … but perhaps not.
Unfortunately for Florida, the potential for disaster – again, potential – does not stop there. Three other Gators commitments have said on social media or otherwise that they plan to make their final decisions on Wednesday.
Three-star LB Vosean Joseph (Miami, FL) has been committed for nearly a full year but officially visited Alabama on Jan. 15. The good news for UF, if you want to call it that, is UA has higher-ranked linebackers set to fill its class. Three-star running back Lamical Perine (Theodore, AL) has been committed since May 29, 2015 and looks to stick but claims he “will have 2 hats on the table for signing day.” Finally, three-star defensive back Jeawon Taylor (Montgomery, AL), UF’s fourth-highest rated player not yet enrolled, claimed on Jan. 31 “[I will be] deciding my school on national signing day” just one day after posting a ton of pictures in orange and blue following an official visit to Florida.
In all likelihood, though, the aforementioned trio will stay in the fold at UF.
Piecing that all together, the Gators could theoretically strike out on Wednesday, see Manuel flip to a rival and sweat out National Letters of Intent from three other players.
Of course, Florida could keep everyone, nab Cleveland, surprise with Burns and shock with Fulton, making the nearly 600 words written above this absolutely moot.
The Gators are currently No. 7 in the 247Sports Composite team rankings but plenty of teams are in striking distance and could potentially knock them out of the top 10. Florida is one of only three teams in the top 10 without a five-star pledge (Michigan should get one on signing day), and it is tied with Georgia and Clemson with the fewest number of four-star commitments in nine. Considering UF’s 25 total commitments is the most in that group, that’s not a high percentage compared to their peers.
What the Gators do have is 12 early enrollees, including two of the top 100 players in the nation in four-stars cornerback Chauncey Gardner (Cocoa, FL) and quarterback Feleipe Franks, two extremely talented four-star receivers in Freddie Swain (Citra, FL) and Joshua Hammond (Hallandale, FL), a potential breakthrough JUCO running back in four-star Mark Thompson (Dodge City, KS) and much-needed top-rated kicker commit Eddy Pineiro (North Miami Beach, FL). Plus, the jewel of the class may well be four-star DE Antonneous Clayton (Vienna, GA), who is the No. 26 player in the nation appears as solid as one could be to a team but has yet to enroll.
Florida fans just have to hope McElwain and Co. can build on this crop and close the 2016 recruiting cycle better than they did the 2015 footabll season.