Home stretch

Gators still looking to finish strong

Florida plans to sign only one quarterback this year. The Gators' target is Hawthorne High School product Cornelius Ingram, one of The Sun's All-Area players of the year.

LARA NEEL/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Friday, January 23, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 23, 2004 at 12:18 a.m.

With national signing day now less than two weeks away, Florida is holding at only 13 oral commitments, a number many UF recruitniks might find alarming, but one that's pretty much the norm at this stage for the Gators.

Florida traditionally starts slow and closes strong, and the Gators are in that familiar position again, with some of the top players on their board still uncommitted and closing in on making decisions. If some big-time prospects fall UF's way down the stretch, the Gators should have their second consecutive top 10 class under Ron Zook.

"Florida is setting up to finish very strong," said Jamie Newberg, the national recruiting analyst for TheInsiders. "They're going to get some big commitments in the next week or so. They're going to be busy."

Of course, there are some anxious moments ahead. UF is in excellent shape with some elite prospects - including Melbourne Palm Bay wide receiver Xavier Carter, Dallas defensive tackle Franklin Okam and Greenbelt, Md., defensive end Derrick Harvey - but still has to close the deal between now and signing day (Feb. 4).

If the Gators should strike out with the top players remaining on their board, UF is looking at a less than stellar class.

With less than two weeks to go, here's where the Gators stand at each position:

  • QUARTERBACK: UF hopes to sign one, and the lone target is Hawthorne two-sport star Cornelius Ingram, who visited the Gators this past weekend but remains undecided between Florida and Florida State. Ingram said he may make up his mind by this weekend, but likely won't announce anything until signing day. If Ingram doesn't commit to the Gators, UF will not sign a quarterback.

  • RUNNING BACK: Standout tailback Markus Manson from Tuscaloosa, Ala., committed to the Gators months ago and has insisted he'll follow through with his pledge and sign with UF. But he's continued the recruiting process by visiting other schools. He'll be at Alabama this weekend, and there has been speculation the Tide will be able to turn him. Certainly, he'll be under a great deal of pressure to remain in Alabama. If Manson de-commits, there is no Plan B, and the Gators will not sign a tailback. UF also is looking to sign a fullback and has a shot at Nashville's David Holbert, who likely will decide between UF and home-state favorite Tennessee.

  • WIDE RECEIVER: This is not a position of need, which may be a good thing for the Gators. After losing Lance Leggett, a December commitment, to Miami, UF could see the No. 1 receiver on its board, Carter, go to LSU. Carter has family in Louisiana, and his high school coach, Dan Burke, has said Carter seems to favor the Tigers over the Gators. His decision could come down this weekend. The Gators would like to sign one or two wide receivers, and their best bets might be Choctawhatchee's D.J. Hall, who will decide between UF and Alabama, and Hawthorne's Marcus Baker, who is visiting this weekend.

  • TIGHT END: The Gators have pretty much met their need here by securing two - junior college transfer Markell Thompson (who is already enrolled) and Tate Casey from Longview, Texas. Casey, however, also is a pro baseball prospect and conceivably could sign a pro contract before ever making it to UF in the summer, and Thompson could grow into an offensive tackle. UF is still recruiting Dane Guthrie, a UM commitment from Miami Killian.

  • OFFENSIVE LINE: UF is close to being done here, having commitments from three of the state's top offensive linemen - Sarasota Riverview's Drew Miller, Crawfordville Wakulla's Jim Tartt and Lakeland Lake Gibson's Jason Watkins. UF is expected to add a fourth player (maybe as soon as today) - Phil Trautwein from Voorhees, N.J., who visited UF this past weekend and has family in the area. Another possibility is Miami Carol City offensive tackle Akeem Robinson, a Rutgers commitment who is visiting UF this weekend.

  • DEFENSIVE LINE: The Gators already have two prospects signed and in school - end Jeremy Mincey, a transfer from Butler Community College in Kansas, and tackle/end Brandon Daniel, who graduated from Pompano Beach Ely High School in December. UF would like to add at least one more tackle and one more end. Harvey, one of the nation's top defensive players, and Merritt Island's Mike Mangold are possibilities at end. UF also will get a visit from linebacker/rush end Willie Young from Palm Beach Gardens next weekend. Harvey is down to UF and Maryland, but likely won't make a decision before Feb. 4. Mangold committed to Virginia Tech last month, but is still paying the Gators a visit this weekend. UF's No. 1 target at tackle is Okam, who also is considering Texas, Oklahoma and Stanford. Atlanta's Michael Brown, a Georgia commitment who visited UF this past weekend, also remains an outside possibility.

  • LINEBACKER: In terms of needs, this is Priority One for the Gators, who are low in numbers at linebacker. UF has only one commitment so far - Brandon Siler from Orlando Evans - and would like to pick up at least two or three more between now and Feb. 4. The Gators have a legitimate shot at four of the top linebackers in the South - Javier Estopinan from Miami Senior, Lawrence Timmons from Florence, S.C., Josh Johnson from Stone Mountain, Ga., and Robert Ayers from Bennettsville, S.C. Ayers is visiting UF this weekend and is expected to choose between Florida and Tennessee. Estopinan, who visited UF last weekend, is down to UF and Ohio State, while it appears to be a UF-FSU battle for Timmons, with the Seminoles a slight leader. The Gators also are getting a visit this weekend from Hollywood Chaminade standout John Dunlap. Willie Williams, the consensus No. 1 linebacker in Florida, will visit Gainesville on Jan. 30, but the Gators are expected to finish a distant third to Miami and FSU for his signature.

  • SECONDARY: This is another critical area of need, one the Gators have come close to filling, with commitments from two cornerbacks - Dawayne Grace from Jacksonville Ed White and McIntosh Nicolas from Immokalee - and two safeties - Kyle Jackson from Neptune Beach Fletcher and Tony Joiner from Haines City. Although Joiner is visiting North Carolina State this weekend, his commitment to UF appears solid. The Gators would like to add another cornerback, but the board is pretty bare. One possibility is Columbia's George Timmons, although it appears unlikely after he had what he described as a disappointing visit to UF this past weekend.

    You can reach Robbie Andreu by e-mail at andreur@gvillesun.com or by calling (352) 374-5022

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