Podcast: Talking Peach Bowl, recruiting and players leaving early

GatorCountry brings you a new podcast as we touch on several topics around the Florida Gators football program.

Andrew Spivey and Nick de la Torre reach the Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl win over Michigan, plus break down which players are returning to school and which players decided to leave early for the NFL.

Andrew and Nick also breakdown how the all-star games went for Florida in recruiting, plus breakdown the two newest Gators commits that happened at the all-star games.

TRANSCRIPT:

Andrew:                 What’s up, Gator Country? Your man, Andrew Spivey, here with Nicholas de la Torre. Nicholas, the Gators are Peach Bowl champions. A little late news. Lot of traveling for you and I, and we’re here to talk about it. Good end to the season for the Gators. They go out on top and finally get that win over Michigan.

Nick:                         Yeah. First time in school history you get a win over Michigan. Pretty, I mean not dominant in like an embarrassing for Michigan, but a pretty decisive win for Florida. Made you feel good. Always fun to end the season under the confetti shower, rather than walking off the field watching somebody else celebrate.

Andrew:                 You and I talked about this a little bit. I think you and I might have disagreed. I can’t remember the conversation. Again, I can’t remember how you took this, but I thought this game was so important for Florida in that they needed to win, because of the opponent and to finish the year on a high note. I usually discredit bowl wins, because I think they’re whatever, but I thought this was such a major win for Florida for two reasons. A, you go out with 10 wins, and, B, you go out with a win over Michigan. It kind of set it up to where, okay, Mullen’s different. He’s got these guys different. Michigan was missing a couple guys, but still this was pretty much the same Florida team that just got embarrassed by Michigan in Dallas a year ago.

Nick:                         Yeah. I think what you’re remembering, I said I don’t think, even if Florida were to have lost the game, I said I don’t think it would have meant that it was a bad season. I think what Dan Mullen did and what the staff did just to start the year, I thought that was a success. Obviously, finishing the season with 10 wins, that’s a magic number, getting to double-digit wins always leaves you with a better taste in your mouth than nine wins. Especially a team like Michigan, because you got the sense the last couple games against Michigan that you weren’t close. It was kind of like when you got blown out by Alabama in the SEC Championship game. Alright, that’s where we need to be, and we’re not close. I think beating a team like Michigan, who was a game away from being in the playoff, and beating them the way you did, okay, we’re getting there.

Andrew:                 Right.

Nick:                         We can compete with these teams. Whereas, when you played Michigan to start the 2017 season, you weren’t competitive.

Andrew:                 No. I think that’s a good way of putting it. I’ve seen people on Twitter go back and forth saying, well, Michigan didn’t care to play that game, whatever. I don’t care. I’m not here for the excuses. I’m letting you know that was a big win. For me, like you just said, it showed that they can compete, and not only that, but it showed that this team has improved.

Again, they missed Rayshan Gary. They missed Devin Bush in the game. That could have been a difference in the game, but for the most part Florida’s O-line dominated the line of scrimmage. Florida’s D-line dominated the line of scrimmage. It was something that last year in Dallas was opposite. Florida got dominated all over the field in that game.

Nick:                         All over the field, and especially in the trenches.

Andrew:                 Yeah. Especially in the trenches.

Nick:                         That’s what you need to see change, and hats off to Nick Savage for getting the guys in shape to not get blown off the line of scrimmage.

Andrew:                 Santa Clause.

Nick:                         Old Saint Nick Savage.

Andrew:                 Old Saint Nick Savage. Yeah. He gave the birthday gift of a whooping to the Wolverines. I don’t want to hit on too much of that game, Nick, because it was a little bit ago. I was down in Orlando for the Under Armour game, and you were traveling a little bit, so we haven’t had much time to talk about it. I do want to hit on it a little bit.

I’ve been pretty much one of the guys who have been hard on Feleipe, and that’s fine. I admit it. I will say that after watching that game, for me, Nick, and I don’t want to put too much on one game, because I still think there was a lot of room for growth for him in the off season, but for me, I think I noticed something that I’ve been waiting to see. To me, it kind of summed up the year in general, and that is that Feleipe made some strides forward, and then made some strides back to the normal self.

One of the biggest things for me, Nick, in that game was seeing him take off when the play wasn’t there. That’s something that I think has just been a major improvement from 2017 through the 2018 season. That’s something that I think overall, we can look back and say this is where Feleipe Franks improved.

Nick:                         That was a big one. To me, what I’ve said a bunch, and a lot of people have just written off Feleipe Franks, and they’re done with him, but that’s your starting quarterback.

Andrew:                 Right.

Nick:                         That’s your starting quarterback against Miami in 2019, and that’s just reality, whether you like it or not. That’s reality. He’s going to start for the Florida Gators in 2019. To me, once you wrap your head around that, then you need to start looking at things like you just did. Okay, I saw him make progress in this area. Keep building off of that stuff. To me, it’s 100% Feleipe Franks is your starting quarterback, so like you said just there, when the play breaks down, because we have talked about Feleipe Franks gets locked onto his first read.

Let’s say his first read is on the left side of the field, and then all the routes are running towards the left, he gets flushed out to his right, and he’s still looking down field. There’s no one over there. You should know the play. You should know that there’s no one over there. All your routes are flooding to the left, and you get pushed out to your right, you know just take off, because there’s no one. Unless someone runs from across the field, the best play for me is just going to be to take off. I think you saw that, not trying to hold onto plays forever.

Andrew:                 Right. I think the point you just made is a good point. That was another reason I thought this game was a big win for Florida was simply because, Nick, I don’t even know. You’ll have to tell me. You’ll have to refresh my memory here, but as long as I can remember we’ve went into every off season with a quarterback controversy. When’s the last time? Do you know? I don’t.

Nick:                         Yeah. We had Trask and Franks this year. It’s ever since I’ve been here, for sure. Probably ever since, I mean, Jeff Driskel and Jacoby Brissett, once Brissett left it was Jeff Driskel. I guess it was Will Grier and Treon Harris battling for the backup behind Driskel?

Andrew:                 Yeah. I mean, that’s what I’m saying. I thought for me, Nick, it was a big one to say, okay, you go into this off season, and listen, there’s not a soul with the right mind that is going to question Dan Mullen sticking with Feleipe Franks as his starting quarterback heading into 2019. He won 10 games. We can break it down. We can say whatever we want to say, Nick, at the end of the day, the man won 10 football games. Period. There’s no quarterback controversy that anyone can make out of this situation. Again, you can hate Feleipe. You can talk about Feleipe however you want. He won 10 football games. You’re not replacing a 10-football win quarterback unless he’s injured. Period.

Nick:                         Yup. You get Emory Jones ready to be a redshirt freshman backup. You have Jalon Jones on campus. We’ll get into the guys that early enrolled. You got Jalon Jones on campus, and he’ll redshirt this year. That’s kind of, when you talk about a school like Alabama, and obviously they had Tua come in and play, but he sat for most of his freshman year. You talk about UFC, back in the day when UFC was a dynasty, and they weren’t starting quarterbacks until they were like redshirt sophomores, redshirt juniors. That’s what you want. You want to have your guy, your starter, and then have the guys behind him that are developing. That’s what Florida will have next year with Feleipe Franks starting and Emory behind him. Kyle Trask is still on campus, and he’s coming back from another injury. He’s a potential guy that can be a backup. You got four quarterbacks now.

Andrew:                 Right. Again, I thought that was a big key. I mean, that’s a situation that no coach wants to go through every year talking about who’s going to be your quarterback, this, that, and the other. You just never want to do that. Again, I thought that was a big key for the team is to really go into a year knowing who their quarterback was going to be. Everybody could rally around that quarterback, like it or not, could rally around their quarterback and go into 2019 saying this is Feleipe Franks’ team. Again, I know there’s going to be people who are for it, and I know there’s going to be people who are against it, whatever it may be. It’s facts.

Nick:                         Yeah. At this point, if you want to get angry about Feleipe Franks being the starting quarterback, you just want to be angry.

Andrew:                 Exactly. Again, to look back at that game, I thought Feleipe did some good things in the game. I thought the running game was really good in the game. I thought we kind of saw a little bit of Van Jefferson have a good game overall. I think we saw Kadarius Toney do some things. That’s been a question posed to me all week last week was did Kadarius Toney get underused or used correctly under Mullen? Nick, I’ll ask you this question, and I’ll give you my answer and see if you agree with that. I said, I thought it was two parts of the season. I thought the beginning of the year he wasn’t used correctly. I thought that they were still trying to figure out how to use him, per se. Then the second half of the year, they really figured out how to use him, and he started doing some really good things, like the Michigan game on 4th and 1, where he almost scores a touchdown.

Nick:                         I’d say both. I think both can happen. He was used correctly, and he was underutilized. I think being underutilized is more on Kadarius than it is on the coaching staff. I think it was just that Kadarius hadn’t built up enough skills to the point where he could be used in more than just a couple packages. I think that they used him as effectively as they could, given what he could do.

Andrew:                 Right.

Nick:                         Then towards the end of the year, once he started to pick up more route running, and once they could trust him more. That’s something as a player you have to earn that. You don’t just come in as a coach and say, this kid looks good, we’ll just throw everything at him. You have to earn your trust. Once he started earning his trust, you saw that he was being used more.

Andrew:                 Would you agree that at the beginning of the year he wasn’t used, or he wasn’t used as much as he was towards the end of the year?

Nick:                         Yeah.

Andrew:                 Okay. Then for me, Nick, defensively a guy that I thought really showed a lot, and in bowl games you want to see that one guy. Not just one guy, you’d like to see a ton of guys, but in my opinion, you see that one guy in the game who really turned it on and said, future is bright. For me that was Amari Burney.

Nick:                         He’s kind of a guy that was lost in the shuffle towards the end of the year. I don’t even want to say lost in the shuffle, because it takes time, and everyone is different. Some kids it will take them three years before they’re ready to contribute. To me, Burney started contributing probably around South Carolina game. I was going to say South Carolina. Made a couple big plays against Florida State. Played a bunch against Idaho, and then obviously played a bunch in the bowl game as well.

Andrew:                 I think that the biggest thing for me was he had a guys to pass over.

Nick:                         Yes.

Andrew:                 I’m a big critic of Chauncey, of his talking and all that, but Chauncey played well. Chauncey wasn’t someone you were going to just easily take over there, and that was the role that Amari was best suited to play this year, was where Chauncey was. There was nowhere for Chauncey to go.

Nick:                         No. To me, you probably come away, at the end of the year you come away with a good sense of we’re going to be able to fill in that Chauncey role.

Andrew:                 Yeah. Then, Nick, I’ll say this. I want you to hear me out before you say anything. I thought I saw something in Trey Dean in that game that made me believe in what I’ve always thought, and that is that he is going to be an elite guy at this level. I know he had the ball caught on him for a touchdown, and he had a couple penalties, but, Nick, how quickly he rebounded from those. Had the major hit on the screen pass. Had the couple of deflections, the PBU’s. For me, that shows that a young corner isn’t afraid. It could have been very easily for Trey to just duck his head and say, you know what, today’s not my day, but he quickly rebounded. That shows the makings of a good corner.

Nick:                         Yeah. Like a closer in baseball. You have to have a short memory, and you remember the guys you struck out more so than the blown saves.

Andrew:                 Right.

Nick:                         You got to remember. You just have to have confidence, especially when you’re talking about a guy who is out on an island like that. You’re going to get beat. There’s no cornerback in the world that has never been beat. You just have to forget those, because if you start thinking about those you lose your confidence. You lose your confidence, you start playing timid. You start playing timid, you start getting beat more. That’s a vicious cycle then.

Andrew:                 Yeah. The thing for him too, and that he has to remember, is nobody is throwing CJ Henderson’s way.

Nick:                         No. Especially when you’re the freshman. I know the coaches will say, you’re not a freshman anymore, because you’ve played. It says FR next to your name on the roster. They’re going to go after you instead of the guy across from you.

Andrew:                 Right. Any final thoughts on that, Nick, before we kind of move on here? I wanted to talk about the guys who decided to leave, the guys who decided to return. Any final thoughts?

Nick:                         No. Great success, as Borat would say, for the season. Now it’s Nick Savage season.

Andrew:                 Dan Mullen said after the game this was going to be the hardest off season for these guys. I think that the step these guys make from this year to next year will be big. I think the guys this year, guys like Lamical Perine, guys like Jaewon Taylor, guys like, just going through the list, Tyrie Cleveland, those guys really changed their body, but they changed their body and had to make up for lost ground. This year it’s going to be all about really getting that bigger, faster, stronger. Not so much just getting in better shape. I think that you’ll see a big difference from guys from this off season to next year when we see them. Even in the spring probably. I think you’ll really see these guys get bigger, faster, stronger, not just get in better football shape.

Nick:                         Yeah. Bigger, faster, stronger. Everyone that came back, I think, made the right decision. The only one that I wouldn’t have been surprised, and we had talked about that, was Zu, Jabari Zuniga. Wouldn’t have been surprised either way. Especially in Year 2, so there’s nine early enrollees, and they’ll be going, kind of like the players were last year, and you’re learning and just keeping your head above water. The guys that are going into Year 2, you should see even bigger strides from that initial, I don’t know how to say it, that initial weight gain/weight loss, body transformation. Getting into Year 2, now that you know, you’re not going into things tentatively. You know what to expect. I think you see even more, kind of like you said, guys getting bigger, faster, stronger. Especially when you have now a good base.

Andrew:                 Right.

Nick:                         Before, during the first year, you’re trying to build a good base. You’re learning what to expect. Now, when you know what to expect, to me you’ve got a solid base to build on. That’s when you start getting real work done.

Andrew:                 Let’s go ahead and break that down. The guys who left early. I don’t know if there’s any surprise. One guy might have surprised some people, but, Nick, you and I had hinted at it as long as we could. Chauncey Gardner announced he was leaving. That was zero surprise. Jachai announced he was leaving. Zero surprise. I mean, he’s a first-round projected Draft pick. No surprise there. Jawaan Taylor, offensive lineman, leaving early. Again, he’s a guy McShay has in his top 30, so not a big surprise. I mean, I thought there was a chance he maybe came back to play left tackle, but when you’re projected first-rounder, go. Vosean Joseph was a guy who caught a lot of people by surprise, but, Nick, from everything you and I had heard I don’t think either one of us was surprised.

Nick:                         Was surprised when I heard it, when I first heard it. I was like, it doesn’t make sense. Then talking to more people, by the time he announced I was not surprised at all.

Andrew:                 Right. Who am I missing? Am I missing anyone?

Nick:                         No.

Andrew:                 Jordan Scarlett.

Nick:                         Jordan Scarlett.

Andrew:                 Yeah. You and I had hit on that. Zero surprise there. He was a guy who, I mean, he’s a senior, was about to graduate. The life of the NFL running back isn’t long, so zero surprise there.

When you look at overall, you had the five juniors leave early. I know some people have said, it’s a lot. Yes and no. I mean, Scarlett, he’s a senior. Nobody in a million years thought Chauncey and Jachai Polite were coming back.

Nick:                         No. I don’t think any of those. I didn’t expect Scarlett to be back. Really the only one was Vosean, and like I said, I was surprised when I initially heard it, but by the end, when he was actually tweeting out his stuff, was not surprised at that point.

Andrew:                 Okay. Then you had the guys all say they were coming back in Jabari, David Reese, Perine, Van, Tyrie. For me, Nick, none of those caught me by surprise. I guess the biggest one would be Jabari, but I think what you said a couple weeks ago stand clear and stands as kind of the deciding factor, in my opinion, and that is he comes back, and he’s the guy this year. He’s the guy. He’s the guy that’s going to get all that ability to draw the double-teams. He’s going to be the guy who teams have to focus on, that kind of stuff.

I also think Jabari benefits the most probably from Savage, in that his body continues to develop. Again, I don’t think it’s a bad thing. Some people look at it, you’re a fourth-year guy in college. That’s not a bad thing. How many guys that you know every year are four-year guys and go to the League and do well? I mean, it’s not a bad thing, again. I don’t think that was a surprise. I know Lamical Perine had a decision to make. I think, again, Perine coming back and being the guy next year will only boost his Draft stock.

Nick:                         Yeah. I mean, he’s going to be the guy, and maybe not the, the guy in the way that you’re thinking that, but he’s Running Back 1. He’s RB1 next year. There was a lot of talk, I guess, around the bowl game. You and I always thought he would be back, but there was a lot of talk around the bowl game.

Andrew:                 Right.

Nick:                         That he would leave. I thought that would have been, not a mistake, especially if you get, he wasn’t going to get a first-round grade, but you get a second-round grade or a third-round grade, maybe.

Andrew:                 The thing that I think many people thought, and I don’t want to get too much into Lamical’s situation. I know a good bit about it, and that’s his story to tell, but the thing for Lamical is he’s not embarrassed to come back and be a fourth-year guy. He wasn’t embarrassed to graduate. That stuff didn’t bother him. Him being a three and done guy, it didn’t bother him. It didn’t bother him at all. I think the biggest thing for him was to see the transformation he made from his sophomore year to his junior year was something he noticed. He noticed what Savage did for him, and also he has a great respect for Dan Mullen and Greg Knox. He’s credited Greg Knox for teaching him a lot of things. To be a guy who has a chance next year to be a thousand-yard rusher is something special to him. To win is something he also wants to do.

Nick:                         Yeah. I think a lot of what we saw, I mean, Vosean was in tears on the field, and I think we both knew at that moment that he was gone. A lot of the guys, Cece said it and Martez said it, Taven Bryan said it last year at Pro Day, after watching Nick Savage take the guys through a couple workouts. What they’re building here, I think there’s a lot of belief in former players, in current players, a lot of belief in what Dan Mullen and his staff are doing. I think that’s kind of where you’re seeing a guy like Lamical. We expected to win 10 games. We expect to compete for an SEC championship and expect to compete to be in a playoff next year.

Andrew:                 Right.

Nick:                         That’s why a lot of these guys want to come back, or guys had second thoughts about leaving.

Andrew:                 Right. Agreed. Some people, after the game, said they expect to be back in Atlanta next year to compete in that College Football Semi-Final. I think that there’s still some work to do, but you definitely have more of a belief that you’re closer to that. All these guys, Cece and Martez are two guys that I look at. I think about what they did, and then you look at how they ended their career. It was bittersweet for those guys.

You look at Lamical and those juniors that decided to return, for those guys to get to Atlanta and to win an SEC Championship game, or to get to a College Football Playoff, is something they want. It’s something that is a bitter taste in their mouth after having that four-loss season and having that SEC Championship loss to Alabama, and then having an okay bowl game against Iowa. These guys want to improve their standing and improve what they did at the University of Florida, and I think they see that. I think having guys like Jabari, having David Reese come back, having Van and Lamical on the offensive side come back, that’s the veteran leadership those guys needed.

Nick:                         100%. Then when you start to look at captains, when you start to look at leaders like that. Last year, I can’t remember all of them off hand, but a guy like C’yontai Lewis, Martez Ivey, Cece Jefferson were leaders during when they split up for these spring workouts, leaders for the workout groups. That’s going to be a guy like Lamical. It’s going to be a guy like a Tyrie Cleveland.

Andrew:                 Van.

Nick:                         Van Jefferson and Jabari Zuniga. Those are going to be guys that are looked to. That’s a lot of, there’s a lot of pride in that as well. When you said Lamical is not embarrassed to be a fourth-year guy, I think I took that, and I was like, I don’t think anyone should be. I get what you’re saying. Jawaan Taylor came in with Chauncey Gardner. Chauncey’s leaving, and now he’s thinking, shoot, am I not good enough to leave with my buddy who I played high school football with? Why can’t I do that? There’s some to that. I would take pride in being a senior.

Andrew:                 Right. That’s something that is. When you look at a guy like Lamical, he has a chance to finish his career in a Senior Bowl in his hometown. Those are big things.

Nick, I want to wrap that up and go into a little bit of recruiting here. To kind of tie a bow on it a little bit, on the season, I would say it was a very successful season. The team improved in a lot of areas. I think that offensive line play was probably the biggest improvement out there. I would say that Feleipe, what Feleipe did was a major improvement. Then the linebacker play as well, Nick. I think that was a big, big key for me. I think you found some depth at several different positions during the year. I think receiver was a place that we were like, there’s some players. Now you go into next year, and that’s a deep position. You look at that running back position. That’s a deep position.

Nick:                         Running back is deep. Receiver is deep. I mean, I don’t even know if there’s enough balls to go around.

Andrew:                 Yeah. I mean, you got a guy like Copeland, who is going to be ready next year. He’s going to be pushing for time. To go with the guys that you have. You still got Hammond. You still got Swain. You still got Cleveland, Van, Trevon. You got a lot of guys next year. You say, well, there’s not a lot of balls to go around, but, man, isn’t it great to have six, seven options, compared to in the past where there was one or two?

Nick:                         Yeah. I’ll take that.

Andrew:                 I think at the tight end position too. When you look at Kyle Pitts, what he did. I thought he had a really good year. I don’t want to get into too much of that. We’ll get into that as spring ball comes around. Final thoughts as well, Nick?

Nick:                         The other one that everyone, I think a player told a reporter that Kyle Pitts is playing wide receiver now. I don’t think that’s a position change, more so than just he’s running routes with receivers. I’m not ready to say he’s not playing tight end at Florida.

Andrew:                 No. I think that the biggest thing for him is he’s a flex tight end. I mean, is Rob Gronkowski a tight end or a receiver? He’s a tight end, but how many times does he line up as the one receiver to a side? That’s a mismatch. I think you’re right. I don’t think he’s moving positions per se. I think it’s more of that’s how they plan to use him and kind of create mismatches with him. You’re still going to see him lined up in line as a tight end a lot too.

Nick:                         Yeah. Absolutely.

Andrew:                 Yeah. Let’s go into recruiting a little bit, Nick. Like I said, we had the big Under Armour game, and that was big. Deyavie Hammond and Keon Zipperer were both out there, and then the Gators picked up a commit in RJ Henderson out there from Texas. He committed to Florida in kind of a bizarre recruitment. We’ll get into that in a second. Then you had the Army game out in San Antonio, where Chris Steele finally decided to announce his decision, after signing with the Gators during the Early Signing period. Kind of felt like that was a bad kept secret, but whatever happens.

Nick:                         Props to you, and I can speak to you. I don’t know about everyone else. Props to everyone in our business knew that Chris Steele had signed his national letter of intent on Early Signing Day and sent it into Florida, so props to everyone that knew and didn’t go ahead and ruin the young man’s time to have his moment.

Andrew:                 I thought that was good to see, for the most part. I know there was a USC guy who put it out there. Whatever. Listen, I understand they have a business.

Nick:                         Put it out there. Took it down. Put it out there. Took it down. Put it back out there. It’s like, you have the right idea twice to take it down. Just stick with that.

Andrew:                 I mean, the best way to handle that would have just been to say, he’s not going to USC. I mean, period. USC wasn’t even a finalist. It was Oklahoma, Oregon, or Florida. Whatever. Glad to see that happen. It was kind of a bad-kept secret when he told Florida back in October that he was coming to Gainesville and all that good stuff. That was a huge win.

We’ll start there, Nick. To get that commitment, and I know there’s going to be someone who tweets at me and tweets at you and tells us on the message board we’re dumb, but whatever. Again, landing a player from California was huge. I know some people are going to say, recruiting California is dumb. No. When you’re a national powerhouse, like the University of Florida is supposed to be, you should be able to recruit the best of the best, no matter if they live in Australia, no matter if they live in Hawaii, no matter where they live. You should be able to recruit the best of the best. Period. End of discussion. Chris Steele is one of the best of the best at defensive back. Props to Florida for going out to Cali and landing one of the best players in the country.

Nick:                         When you’re Florida, you have to recruit nationally. That means spending time at places that aren’t, as Dan Mullen would say, in that six-hour radius.

Andrew:                 Yeah. I saw a note the other day, Nick. Alabama’s a little different, because the state of Alabama doesn’t produce the capita of numbers of top prospects.

Nick:                         Georgia or Texas.

Andrew:                 Yeah. Alabama had more prospects from the state of California and Texas than schools like Oklahoma and Oregon did. Georgia’s recruiting those areas as well. Again, it goes back to the thing and the notion of when you’re a powerhouse, and you’re one of the elite of the elite, like Florida is supposed to be, you have to own the state of Florida, of course, but then you have to be able to cherry-pick the best of the best, the elite of the elite, from all over the country, whether that be in New York and that top of the country, Washington and that top of the country, California on the West Coast, Arizona, wherever it may be. Have to do that. Props for landing Chris Steele. That was a big pickup by Ron English for them. Steele, in my opinion, will be a guy who’ll step on campus and be in that two-deep at corner.

Nick:                         Talking about deep positions. Corner is deep again.

Andrew:                 Yeah.

Nick:                         Injuries hurt it. Marco Wilson is ahead of schedule. He’ll be back. Talk about Marco Wilson, Trey Dean, Amari Burney, Chris Henderson. Throw Chris Steele in there. Jaydon Hill is an early enrollee. He’s on campus. You’re building that DBU back again.

Andrew:                 Listen, I’m not one to call out guys, but when Marco went down, and then CJ went down in the Georgia game, you didn’t have very much depth.

Nick:                         No. You had to build it quick.

Andrew:                 Yeah. That’s a big one. Then let’s go to the other big one. Little bit of a surprise there. He was a guy who came on late on the recruiting board and was a guy that many, including myself, heading into the Under Armour week thought he was going to sign or commit to Florida State, just because he had committed to Willie out in Oregon when he was out in Oregon. RJ Henderson made the surprise and committed to Florida at the Under Armour game.

Nick, he’s a 6’1” receiver, 180, 185 pound receiver. Had a really good week out at Under Armour. I was telling you, he was really good at high pointing the ball. It was something that I really liked. When the ball was in the air, he really attacked it at the highest point. Was a guy that I thought is a receiver that really fits Mullen’s kind of offense a little bit. A guy who can catch the screen pass and take it to the house but can also go up and get those 50/50 balls that are big in Dan Mullen’s offense. Again, I thought it was a big pickup.

Again, a Texas guy. He’s a top 100 kid and a Texas player, so you kind of gain your ground a little bit in Texas. Now, it’s going to be a battle to keep Henderson, because he didn’t sign early and didn’t early enroll. He’s still going to take visits, going to visit Florida this coming weekend. Then he’s going to go to Florida State on the 25th. He still has a little bit of work to do in the classroom a little bit. Again, to get that on a national stage, for him to commit to you, was another positive boost for Mullen and his staff.

Nick:                         Of the guys at Under Armour, who were you most impressed with? Would it be Henderson?

Andrew:                 No. Zipperer, man. It was probably Zipperer. Just to really see, and we’ve watched him for two years, three years now, how many ever years. I’ve always thought he was a good athlete, but when you see, and, Nick, you’ve done Under Armour with me several times, when you get those top 100, 115 players on the field every year, some guys maybe don’t stand out as much as others. It’s tough for a tight end to. To really see Keon go against some of these DBs, safeties, and linebackers and just be as smooth of a route runner as he was and to show that his hands are really, really good.

I would say he has advanced hands for a tight end. That’s something we haven’t been accustomed to seeing lately. Tight ends with good hands haven’t been a priority in Gainesville. But to really see that showed me a lot. He had two catches for a little under 50 yards in the Under Armour game. Tight ends don’t get the ball a ton, but to see how smooth he was as a route runner, smooth he was out of the stance, and just the really good hands, impressed me a lot.

I say this, and I know some people have given me flack for it and given Mullen flack for it, but he’s the closest thing to Aaron Hernandez you’ll get as far as a player on the field goes. That H-back guy who can do a lot of things. I mean, you can easily hand him the ball on one of those little shovel passes, and he would do well doing that. I think he’s an athlete that Florida doesn’t have on the team right now.

Nick:                         I’d say Kyle Pitts, probably.

Andrew:                 Yeah, but I’d say Kyle Pitts is a little different. I think Kyle Pitts is a bigger body receiver, who is probably not as accustomed and probably not as able to do the things maybe inside the tackles as Keon is. Vice versa, I don’t think Keon can do the things like Kyle Pitts can either. Kyle Pitts is a little bigger than Keon. I think they’re a little bit different. I just think that, for me, Zipperer fits that H-back role to a tee. Whereas I think Kyle Pitts is more like a CI, Cornelius Ingram, a little bit, maybe Jordan Reed a little bit. Both really good athletes.

Nick:                         Okay.

Andrew:                 Another guy though, Nick, that I liked, and this should be zero surprise here, but Elam. To see Kaiir Elam out there just really lock up some receivers and do his thing at DB was just really good. I thought he was a really good player. You don’t get to do a lot of man coverage out there. You don’t get to see a lot of physical play in practice, but to see him, when he gets his hands on you, good luck. Just good luck, because he’s a guy who’s very strong, very long arms. I did not realize how long of an arm he has, but a very athletic guy that in man coverage, don’t let him get his hands on you, because if he gets his hands on you, chances are you’re not doing much.

Nick:                         He’ll be certainly one to watch. Obviously, just the name alone, not even knowing what kind of player he is, just the name alone is someone Florida fans will be watching closely.

Andrew:                 Florida and Georgia are both trying to get him on campus this weekend. He’s going to visit the other one the following weekend. That’s kind of the battle. He says he doesn’t have a top two, and I believe him, but I do believe that the two schools in best shape to land him are Florida and Georgia. Probably give Florida a little edge there, but if you’re looking at a top target heading into February Signing Day, it’s got to be Elam or Mark-Antony Richards. I would say it’s Elam, simply because of the name alone. You can’t lose your best, one of your better players in Florida in Matt Elam, you cannot lose his nephew.

Nick:                         Yeah. I think it certainly helps. Matt Elam was there. Obviously, he had his plenty of off the field issues that got him kicked out of the League basically, and he was trying to get back into it. Mullen opened that door back up to him, let him come out and have a Pro Day. I think that stuff helps. There’s an open line of communication. It’s going to be hard to get somebody’s family if you’re not treating the family right.

Andrew:                 Absolutely. I think that when you look back at things at Florida, treating of alumni hasn’t been the best. It starts up top, and I think it’s filtered all the way down, but Mullen showing that to Elam was big. Big target for him, and I think that the biggest thing for Florida is to show him a good visit and continue to show him that playing man coverage at DBU is something big. Also, listen, Chris Steele being on campus is going to help the Gators. They’re close friends.

Nick:                         Doesn’t hurt.

Andrew:                 No. Doesn’t hurt at all. We’ll have a preview here on Friday of the official visitors. This is the biggest weekend for Florida, this coming weekend, January 11th weekend. That will be the biggest visitors list heading into February. We’ll have a preview of that on Friday, and we’ll get into the rest of the good stuff here in recruiting, as we get closer to that February Signing Day. Also, Nick, some spring sports start here soon too. Pumped for that.

Nick:                         Yeah. All spring sports will be starting back up. Everyone will be meeting this week, really.

Andrew:                 Exactly. Anyway, Nick, tell everybody where they can find us. We’ll get out of here, and we’ll see everyone on Friday, as we break down the official visitors list.

Nick:                         www.GatorCountry.com for all your Florida Gator news. The podcast is there in audio and transcript form. You can find the podcast wherever you choose to listen to your podcast. Just search Gator Country. Subscribe. Never miss an episode. Do your social media thing. @GatorCountry on Facebook and Twitter. @TheGatorCountry on Instagram. You can find me @NickdelaTorreGC, and he’s @AndrewSpiveyGC.

Andrew:                 There you go. Guys, we appreciate it. We’ll talk to everyone on Friday. As always, chomp, chomp, and go Braves.

Nick:                         You stay classy, Gator Country.

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Andrew Spivey
Andrew always knew he wanted to be involved with sports in some capacity. He began by coaching high school football for six years before deciding to pursue a career in journalism. While coaching, he was a part of two state semifinal teams in the state of Alabama. Given his past coaching experience, he figured covering recruiting would be a perfect fit. He began his career as an intern for Rivals.com, covering University of Florida football recruiting. After interning with Rivals for six months, he joined the Gator Country family as a recruiting analyst. Andrew enjoys spending his free time on the golf course and watching his beloved Atlanta Braves. Follow him on Twitter at @AndrewSpiveyGC.