The news Monday afternoon of Jeff Driskel’s commitment to the Florida Gators’ Class of 2011 was hardly surprising. The quarterback had emerged on the board as Florida’s top target at the position, and with as much time as he spent in Gainesville over the last six months, the writing was clearly on the wall that this was the right match for player and program.
But now that the Gators have their man at quarterback, the next question is an easy one: Where do they go from here?
A patient approach to recruiting has not produced much quantity in terms of commitments, but the Gators seem poised to add a lot of quality players with the groundwork they have laid on the recruiting trail this spring. The amount of talent that the Florida coaching staff has hosted this spring is nothing short of amazing, especially at the linebacker position where D.J. Durkin was been kept considerably busy over the course of the last month.
Stephone Anthony (6-3, 220, Wadesboro, N.C. / Anson), Curtis Grant (6-3, 225, Richmond, Va. / Hermitage), A.J. Johnson (6-3, 230, Gainesville, Ga. / Gainesville), Norkethius Otis (6-3, 205, Gastonia, N.C. / Ashbrook), Ryan Shazier (6-1, 205, Plantation, Fla. / Plantation), Lateek Townsend (6-2, 207, Bennettsville, S.C. / Marlboro County), and Kent Turene (6-1, 225, Lauderdale Lakes, Fla. / Boyd Anderson) all visited during spring practice between March 17 and April 10 and toured the University of Florida campus. Shazier and Townsend were in attendance for the spring game. Florida would like to secure the services of at least three linebackers in this class to replace departing seniors Lorenzo Edwards, Brandon Hicks and A.J. Jones, with two of those players being able to fill the Mike (middle) position. With all of those prospects returning home with positive things to say about their experiences in Gainesville, Florida figures to be in good shape to fill their needs from that group of prospects.
While linebacker is certainly a need, maybe the biggest priority for the coaches at this point is to find a full compliment of offensive linemen in this class. Marcus Gilbert, Maurice Hurt, Carl Johnson and Mike Pouncey all exhaust their remaining eligibility following the 2010 season, and the Gators will need to find at least four and quite possibly five players to fill their considerable shoes.
Trip Thurman (6-6, 305, Dover, Del. / Dover) picked up an offer from the Gators last week, and he seemed to enjoy his recent visit to Gainesville. Thurman could play at either guard or right tackle, and he joins Tommy Jordan (6-5, 280, Ridgefield, Conn. / Ridgefield) and Angelo Mangiro (6-3, 295, Succasunna, N.J. / Roxbury) among the top offensive line targets from the Northeast for Florida.
Closer to home, Errin Joe (6-3, 290, Lakeland, Fla. / Lake Gibson) took in a spring practice and appears to be on the verge of an offer from the Gators. Bobby Hart (6-4, 290, Fort Lauderdale / St. Thomas Aquinas) recently picked up an offer from assistant coach (and South Florida recruiting ace) Zach Azzanni, but Florida State might be hard to beat for his services. Giorgio Newberry (6-6, 255, Fort Pierce, Fla. / Central) looks to be a good fit at offensive tackle, despite the fact he prefers to play on the defensive line. Meanwhile, Brandon Fulse (6-4, 252, Fort Meade, Fla. / Fort Meade) wants a crack at tight end, but his future also appears to one day be on the offensive line as well. Both Fulse and Newberry currently report written offers from the Florida Gators.
On the other side of the ball, Florida will have to replace five scholarship players on the defensive line as Brandon Antwine, Duke Lemmens, Lawrence Marsh, Terron Sanders and Justin Trattou all head into the fall as seniors. The Gators took a big step in adding to a tremendous haul on the defensive line in the 2010 class by landing the commitment of Jeoffrey Pagan (6-3, 270, Asheville, N.C. / Asheville) following the Orange and Blue Debut spring football game. The Gators hope to pair Pagan up with local product Tim Jernigan (6-2, 282, Lake City, Fla. / Columbia) as a pair of cornerstones along the defensive front for the future. Ends Sterling Bailey (6-4, 250, Gainesville, Fla. / East Hall), Ray Drew (6-5, 252, Thomasville, Ga. / Thomas County Central) and Curt Maggitt (6-3, 206, Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. / Dwyer) all have offers and are among the top prospects on the board for Florida at the position. Drew and Maggitt attended the spring game in Gainesville, and Bailey figures to make it down very soon as well. Ishaq Williams (6-5, 225, Brooklyn, N.Y. / Lincoln) is another name to keep an eye out for as well. In all look for Florida to target five on the defensive line, but they could settle for four if needed.
The board is a little more unsettled at defensive back where Florida is still considering a number of options. The Gators already have a commitment in De’Ante Saunders (5-10, 180, DeLand, Fla. / DeLand) but figure to add at least one more to a list that includes Marcus Roberson (6-1, 175, Fort Lauderdale, Fla. / St. Thomas Aquinas), Corey Tindal (5-10, 174, Fort Lauderdale, Fla. / Stranahan) and Nick Waisome (5-10, 166, Groveland, Fla. / South Lake). Only Waisome has an offer from Florida at this point, but the Gators will have a close eye on Roberson and Tindal during the spring evaluation period next week.
A number of safeties are still being recruited by the Gators who are looking like a top contender for two players with offers at the present time – Wayne Lyons (5-11, 182, Fort Lauderdale, Fla. / Dillard) and Malcolm Mitchell (6-1, 180, Valdosta, Ga. / Valdosta). Other prospects on the board are Gerrod Holliman (6-0, 188, Miami, Fla. / Southridge), local star Chris Johnson (5-9, 185, Ocala, Fla. / Trinity Catholic), Chris Jones (5-11, 185, Adamsville, Ala. / Minor) and Ra’Chard Pippens (6-0, 175, McDonough, Ga. / Ola).
Moving back to offense, there is a deep board at running back where the Gators could elect to take two players in the 2011 class. Mike Bellamy (5-10, 180, Punta Gorda, Fla. / Charlotte) and his sub-10.6 seconds speed in the 100 meters appear to be a favorite of running backs coach Stan Drayton. James Wilder (6-2, 220, Tampa, Fla. / Plant) could be the thunder to Bellamy’s lightning if they were to elect to play together at Florida. Of course, Wilder is a very talented pass-rusher (19 sacks as a junior) and he could choose to play on defense at the next level instead. Other top prospects include Jameel Poteat (5-10, 195, Harrisburg, Pa. / Bishop McDevitt), Mike Blakely (5-9, 193, Bradenton, Fla. / Manatee), Javorious “Buck” Allen (6-1, 215, Tallahassee, Fla. / Lincoln) and Tre Mason (5-9, 185, Lake Worth, Fla. / Park Vista).
While wide receiver proved to be a huge priority in the last year as the Gators signed five, that will obviously not be the case once again in this recruiting cycle. Florida could sign just a single prospect in the 2011 cycle, but the more likely number will be two. The Gators figure to add some size to the rotation with the primary top targets being Kelvin Benjamin (6-6, 220, Belle Glade, Fla. / Glades Central) and Sammy Watkins (6-2, 185, Fort Myers / South Fort Myers). Looking out of state, George Farmer (6-2, 205, Gardena, Calif. / Junipero Serra), Quinta Funderburke (6-3, 205, Chesapeake, Va. / Oscar Frommel Smith) and Charone Peake (6-3, 195, Spartanburg, S.C. / Dorman) top the wish list of wide receivers for the Florida staff.
With A.C. Leonard (6-2, 235, Jacksonville, Fla. / University Christian) already in the fold, the Gators really don’t have a huge need at tight end. Nonetheless, a deep class at the position dictates that Brian White will be a busy man on the recruiting trail this fall. White is currently targeting Nick O’Leary (6-4, 225, Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. / Dwyer), Austin Seferian-Jenkins (6-7, 255, Gig Harbor, Wash. / Gig Harbor, Wash.) and Jay Rome (6-5, 230, Valdosta, Ga. / Valdosta) to play under his tutelage. Figure the Gators will add one of the three prospects on this list – likely O’Leary or Seferian-Jenkins – to join Leonard in Gainesville.
While the addition of Jeff Driskel (6-4, 221, Oviedo, Fla. / Hagerty) really helps Florida in regards to the future of the quarterback position, the Gators may still add a second signal-caller in this class to give the Gators good numbers at the position and added competition for guys like Trey Burton, Tyler Murphy and Driskel down the line. While prospects like Kiehl Frazier (6-3, 215, Springdale, Ark. / Shiloh Christian), Christian LeMay (6-2, 195, Matthews, N.C. / Butler) and Max Wittek (6-3, 200, Corona Del Mar, Calif. / Mater Dei) all seem like long shots for Florida at this point, expect that the Gators will continue to recruit those players, along with a number of players with somewhat lower profiles. Expect quarterbacks coach Scot Loeffler to keep tabs on players such as Phillip Ely (6-1, 185, Tampa, Fla. / Plant), Jerrard Randall (6-2, 190, Hollywood, Fla. / Chaminade-Madonna) and Kevin Sousa (6-3, 215, Orlando, Fla. / Lake Nona) over the coming months.
Finally, don’t be surprised if the Gators go down the special teams route in this class. Chas Henry will move on to greener pastures after this season, and Florida could very well take a specialist in this class. Perhaps Mark Sturgis (6-2, 175, St. Augustine, Fla. / St. Augustine) will join his older brother in Gainesville. It certainly is a possibility as it is that Nathan Theus (6-3, 250, Jacksonville, Fla. / Bolles) could get an offer as a backup lineman and long snapper. His brother John (6-5, 270, Jacksonville, Fla. / Bolles) is considered one of the top offensive lineman prospects in the state of Florida for the Class of 2012.
Despite the fact that the Florida currently has 18 open scholarships for the Class of 2011, look for the Gators to sign somewhere between 23-26 prospects next February. As always, transfers and injuries will give Florida room to sign a few extra players.
If the early returns are any indication, this is shaping up to be yet another successful campaign on the recruiting trail for Urban Meyer and his staff.