By John Patton, Correspondent
OCALA — Eight days. Monday to Monday. That’s how long it took for Marion County to go from near-afterthought to a major focus of Florida football’s future.
So, what went into Vanguard sophomores Trevonte Rucker and Bryce Langston, Dunnellon junior receiver Jay Fraziars and North Marion senior offensive tackle Michael Tarquin all deciding they were going to be the first in-county locals to accept scholarship offers to play for UF since NMHS receiver Freddie Swain in 2016?
It began with a group chat and finished with a second chance.
“And now, we’re ready to go,” Langston said. “It’s going to be fun.”
Close friends since their youth days playing MCYFL, Rucker, Langston and Fraziars said they had discussed playing together in college in the past, but things didn’t get really serious until they had a three-way conversation right around Thanksgiving.
At that point Rucker, despite growing up a fan of both Florida and Florida State, said that he was starting to feel ready to commit to UF over scholarship offers from Miami, FSU and Penn State, among others. But he wanted to gauge where Fraziars and Langston stood.
So, that night they talked Florida.
They all agreed they liked Gators’ coach Dan Mullen and his staff and felt like they had been made recruiting priorities. Each said the close proximity to home was a plus. And the idea of being college teammates was enticing.
The call ended with a semi-formal agreement that they were about to make some news together.
And Rucker was the first domino, announcing on Nov. 26 that he was committed to Florida.
A 6-foot, 165-pound 4-star prospect ranked 60th overall in the Class of 2021 by 24/7, Rucker started at receiver for VHS as a freshman before moving to quarterback as a sophomore. He said he expects to go back to receiver for his final two years with sophomore-to-be Stephen Curry taking over under center next Fall.
That is where Rucker will make the most impact for the Knights, according to his classmate.
“He has great hands,” Langston said. “He doesn’t drop balls.”
A 6-4, 190-pound 4-star pass-catcher whose size and athleticism should nicely complement Rucker’s speed at UF, Fraziars became the second to make his intentions known when he committed on Dec. 1.
Also a highly coveted outfield prospect, Fraziars said he plans to play football and baseball for the Gators, much like his one-year-older teammate at DHS, Maurice Goolsby, intends to do at Florida State.
Fraziars, who said he “comes from a house full of Seminoles”, had narrowed his college choices to UF, Georgia, Penn State, Auburn and Ohio State in October. He said he was leaning towards the Gators before the group chat occurred and felt pretty confident about committing after speaking to Rucker and Langston.
And his family is fine with that.
“They really want me to do whatever makes me happy,” said Fraziars, who added that being selected high in the 2020 Major League Baseball draft likely is the only thing that could keep him out of Gainesville.
One day later, not long after Rucker tweeted out that he had “a surprise” for Gator fans, Langston shared that he, too, was committing to Florida.
A 6-3, 212-pound 5-star pass rusher ranked fourth nationally in the Class of 2021 by 24/7, Langston grew up an FSU fan. His affection for the Seminoles was so well known at VHS that Knights’ coach Edwin Farmer said at high school media day in August he believed Langston would tough for anyone to lure away from Florida State.
But listing “coaching, closeness to home and putting me in a better position (to succeed on the field),” Langston decided he was most comfortable playing for the rivals in orange and blue.
Each pleased with their decisions, they say they are continuing to recruit a few other locals, one of whom is Vanguard’s 5-star junior receiver Leonard Manuel.
But one player they weren’t talking to was Tarquin, who they said they didn’t really know prior to early this week. But his announcement on Dec. 3 that he had flipped his commitment from Miami to Florida added a fourth talented local to the fold.
Content with his decision to play for the Hurricanes, Tarquin said he had told Gator coaches he was unlikely to change his mind after committing to UM on April 21. From there, Florida gave Tarquin a little space but never completely walked away.
Later in the year, knowing that Tarquin was planning to sign a national letter of intent on Dec. 19 and enroll in January, UF took another shot at the 6-5, 290-pound 4-star prospect. And Tarquin, who has attended football games at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium for as long as he can remember, was open to listening.
Tarquin once told Urban Meyer at a camp that “I’m going to play for you at Florida one day” before taking a photo together. During a visit to Ohio State a few years later, Tarquin showed Meyer the picture, and the coach signed it and added the words “Mike, you have a home with the Buckeyes” — a school Tarquin said he also seriously considered.
But Tarquin really liked Miami and said he felt comfortable there. However, as national signing day got closer, Tarquin said he began to think about how he wanted to give Mullen an opportunity to make a pitch. So, Tarquin took a visit to campus, and on Nov. 26, the same day Rucker committed, Tarquin had Mullen and offensive line coach/co-offensive coordinator John Hevesy into his home for a visit.
They gave him a lot to think about, but it was one sentence that resonated.
“Coach Mullen told me something no other school did,” Tarquin said. “He said that ‘if you come (to Florida) you will work harder than you ever thought possible.’ That stuck out to me because I want to be great, and I feel like if I go to Florida they can help me reach my full potential.”
While he was the fourth to commit, Tarquin likely will be the first to contribute to the Gators, having signed his NLI on Wednesday.
However, before he can put on pads again, Tarquin will have to continue rehabbing a torn right labrum he suffered making a second-level block in preseason practice. That injury forced him to be a spectator for NMHS’s run to the FHSAA Class 5A state championship game earlier this month.
Tarquin said the current prognosis has him possibly available to go full speed when Spring practice begins in March.
That thought has him excited, as does the thought of seeing Marion County players dot UF’s roster.
“It’s awesome,” Tarquin said. “Who would have figured?
“I think it’s great, really great.”