Recapping Florida’s 2011 Friday Night Lights

Mixing pomp and circumstance with football drills and relationship building, the Florida Gators use their annual Friday Night Lights camp at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium as both a recruiting tool and means of evaluating some of the best high school football players in the country. The Gators often pull in some recruits over the FNL weekend but also find diamonds in the rough as recruits get coached up while getting to know each other.

The Swamp will once again filled with some of the top young talent in the nation on July 22, so much so that covering every player that plans to step on the field is a near impossibility. Below is a recap of the 2011 event which includes much of what was learned Friday evening in Gainesville, FL.

» Florida did not receive any commitments at the event, though that is not necessarily a negative. The Gators’ 15-member recruiting class is believed to be slightly larger already with a few silent commits in the fold. Most importantly, Florida’s new coaching staff made a positive impression on those in attendance and may have set themselves up for some big names to give their respective pledges in the near future.

» Five-star wide receiver Stefon Diggs (Olney, MD) was the standout performer, hauling in catches, showcasing his athleticism and even performing a few Gator Chomps after scoring a touchdown. The No. 2 wide receiver in the 2012 class, No. 8 overall prospect and No. 1 player in his state, Diggs has 36 offers but has not narrowed his choices down yet. Former high school teammates with Gators redshirt junior linebacker Jelani Jenkins, Diggs stayed in Gainesville overnight and will get more personal time with coaches on Saturday. “It was a big stage out there tonight,” he told The Gainesville Sun. “I didn’t come down here for no reason. I had a feeling about Florida. I just knew it was going to be live, and that’s what I love.”

» Florida’s current commitments and players did what they could to help sway recruits to the Orange & Blue throughout the course of the evening. Most notable among them was sophomore buck linebacker Ronald Powell, who was in the ear of four-star defensive end Jordan Jenkins (Hamilton, GA) all night long. The two reportedly got along great and developed a solid relationship at the event.

» Gators defensive coaches spent a ton of time with four-star defensive tackle Carlos Watkins (Forest City, NC), sticking by his side until he left the field and eventually headed home. Close friends with recent three-star safety commit Rhaheim Ledbetter (Boiling Springs, NC) and top Florida target four-star DE Jonathan Bullard (Shelby, NC), Watkins has spoken with the duo about all playing college together. He is also seriously considering South Carolina and Clemson.

» Though he did make it down to Gainesville, five-star Florida State DE commit Dante Fowler, Jr. (St. Petersburg, FL) remains solid to UF’s rival. He has expressed interest in Florida lately even though his father has no desire to see him wearing the Orange & Blue. The Gators are nevertheless pursuing Fowler in hopes of turning him, but he reiterated on Friday that his commitment to FSU is solid as of right now.

» Former Florida players in attendance included running back Fred Taylor, quarterback Chris Leak and wide receivers Jemalle Cornelius and Jacquez Green. Taylor, who visited with his son, 2013 RB prospect Kelvin Taylor (Belle Glade, FL), served as a coach at the camp and was excited to finally bring his son to The Swamp. Cornelius and Green visited with players from the high schools they coach at and also had a good time. The younger Taylor showcased good hands and solid agility at the event, but it is unknown if the Gators have presented him with an offer yet.

» Five-star athlete Nelson Agholor (Tampa, FL) was planning to visit but ended up cancelling after he received a phone call from the hosts of the ESPN/Nike Gridiron Kings event in Orlando, FL, who asked him to fill in for a player who dropped out. Agholor, who has yet to narrow down his list which may or may not include Florida depending who you talk to, was just one of a few players who did not make it. Three-star cornerback Chris Bivins (Gainesville, FL) also took part in another event, and four-star cornerback Tracy Howard (Miramar, FL) stopped by for a few hours but left before FNL began. Four-star offensive tackle Avery Young (Palm Beach Gardens, FL) was planning on going but simply could not find a ride. He is believed to be a heavy UF lean.

» Having shortened his list to Florida, Southern California and South Carolina, four-star defensive end Tyriq McCord (Tampa, FL) still has a ways to go in his recruitment (he does not plan to make an official announcement until January). Nevertheless, his time in Gainesville was well spent as he was able to continue developing his relationship with the coaches, who hope to earn his commitment as soon as possible McCord is one of the Gators’ top targets going forward.

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WR Cornelius: “I just tried to do whatever I could.”

Former Florida Gators wide receiver Jemalle Cornelius has one of the biggest smiles you will ever see. And he has plenty to be happy about these days. Having settled down in his hometown of Fort Meade, FL, Cornelius is the head coach of his high school team and is continuing the legacy of his former coach, whose retirement two years ago gave him the opportunity to take the reigns.

Married with three children, Corenlius chose stability over chasing his original dream – playing in the NFL. Speaking with me last week for a feature published on InsideTheGators.com, he opened up about choosing to attend Florida, going through two coaching changes, how his coaches developed him as a player and person, putting the desire to play professionally in his rear view mirror and doing what he can to improve the play and character of his student-athletes.

Check out the feature I wrote last week (subscription required) and supplement it with the remainder of my 45-minute interview with Cornelius found here:

ADAM SILVERSTEIN: Talk about growing up in Fort Meade and how that experience is different from how other people you know grew up.
JEMALLE CORNELIUS: “It was different. I grew up in a real small town, not much to do. All we had as kids was sports. We didn’t have no movies or much stuff to do for entertainment. So we played sandlot football during football season, played baseball during baseball season. Year-round we were just playing sports; that’s pretty much all we had. My dad was a pastor at a church, so he was always involved in the community. He coached me when I was growing up – every sport I played. He was always there. I saw [sports] as my way out, my opportunity.”

AS: Was football always your best sport?
JC: “I started off playing baseball. I was a good baseball player. In Fort Meade, it was crazy, when I was coming up we didn’t even have little league football. We had to go to another city just to play. When I grew up, I played a lot of sandlot football, but it was baseball because we had a baseball team. I first got involved with football in seventh grade. When I got to high school, I just got tired of playing baseball because that’s all I did. It just kind of got boring and football was more exciting, so I leaned towards that.”

AS: You were a standout wide receiver your junior year of high school, but senior year you did it all: starting quarterback, defensive back and punt returner. What was it like being asked to do so much?
JC: “My junior year, we had a real good team. We were stacked. We had a lot of guys coming back; we just didn’t have as many athletes. Coach just kind of pulled me to the side and told me he was going to put me at quarterback. I was the back-up quarterback the year before. At that time, all I wanted to do was win a state championship, so I felt like that was the best thing for me to do. I went over to quarterback. I played defensive back. I returned punts and kicks. I just tried to do whatever I could to, first of all, win a state championship, and then being recruited as a player, the more you can do the better you look to a college coach.”

AS: It must have been tough losing those three title games…
JC: “We went three years in a row – my sophomore year, junior year and senior year – we went to state and lost to North Florida Christian. They had [Florida State linebacker] Ernie Sims at the time, and every year he beat me. Every single year.”

Read the rest of our exclusive interview with Jemalle Cornelius…after the break!
Continue Reading » WR Cornelius: “I just tried to do whatever I could.”

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Gators spring practice news and notes – 03/29

With the Florida Gators 2010 spring practice now in full swing, there is plenty of newsworthy information around the program. Rather than publishing it all in long form, OGGOA thought it would be best to lay it out piece-by-piece. We continue this series with a look at a team scrimmage from Mon., March 29.

Absences/Injuries:
» Redshirt senior wide receiver Carl Moore no-showed practice Monday. Either the staff is keeping the reason for his absence secret, or they really did not know at the time (see quotes section below). The Gainesville Sun reports that Moore was “seen leaving the field after practice [on Saturday] visibly upset.”

» Redshirt sophomore cornerback Adrian Bushell returned to practice Monday but did not wear pads. Head coach Urban Meyer suspended him from team activities for two weeks for grades and other off-the-field issues. He will also not be given pads at Wednesday’s practice but should return to full activity on Friday.

» Redshirt senior running back Emmanuel Moody remained out of practice with an injured ankle. There is not an official date for a return.

Check out many more practice, notes and interesting quotes…after the break!
Continue Reading » Gators spring practice news and notes – 03/29

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