The Gators get off to a hot start, pulling in a half-dozen commitments during their second junior day event of the year in Gainesville on Saturday.
With somewhere in the range of 50 prospects on campus for the second junior day event of the year for the University of Florida, there was bound to be some action taking place inside of the Bill Heavener Complex – housed in the southwest wing of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville on Saturday. For Will Muschamp and his coaching staff — along with all the reporters covering the recruiting beat for the Gators — it proved to be an insanely crazy morning and afternoon.
Here’s a blow-by-blow review of how Florida’s best day of recruiting in recent memory unfolded:
8:55 a.m. – The action gets started, as highly touted running back Kelvin Taylor commits to the Gators. Taylor, who has put together a record-setting career at the Glades Day School in Belle Glade, just happens to be the son of former Florida standout Fred Taylor.
The younger Taylor would be the first of six prospects to commit to Florida on Saturday. Although the 5-foot-11, 210-pound running back hardly made a secret of his impending pledge to the Gators, beginning with a series of UF-friendly tweets on National Signing Day, he gave Gator Country recruiting analyst Andrew Spivey the story a couple of days ahead of his planned visit to Gainesville. That meant the story was ready to go when his dad gave the green light to post it at 8:55 Saturday morning. Ten minutes after posting the commitment story, Spivey followed it with a feature derived from exclusive phone interviews with Fred and Kelvin from the previous week.
With all the commitments coming left and right, Orlando (Fla.) Dr. Phillips safety Marcell Harris wasn’t tempted to jump on board just yet. However, he was impressed with the Gators haul as well. Like Taylor, Harris’ father starred on three SEC Championship squads in Gainesville from 1994-97, so there is natural kinship between the two top prospects.
“I asked [Taylor], ‘Dang, you committed already?’ He told me ‘this is where I want to be,’” Harris said of his conversation with Taylor. “Those were some big gets for Florida.”
11:54 a.m. – The second commitment breaks, with the pledge of receiver Rodney Adams, a big-play threat out of Lakewood High School in St. Petersburg. A prep teammate of Under Armour All-American defensive end Dante Fowler, who signed with Florida on Feb. 1, the two will be reunited in Gainesville.
When prospects first arrived in the morning, Florida coaches were there to welcome the prospects to campus. However, with players coming and going all throughout the day, junior day essentially acted as an all-day, meet-and-greet event, with tours of the campus and facilities on-going throughout the morning and into the evening.
“I started talking to Brian White when I got there,” Citra (Fla.) North Marion cornerback prospect Reggie Wilkerson said of his arrival at around 9:30 a.m. “He said he was glad to see me and hoped I could come back soon.”
After meeting with the coaches, Wilkerson received the complete overview of the facilities, which Florida scholarship athletes have access to.
“We did the campus tour,” Wilkerson said. “They took us up to the field, the weight room and the training room.”
Following the tours, prospects had access to a buffet lunch, which all visitors had to pay for, since the trip was an unofficial visit for everyone on campus. Wilkerson said one item in particular stood out on the menu.
“I’d have to say the chicken fingers — they were really good,” Wilkerson said with a laugh.
2:42 p.m. – Florida adds to an impressive haul at the linebacker position with Quinton Powell, a rangy playmaker who projects to play on the outside in Gainesville. Powell was one of the top performers on a Mainland High squad out of Daytona Beach, which went 12-2 in 2011,and advanced to the semifinals of the FHSAA Class 8A playoffs.
Shortly before 3 p.m., prospects broke up into positional groups to meet with the assistant coaches they would be directly working with if they were to attend the University of Florida down the road.
For cornerback prospect Damonte Jones (Ocala, Fla./St. John Lutheran), that meant an opportunity to meet with UF secondary coach Travaris Robinson, known as one of the top recruiters on the staff for the Gators.
“After we toured campus, we got to talk to the position coaches,” said Jones, who traveled to Gainesville on Saturday with his twin brother, Jamonte. “He said that Florida likes to get the wide receivers jammed – and that me and [Jamonte] do that pretty well,” said Damonte Jones of his conversation with Robinson. “[Robinson] wants us to come back to summer camp [in June].”
Although both Jones twins are on the board for Florida, they will have to return to camp in June in order to potentially earn an offer from the Gators. Regardless of whether or not he ends up a part of the the UF recruiting class for 2013, Jones believes the junior day event on Saturday laid the groundwork for another strong effort for Will Muschamp and his staff.
“It was good for Florida recruiting,” Jones said. “I think they can win it all soon – [Florida is] a pretty good team.”
4:38 p.m. – Two-sport star Nick Washington (Jacksonville, Fla./Trinity Christian) goes public with his pledge to the Gators. Washington, who also gave a commitment to Kevin O’Sullivan and his No. 1-ranked baseball team, projects to play in the secondary for the Gators, where he could line up at either cornerback or safety at the next level.
A great example of the type of hectic, behind-the-scenes insanity that can go into getting stories posted as quickly as possible: Gator Country managing editor Mike Capshaw was interrupted during an attempt to get away for a few minutes to take a quick shower before getting back online. Of course, that’s when the Washington news broke. Mike had it set up where the recruiting reporters would call, not text, when it was time to post a story. So, when he heard the phone ring from his shower, he bolted downstairs — Mike says without his feet even touching the stairs — to post the already-written-and-edited story on Washington.
Clearly, things don’t just get crazy for football coaches when a boatload of prospects arrive on campus for a visit. Gator Country has a group-txt system set up for our entire staff to communicate, and it blew up all day. It comes across as text messages, which is why Mike had reporters calling him instead of texting, so we didn’t miss any precious seconds in getting a story posted. On days like these when news hits hard and often, the staff frequently has to scramble around to charge up their phones as a result from the sheer amount of txts flying around.
6:09 p.m. – Linebacker Dillan Lawson, a relatively unknown prospect, commits to the Gators. After playing across the defense as a junior – even seeing time at defensive tackle – Lawson recorded 102 tackles and nine sacks. The 6-foot-4, 215-pound Lawson could project as a straight linebacker or at the hybrid “buck” position, which is featured in defensive coordinator Dan Quinn’s scheme.
A debate began to break out on our staff’s group txt on whether we should post a follow-up story on Lawson which was an exclusive, or let the other stories stay up on the front a little longer. Before the debate got hot and heavy, Gator Country owner Raymond Hines III sent in “Dooit!” on the group txt. Mike saw it and got it posted instantly before realizing at least one staff member thought it would be best to hold off on positing it until Sunday. “Too late to debate … Already posted,” Mike replied.
Even with all the commitments for Florida on Saturday, the story wasn’t entirely on who Florida managed to land pledges from. Relationship-building was a key point of emphasis for the Gators as well. For UF coach Will Muschamp to get a number of big-time prospects from around the state of Florida (and beyond) was a small victory in itself. One example: Miami (Fla.) defensive tackle commitment Keith Bryant. The 6-foot-2, 300-pound prospect out of Atlantic High School in Delray Beach plans to head to Coral Gables for college, but the trip to Gainesville this weekend got him thinking a bit in regard to his future plans.
“They are very serious on education at Florida – I like that,” Bryant said. “Coach Muschamp says he wants everyone to graduate with a 3.0 [GPA]. He had a point – what are you going to do after football?”
Bryant wasn’t the only prospect to pick up an offer on Saturday. Norcross, Ga., speedster Alvin Kamara, a multi-purpose threat as both a running back and wide receiver, also received a scholarship opportunity from the Gators following his trip to Gainesville for junior day.
7:54 p.m. – The final commitment of the day, South Sumter safety Keanu Neal (Bushnell, Fla.) pledges to sign with the Gators next February. Neal, who hails from the same school as former Florida linebacker Earl Everett, is also a bit of an unknown prospect, much like Lawson. However, recent offers from Clemson, Georgia Tech, Louisville and South Carolina suggest the 6-foot, 205-pound Neal wasn’t going to stay under-the-radar for long.
While many prospects had departed campus by 5 p.m., the recruiting efforts drift well into the night. Muschamp – who met with all of the prospects individually – continues to work on Immokalee cornerback Mackensie Alexander, who has already given a pledge to Tennessee. Although Alexander leaves campus without changing his commitment (publicly, at least), the Gators seem to have made headway with the 5-foot-11, 175-pound defender. As is the case with many of the prospects on campus for junior day events, it’s all about establishing relationships.
It’s true, the Gators made a big splash with six commitments to come out of the weekend. But the impact of Saturday will continue to be felt throughout the course of the coming weeks and months. There is still plenty of work to be done on the field, but Florida has clearly established itself as a recruiting force to be reckoned with.
GATORS WIN PICK 6
Belle Glade (Fla.) Glades Day running back Kelvin Taylor
St. Petersburg (Fla.) Lakewood receiver Rodney Adams
Daytona Beach (Fla. Mainland linebacker Quinton Powell
Jacksonville (Fla.) Trinity Christian Academy safety Nick Washington
Crestview, Fla., linebacker Dillan Lawson
Bushnell (Fla.) South Sumter safety Keanu Neal
COMMITTED TO FLORIDA BEFORE SATURDAY
Winter Haven, Fla., running back Adam Lane
Tallahassee (Fla.) Lincoln linebacker James Hearns
Crescent City, Fla. defensive tackle Caleb Brantley
Jacksonville, (Fla.) First Coast linebacker Daniel McMillian
EDITOR’S NOTE: Because we were watching the phone lines and the group txt, the times used here were the times each story actually was posted live, according to our server logs.