ORLANDO — While Florida’s football coaching staff is barred from visiting recruits until Jan. 11 per NCAA rules, that doesn’t mean the action has slowed down. In fact, for multiple UF signees, commits and targets, a moment they’ve been waiting for arrived this past weekend: the start of Under Armour All-America game week which culminates with contest Thursday at Camping World Stadium.
Four Florida signees will have their talents on full display, including Franklin (Ga.) Heard County quarterback Emory Jones, who signed with Florida over offers from Alabama and Florida State during the early signing period last month. Jones, one of more than 100 invited participants in one of the premier showcases for the top upcoming collegiate prospects, will have an opportunity to recruit several UF targets before he arrives on campus later this month, namely uncommitted wide receivers Jacob Copeland and Ja’Marr Chase. Both prospects backed off of prior pledges to the Gators after the departure of coach Jim McElwain, but coach Dan Mullen has Florida back in the mix to sign the highly recruited receiver prospects. All three will be on Team Highlight, and UF fans may get a glimpse into Florida’s offense of the near future.
“I’ve got a whole list of players I’m recruiting here,” Jones said. “I’m ready to get to Gainesville and go to work. They actually wanted me to come straight from here, but I think I’m going to come home for a day. I already have all my stuff packed, so I’m just going to go back, get it and head up I think the 6th or the 7th (of January).”
Yet no quarterback will be successful in Gainesville unless the offensive line continues to improve, meaning the Gators will look to sign several offensive linemen when National Signing Day opens Feb. 7. Florida — in addition to Michigan, Notre Dame and Alabama — remains in the mix for heralded Tampa Berkeley Prep offensive lineman Nicholas Petit-Frere. Ranked the No. 3 offensive lineman in the 2018 class by 247Sports, Petit-Frere will show at the Under Armour All-America Game why he’s considered one of the burgeoning offensive linemen in the nation. UF commit Richard Gouraige — one of two Florida verbal commits who didn’t sign during the early signing period — also received an invite for Thursday’s spectacle, and the Tampa Cambridge Christian School prospect is in Orlando to block for Team Spotlight.
After the number of UF commits receiving invites dwindled under McElwain, three Florida signees in addition to Jones will perform under the bright lights come Thursday: Hampton (Ga.) Dutchtown safety Trey Dean, Fort Payne (Ala.) kicker Evan McPherson and Warminster (Pa.) Archbishop Wood tight end Kyle Pitts.
Although he was just recently offered by the Gators under Mullen, St. Thomas Aquinas outside linebacker Nik Bonitto remains an intriguing prospect to watch, but he plans to announce a commitment Thursday during the game. Ranked the No. 16 outside linebacker in the 2018 class by 247Sports, Bonitto is a dynamic tackler who has long been intrigued by the thought of playing at UF. The Gators will have another opportunity to see his talents on display when he takes the field for Team Spotlight, but it appears he’ll land at either Oklahoma, Texas or Louisville.
Finally, the Under Armour All-America game typically features multiple commitments, and the Gators are in the mix for one: American Heritage High wide receiver Anthony Schwartz. While many believe he will spurn the Gators and sign with Auburn, Jones’ signing was encouraging to Schwartz, and his intention of also running track in college makes Florida an appealing destination. However, despite just five weeks until National Signing Day, it’s almost guaranteed the Mullen-led Gators have some surprises in store as the coaching staff continues to evaluate and assess a fluid recruiting board.