The Florida Gators have 14 commits in the class of 2016 and the coaching staff has the Gators in position to land some big time players as the summer concludes.
In this edition of the GatorCountry.com podcast, Andrew Spivey and Nick de la Torre are joined by Hunter Mandel of Bleacher Report to get his take on how the Gators are doing in recruiting plus get his opinion on how some of Florida’s top targets did at the Opening last week.
Mandel breaks down several of Florida’s top receiver targets plus goes in depth on what makes Florida Gators CB commit Chauncey Gardner such a special player.
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Andrew: What’s up, Gator Country? Your man, Andrew Spivey, from SEC Media Days. Nick and I are here. We’re winding down the days. Nick, I know you’re like me, kind of tired and kind of wore out. It’s Media Days for a reason.
Nick: No one feels bad for us, man. We’re talking to football players. We’re talking to football coaches. There’s a lot of worse things we could be doing.
Andrew: Yeah. We could be digging ditches, but that’s not the topic or the subject today. Nick, you and I we got some good buddies from Bleacher Report. We talk to these guys a lot. They were out at the opening last weekend. I think it’d just kind of be good to kind of get everyone’s opinion of what happened. Everybody here, you and I talk about these kids all day long, about how we think about their this, their that, but I think it’s time to get an outside opinion of what the guys from Bleacher Report thought about last week. What do you think?
Nick: Absolutely. We see these guys at their schools. We see them against other high schools, competition like that. To see them on a stage like the setup in Beaverton, the opening, that is what every high school athlete now is striving to get to, that kind of invitation. Then it’s over 160 of the best high school players in the country, so the competition level is ramped up. How do they handle that? That’s what you really need to see at the next level. How are these high school kids going to play on a bigger stage? To get a fresh opinion and an opinion of guys that had feet on the ground, eyes on these kids out in Oregon. It will be nice.
Andrew: Definitely. Let’s get away from this. Let’s bring in Hunter Mandel from Bleacher Report. He does a fine job. He’s the man behind these videos, these big videos you’re seeing of Parker Boudreaux, those guys. He’s the man behind it. Hunter, thanks for joining us over here at Gator Country.
Hunter: What’s going on, man? How you doing?
Andrew: We’re doing great, man. Again, I appreciate you coming on with us a little bit. Let’s just start. Hunter, what was your opinion last week of the opening in general, and who were some guys that kind of stood out nationally to you?
Hunter: This was my third opening that I’ve attended. Over all, starting with the Elite 11, the quarterback play. It was just a great group of quarterbacks than previous years. Last year you had Josh Rosen. You had Blake Barnett near the top. It was very top heavy. This it was a very well-rounded group. As far as quarterbacks, Shane Buechele and Shea Patterson jumped off the page as guys who know how to play seven on seven. It doesn’t matter how good a quarterback. I mean, you see Jacob Eason, he’s the clear Number 1, and he didn’t get the ball in the playoffs. Shane Buechele was given the nod. It just goes to show that it’s not necessarily the quarterback that ends up being the MVP or that really gets selected in the Elite 11. It’s mostly seven on seven. If you’re talking talent wise, what really impressed me were the defensive backs out of the opening. I know you’re heavy into the receivers, as we’ve been talking at the SEC Media Days. We can definitely talk about that.
Andrew: Let’s talk a little bit about your defensive back here. I know you got to watch. You and I talked about this a little bit last night. Chauncey Gardner, everybody knows he’s a talker. He’s kind of a prima donna at the cornerback position, but he backs it up. What was your thought to Chauncey Gardner last week?
Hunter: Bro, he shows out. The first time I met Chauncey was at the Cocoa Beach Pylon in February. I got to see him. I got to see Bruce [Judson]. I saw Victor. I mean, Chauncey showed up. He’s a big boy. At this point, I don’t know how much more weight he’s going to be able to gain at the next level, maybe another 10. If so, he’s going to be just a juice head. This guy’s tremendous. I know he likes laying hits down the middle. I mean, Chauncey could back it up. There’s a reason Chauncey talks crap on the field, because he could back it up with his play.
Andrew: You talk about him going up against that receiver class. You and I have talked about the receiver class a lot. There’s a lot of high level talent in this class that maybe isn’t high level today, but in two years could be high level. Let me just name off a couple guys. Sam Bruce, you and I talked about Sam Bruce. What was your opinion of Sam Bruce?
Hunter: When I first got to the opening and I was watching the warmups, and I saw this short kid just in warmups. I’m like, he looks familiar. I didn’t know who he was at first, and then I’m like, that’s Sam Bruce. You know who Sam Bruce is when he’s on the field. He was just a menace on the field when he got the ball. When he’s catching the ball on the slot, and he was lining up wide too. He was lining up in the X, and he was able to go across the middle and make linebackers look silly in two hand touch. I mean, Sam Bruce is a tremendous athlete. My friend, my co-worker Vanessa, who’s a producer of Bleacher Report, said she spoke with Bruce’s parents, and they told us he can dunk. How tall is he? 5’7”?
Hunter: Yeah. 5’6”, and he can dunk. That shows you his athleticism. Right now he’s committed to Miami, and I know you strongly believe he will not be going to Miami, but I do think he stays with the U, and I think he can be a tremendous force for them next year.
Andrew: Let’s move to my favorite receiver. Gator Country guys, they know that I love Benjamin Victor. He’s a guy that definitely needs to gain some weight. He’s a beanpole right now, but what was your thoughts on him? I know he had that one big drop that you mentioned to me, but overall as a week long process, what did Benjamin Victor look like?
Hunter: He had all the tools to be an incredibly successful receiver at the next level. You see how tall he is. What is he, like 6’6”?
Hunter: It’s just incredibly tough for even a 6’1” corner, which is a huge corner, to cover a guy like that. I’m not saying that his route running is phenomenal. I just think he knows how to get open, and I think that’s even more important for zone coverage, because he just kind of knew where to go. This guy is just high pointing the ball all over the field. I think a guy like Victor, don’t worry about him being a beanstalk and him being light. At the next level he’ll throw on the 20 pounds. They’re going to force him to eat three times a day. I wouldn’t worry about that. This kid, his height alone and his awareness on the field, that’s enough for a big time school to take him.
Andrew: I know you and some of your colleagues really believe Florida’s the team to beat here. Was that your impression as well on that topic?
Hunter: Yeah. To be honest I didn’t get as close. I didn’t really get to talk to him as much about his recruiting process. Hopefully he gets to do a video with us, and then we can drop it for the Florida fans. I’ve heard he’s leaning Florida, but I can’t speak on that.
Andrew: Let’s move to Freddie Swain. I know you and a couple other guys were calling him maybe even better than Victor possibly. What was Freddie Swain like to you?
Hunter: Freddie Swain, he proved it on the field, and I forgot exactly who was throwing to him, but this kid, I thought his route running was extremely on point. He was making defensive backs, like with his double move the defensive backs were trying to keep up with him. If you can move your hips as well as he does that’s going to be a problem at the next level.
Andrew: Right. Now Isaac Nauta, he’s a guy that is on Florida’s board a little bit, Florida State commit, visiting Georgia a little bit. It was an interesting topic that we were discussing last night about Isaac, and you guys thought that he might be the best pure route runner, pass catcher in the country at 6’5”, 230, 235. What was your thoughts on him? I guess, do you see him moving to receiver? Do you see him sticking at tight end?
Hunter: The way he moved was definitely a little shocking of how well a 6’5”, 230 boy moved in a seven on seven tournament. Yeah, the sky’s the limit. When you’re talking about a guy that has excellent route running, and he is that size, why wouldn’t you put him in the slot? With him being a solid blocker as well, that’s just a dual force right there.
Andrew: Right. Let’s just move here a little bit, just bounce around with a couple guys real quick. Dillon Sterling-Cole, did you get an impression of his game at all? I know he was the guy that maybe didn’t finish in that top 10, top 11, of the Elite 11, but what was your take on him, if you did get to see him?
Hunter: Dillon has a smooth ball. He does throw a really nice ball. Listen, I don’t judge these quarterbacks based on the Elite 11 play. I love the Elite 11. I love the process of it, but it’s very tough. These kids get two thick binders from Dilfer, and they have to at least know the plays well enough three weeks out. It’s a lot of pressure on these kids to work with receivers they’ve never played with before and to go through their progressions and be successful against some, not some, all of the top defensive backs and linebackers in the country. So, he may have fallen out of the top 10, top 11, but Sterling-Cole, he’s a great quarterback. Him being uncommitted right now, it’s just going to be a great get for whoever grabs him.
Andrew: Right. Now here’s my last guy that I’m going to ask you about real quick, Kristian Fulton. He was another cornerback. He came to Florida this last Monday. Florida/LSU’s kind of battling out for him a little bit. Florida really likes him a lot, and I heard he had a lot of mixed reviews out at the opening. What was your take on him? Are you a guy that believes he’s an elite corner, or is he so-so right now?
Hunter: I don’t remember seeing him as much, so I don’t want to really weigh in as much on that, on Kristian. I didn’t see him as much as I would have liked to.
Andrew: Definitely. You’re a guy that’s the national guy. You get out a lot more around the country than I do. What is your take on Jim McElwain right now, and do you sense that these kids like Jim McElwain? What do you get from these kids on their impression of Florida right now?
Hunter: Of course. Jim McElwain was needed for Florida. He’s a great change. From what I’ve heard Florida is definitely being talked about amongst the kids. Before no one knew what was going to happen with Muschamp, and obviously when there’s a lot of buzz going around if your coach is going to get axed or not, kids are on the fence about committing to a school. One, they didn’t know who was going to be leading them for the next three to four years. As far as the kids liking McElwain, yeah they do. They told me that they’ve had great experiences with him. They said that they’ve had good conversations with the coaching staff, and there’s no reason that Florida isn’t in the thick of it with any of the top programs in the state of Florida.
Andrew: You heard it right there. This man’s not biased. He’s a New York native. If he’s saying it, it’s the truth. Hunter, we appreciate getting you on. Tell everybody where they can find you. I told everybody you’re the guy behind the videos, but just tell everybody where they can find you.
Hunter: I’m based in New York. You can find my twitter handle @HunterMandel1. We’ll be dropping more commitment videos throughout the year. Listen, Bleacher Report is just trying to change the game, and I’m going to keep changing it. Just hit me up on Twitter, and that’s where you’ll find me.
Andrew: There you go, guys. That’s my guy right here. Hunter, we appreciate it. Gator Country, you know next week is Friday Night Lights, and we’re going to be doing it big. So stay tuned. Always, follow us on Twitter.
Hunter: Appreciate it, man.