UF hoping FNL buzz brings commits


Florida football coach Will Muschamp talks with players during Friday Night Lights at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on Friday.

Matt Stamey/Staff photographer
Published: Friday, July 22, 2011 at 11:55 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, July 22, 2011 at 11:55 p.m.

Recruiting success is measured in many ways. Signings come from verbal commitments, which come from buzz.

Short of landing any pledges Friday night, the UF football team generated plenty of buzz with its Friday Night Lights showcase at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

“This was the biggest camp I've been to yet,” said Stefon Diggs, a five-star wide receiver from Olney, Md. Our Lady Good Counsel. “This was one of my best visits. I feel like The Swamp is a great place to be.”




Diggs seemed to have the most fun in one-on-one battles, where he entertained a crowd of several hundred fans with creative celebrations after making difficult catches. He pretended to autograph the ball for the defensive back he beat after one catch and did several Gator chomps after another.

“It was a big stage out there tonight,” he said. “I didn't come down here for no reason. I had a feeling about Florida. I just knew it was going to be live, and that's what I love.”

Florida coaches couldn't have painted a more scenic picture of campus on a day where the humidity suddenly vanished and was replaced by an atypical breeze. About two hundred players participated with UF coaches, former Gators and current players buzzing around the field.

Diggs and his coach, Will Flaherty, flew down from Maryland just to visit UF. He was planning to spend the night with former Olney teammate and current UF linebacker Jelani Jenkins before returning to campus today to talk further with the Gator coaching staff about the future.

For a team that is itching to add a top-notch receiver to its Class of 2012, the lure of Friday Night Lights has already paid off with Diggs' high interest level.

“It carries weight all the way up to our area — everybody knows about Friday Night Lights,” Flaherty said. “This is the best of the best. If you can come down and make a name for yourself here, it means you're legit. You can play against anybody.”

Diggs was one of many elite prospects drawn to Friday Night Lights. Another, defensive end/linebacker Jordan Jenkins of Hamilton, Ga., Harris County, spent the day on campus with coaches and under the wing of current Buck linebacker Ronald Powell.

Jenkins is rated the No. 7 defensive end in the nation and a five-star prospect by Scout.com. He did not participate in the camp because of a lingering turf toe injury, but he came away from the event with Florida atop his list of favorite teams, along with Alabama.

“The coaches really rolled out the red carpet for Jordan,” dad Ron Jenkins said. “It's about players and coaches right now. He knows everybody has a good facility. He wants that good relationship. He got to spend time with Ronald Powell, and Ronald was telling him how the defense plays and how everybody works as a family here. His exact words were, ‘You'll be my little brother when you come up here.' I'm sure that sunk in real well with Jordan.”

Ron Jenkins said he feels his son is growing tired of the recruiting process and could make a decision in the near future.

Another five-star prospect at the same hybrid DE/LB position, St. Petersburg, Fla., Lakewood's Dante Fowler, came to Friday Night Lights to have fun and interact with the coaching staff. He distanced himself from the notion that he was in town to consider changing his commitment from Florida State to Florida.

“This was the last camp of my high school football career, so I just came to have fun and compete and talk to the coaches,” he said. “(The UF coaches) kept saying how much they want me. But I just had a lot of fun tonight.”

Some top players who were expected to attend did not make it to Gainesville.

Tampa, Fla., Berkeley Prep wide receiver Nelson Agholor and several others chose to go to the ESPN/Nike Gridiron Kings event at Disney World instead. Miramar, Fla., cornerback Tracy Howard, who drove in from a visit to Florida State's camp on Friday, dropped by the coaches offices during the day and left before the camp began.

Avery Young, however, wanted to attend but was not able. The 6-foot-6, 270-pound, four-star offensive tackle from Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., stayed at home, disappointed.

“I really wanted to make it up there this time, but all my plans with the transportation got canceled, so that kind of was a little heart-breaking,” he said. “I still feel real good about Florida. I'm still real high on the Gators. I haven't had anything change.”

The Gator contingent was bolstered by alumni such as Fred Taylor, Gerard Warren and Chris Leak. Members of the current Class of 2012 included running back Matt Jones, linebacker Jeremi Powell, cornerback Brian Poole and defensive linemen Dante Phillips and Quinteze Williams.

Contact Jeff Barlis at (352) 374-5066 or barlisj@gvillesun.com and follow at Twitter.com/JeffBarlis.

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