Florida Gators recruits and targets to watch through 2014 National Signing Day

Updated on Tuesday at 6:15 p.m.

Already 21 members strong, the Florida Gators’ 2014 recruiting class has space to expand and head coach Will Muschamp is looking to do just that over the next few days leading up to and on National Signing Day when the vast majority of uncommitted high school football players across the country announce their decisions.

Be sure to visit OnlyGators.com’s live coverage of National Signing Day beginning Wednesday morning at 7 a.m. It will feature a live chat and be constantly updated throughout the day with every signed National Letter of Intent (NLI) and new commitment.

For now, OnlyGators.com breaks down which players the Gators are still waiting to hear from and when they may learn of their respective decisions while providing some of the latest information and insights on each player.

Special thanks to InsidetheGators.com recruiting analyst Blake Alderman for his assistance with some of the finer details below.

Offensive tackle Damian Prince (Forestville, MD)
Accolades: Rivals – No. 20 overall (No. 2 OT) | ESPN – No. 26 overall (No. 3 OT)
Leaders: Florida, Maryland
Skinny: Prince’s recruitment has heated up as of late. He cut his top three to a final two (removing Penn State) and moved up his announcement date nine days to Feb. 5. Though staying home is a strong consideration in his mind, three big factors have Prince seriously considering – and possibly leaning towards – committing to Florida. His good friend, five-star cornerback Jalen Tabor (Washington, DC), enrolled early at UF; Prince is a fan of new Gators offensive line coach Mike Summers; and he used his final official visit to travel to Gainesville, FL over the weekend, reportedly coming away impressed. Nevertheless, home is often where the heart is…and Prince may not be leaving.
Announcement: National Signing Day – 10:00 a.m. on ESPNU
Prediction: Maryland | Confidence: 70%

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Jaylen Watkins – Path to NFL Draft: Preparation

Through the 2014 NFL Draft, which will be held in New York, NY from May 8-10, Florida Gators defensive back Jaylen Watkins will be keeping you up-to-date on his Path to the Draft with exclusive blog entries here at OnlyGators.com.

Florida’s third-leading tackler with 52 takedowns last season, Watkins played safety for the Gators after being primarily used as a cornerback – the position he will play as a professional – during his first three years. Watkins started 28 of the 48 games in which he participated but saw the field for starter’s minutes in many of those other contests.

His second entry covers the impact of Florida’s coaches on his career, playing a new position as a senior and the importance of being invited to the 2014 Senior Bowl.

The Senior Bowl is next Saturday, and we are all getting some last minute training in before heading out to Mobile, AL on January 18th. [Editor’s Note: Watkins will be joined in Mobile by guard Jon Halapio and wide receiver Solomon Patton.]

It honestly feels great to be picked for the Senior Bowl. It lets me know I was doing something right during the season and in my career with the Gators. Obviously Coach [Will] Muschamp and T-Rob [defensive backs coach Travaris Robinson] put me in a great position to showcase my skills.

Their football knowledge is beyond levels of college. Being in that defense, the standard they hold you to makes you a better player. That helped me excel. I was able to grasp so much information at once and play so many different positions. Being able to play safety, nickel, corner, it all paid off. If you listen and do what they say, you’ll definitely be a better player because they know what they’re talking about.

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Florida flips Louisville OL commit Harkless

A Louisville Cardinals commitment since April 16, 2013, three-star offensive tackle Kavaris Harkless (Jacksonville, FL) has decided to flip allegiances and will instead join the Florida Gators as an early enrollee.

According to InsidetheGators.com recruiting analyst Blake Alderman, who cited one of the prospect’s coaches at Trinity Christian High School, Harkless will enroll in classes on Monday and join Florida for spring practice.

The Gators first offered Harkless, rated a four-star prospect by ESPN, in December and immediately became the highest-profile team to do so. Though Harkless was 100 percent committed to the Cardinals, he began considering his options at that time and has now made the switch just one day after Louisville head coach Charlie Strong decided to leave the program for Texas.

Recruited by head coach Will Muschamp and defensive backs coach Travaris Robinson, Harkless (6-foot-5, 269 pounds) is an important commitment for Florida, which needs to add quality depth along the offensive line.

He is the Gators’ 20th commitment this recruiting cycle and second in the last four days.

Harkless will join Florida along with six other early enrollees including four-star quarterback Will Grier (Davidson, NC), four-star cornerback Duke Dawson (Cross City, FL), four-star tight end DeAndre Goolsby (Derby, KS), four-star OL Nolan Kelleher (Mount Pleasant, SC), three-star DE Taven Bryan (Casper, WY) and three-star JUCO OL Drew Sarvary (Tallahassee, FL).

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Florida CB Loucheiz Purifoy enters 2014 NFL Draft

The first current member of the Florida Gators to officially but unsurprisingly forgo his final season of collegiate eligibility, junior cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy confirmed Monday that he has decided to enter the 2014 NFL Draft.

“I have had a great three years at the University of Florida, but at this time I think it’s best for me and my family to pursue a career in the NFL,’’ said Purifoy in a release from the school. “Coach [Will] Muschamp and Coach [Travaris] Robinson have put me in a position to take the next step.

“I know there is still a lot of work for me ahead, but I appreciate what everyone at Florida did to get me to this point. As much as I look forward to playing in the NFL, I will miss my teammates and coaches and look forward to watching them play next year.”

Purifoy was projected as a first-round selection in this year’s draft prior to the start of the season. After being suspended for the season opener for a violation of team rules, he had an up-and-down 2013 campaign with most of his game-changing plays occurring in three contests against Arkansas, Georgia and Florida State.

Having never intercepted a pass in his first two years, Purifoy picked off two this season, returning one for a touchdown. He also broke up seven passes, forced a fumble, recovered a fumble, blocked a kick and registered two sacks. Of his 24 total tackles, 3.5 were for a total loss of 17 yards.

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9/23: Muschamp talks injuries, rushers, Kentucky

No. 19/20 Florida Gators head coach Will Muschamp met with the media on Monday to discuss Saturday’s 31-17 victory over the Tennessee Volunteers and his team’s upcoming road game against the Kentucky Wildcats on Saturday, Sept. 28. The contest will kick off at 7 p.m. and air live on ESPNU.

INJURY UPDATES

Muschamp announced that junior quarterback Jeff Driskel’s surgery, originally scheduled for Sunday, will instead be performed on Wednesday. Driskel broke his right fibula during Saturday’s game and will have a plate inserted in the leg. “Again, very disappointed for Jeff. It’s part of the game, but it’s very difficult to deal with. Really hurt for him and his family and for us as a football team,” he said.

One other serious injury occurred as redshirt freshman tight end Colin Thompson, who missed all of 2012 due to injury, was diagnosed with a stress fracture in his foot and will probably miss 1-2 weeks. “I’m disappointed for Colin. He was starting to really progress and do well for us,” Muschamp said. “He’s had some issues with his foot; this is a different issue with his foot. It’s something that has not happened before.”

Three other Gators were injured Saturday but each is expected to be active for Saturday’s game. Redshirt junior defensive tackle Leon Orr hurt his shoulder and will miss practice on Monday but should be back Tuesday or Wednesday. Redshirt senior right guard Jon Halapio, who sat out the first two games of the season with a torn pectoral, got poked in the eye early Saturday and had three stitches after the game. “He’s going to be fine for this week. I’ll tell you, a tough young man he is to play through that,” Muschamp said. Junior cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy was also knocked from the game after being hit hard on a kickoff return; he was later diagnosed with a thigh contusion and was back at practice running on Sunday.

As for the three Florida players that missed the Tennessee game, Muschamp believes two will be healthy enough to play at Kentucky. Junior CB Marcus Roberson (knee) ran well Sunday and will be back at practice Tuesday, and redshirt sophomore right tackle Tyler Moore (ankle) will also be back in action Tuesday. Redshirt sophomore running back Valdez Showers, who injured his ankle during practice on Wednesday, was listed as “doubtful” and will likely be out at least one if not two weeks.

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Hype train rolls on for Florida S Marcus Maye

Matt Elam and Josh Evans, the Florida Gators’ starting safeties in 2012 and now two NFL reserves, both pointed to redshirt freshman Marcus Maye as the player to watch at their position by the time the 2013 season rolled around.

On Monday, 12 days before Florida was set to open the 2013 campaign against Toledo on Aug. 31, head coach Will Muschamp named Maye the Gators’ second starting safety where he will play alongside redshirt junior Cody Riggs.

Suffice to say, his teammates were not surprised.

“Marcus Maye is amazing,” sophomore cornerback Brian Poole said Tuesday. “He’s a great player. He should have a great year this year.”

“He’s a good player,” corroborated junior CB Marcus Roberson. “He’s a ball hawk. He makes a lot of plays, and we like that about him.”

Maye sat out in 2012 while rehabbing a torn meniscus that he injured while playing basketball in high school. Though he started practiced with the team ahead of the 2013 Sugar Bowl, he did not step on the field and accepted a redshirt.

He impressed the coaching staff then, continued to do so this spring and has stood out in a big way over the last few weeks.

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8/19: Muschamp updates injuries and defensive depth chart, discusses freshmen playmakers

Florida Gators head coach Will Muschamp met with the media before the team’s 20th fall practice (the third open to the media) ahead of the 2013 season.

INJURIES UPDATES POSITIVE…FOR ONCE

Sophomore running back Matt Jones remains out of action while recovering from a serious viral infection but is looking healthier than he has in quite some time and could be on his way to returning to practice if some Monday tests come back with the results that please team doctors. “Matt Jones is getting some blood work done this afternoon,” Muschamp explained. “He’s got his weight back up. He’s at about 223 [pounds]. When this happened, he was 226. So I’ll know a little bit more as we move through he week, but he’s been jogging and moving around a little bit more, which is good.”

While it is unknown when Jones will be cleared, Muschamp said the Gators have been operating with the assumption that he will miss Florida’s season opener against Toledo on Aug. 31. The good news is that Jones has a positive attitude and seems to be progressing exactly the way trainers have hoped. “I get a daily update,” he said. “He feels good. He’s doing more and more every day from a workout standpoint. That’s all I know. We’re playing it by ear.”

Beginning Thursday, the focus for the Gators turns to game week. Florida will begin additional preparation for Toledo, and Muschamp said Monday that he expects to have most of his nicked-up players back for the contest.

Senior defensive tackle Damien Jacobs (knee), junior fullback Hunter Joyer (hamstring) and freshman cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III (shoulder) should all be ready to practice next week. Additionally, senior defensive back Jaylen Watkins (foot) returned to practice on Sunday, and senior defensive lineman Dominique Easley (shoulder) is practicing after getting dinged during practice last week.

Muschamp also expects to have redshirt senior right guard Jon Halapio (pectoral) back but said he is still awaiting approval from doctors, which he could get on Friday. “Right now, everything has gone extremely well [with his recovery],” he said. “They feel like the cavity has filled in where the pec was torn. They feel good about it, but I won’t know more until Friday.”

Sophomore wide receiver Raphael Andrades (turf toe) – “It’s a pretty good one.” – will miss at least 10 days.

Though UF appears to be suffering through a variety of ailments and injuries, Muschamp pointed out that the team is “probably healthier than [it was] a year ago” because most of the “setbacks have been non-football and non-contact,” including the two anterior cruciate ligament tears. “That’s been the frustrating part,” he said. “We’re healthier now than we have ever been since I’ve been at Florida, at this point in camp.”

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8/14: Durkin on Morrison and McMillian, limiting Purifoy, Gators young secondary talent

For the first time this fall, new Florida Gators defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin met with the media on Wednesday to discuss some of the latest developments concerning his side of the ball and the team in general.

M&M BOYS

Sophomore linebacker Antonio Morrison made a big splash for the Gators as a true freshman in 2012, starting three games in place of Jelani Jenkins and finishing the year with 34 tackles and a big sack/forced fumble in the final regular season game against Florida State. Though Morrison will miss the first two games of the 2013 campaign (as of press time) for off-the-field incidents over the summer, he returned to practice last week and is already looking like his old self.

“The guy brings great energy to practice. He’s very physical. He loves playing football. He’s very into what he does. He’s got great respect from his teammates and coaches. He’s been a pro about it since he’s been back,” Durkin said on Wednesday.

“Everyone was excited to see him back out there. He’s their guy, one of their teammates, so they were excited when he came back. I don’t know if it’s coincidence or not, but we had a great practice the day he came back. But we’ve had several great practices, so I don’t know how much that had to do with it. But we’re all happy to see him back.”

Like Morrison a year ago, freshman LB Daniel McMillian is earning some high praise from the coaching staff for his tenacious work ethic and eye-catching athletic ability. Durkin certainly notices the similarities between the two players.

“Those guys, they really want to learn the game. They’re hungry for more. They’re not just out there practicing and then move on and don’t think about it again,” he said. “They’re both in their playbooks a lot and watching film. They don’t want to be on the field and not know what they’re supposed to do because they’re competitive. They want to be in a spot where they’re going to go succeed, so they put the time in to do it.”

He continued: “D-Mac is a guy that competes and loves football. He is in the film room all the time. He’s always trying to get better, asking questions on the field and off the field. He really wants to be great. He wants to play and contribute and he will. You mix that with the ability level he has and you have something pretty special right there. We saw that going into the recruiting process with him, and that’s what we got here.”

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