With the arrival of the college football season comes the return of on-campus visits for prospects in the 2020 and 2021 classes, and the Gators are not sitting idly by while there’s work to be done.
For a UF team with 78 of its available 85 scholarship spots filled — and that’s after putting former walk-on long snapper Jacob Tilghman on scholarship this week — the process continues when it comes to finding the next men up in Gainesville.
“I was asked the question, ‘hey, our scholarship numbers are this.’ So I said there was going to be some more, and that was a spot where we had a scholarship open that we just hadn’t filled, before we did it before the first game,” UF coach Dan Mullen said Wednesday of Tilghman’s promotion. “One of the guys was going to get the scholarship.”
But with six open scholarships heading into the 2020 signing period, and with the Gators once again vying for a coveted top-10 recruiting class, there’s no shortage of work to be done this season.
As the season opens, Florida’s 2020 class is sitting just outside at No. 13 with 18 prospects in the fold, according to 247Sports.
Neither the Gators nor the Hurricanes were allowed to correspond with prospects during UF’s 24-20 victory at Camping World Stadium last Saturday, but that didn’t stop multiple highly touted in-state recruits from making the trip to Orlando. Both teams were allowed to solely hand out tickets for prospects, and a full slate of prospects on Florida’s recruiting board made the trip. Eastside quarterback Anthony Richardson, whose Rams suffered consecutive one-point defeats to open the 2019 season, was in attendance on Aug. 24, as were fellow UF wide receiver commits Jaquavion Fraziars and Leonard Manuel. Tampa native Johnathan Odom watched his first Gators game Saturday as a commit, and three of Florida’s committed offensive linemen — Jovens Janvier, Richie Leonard IV and 2021 prospect George Jackson — attended UF’s season opener, too. To round out the list of commits, Lakeland native Fenley Graham had an opportunity to see Florida’s secondary up close before enrolling at UF, while defensive linemen Johnnie Brown and Gervon Dexter had an up-close view to see 10 sacks from the Gators’ front seven.
Considering neither opponent could converse with prospects, the 60 minutes of action served as the night’s recruiting pitch. For recruits with both Miami and Florida high on their list — such as four-star offensive lineman Issiah Walker — Saturday may eventually prove vital in determining their collegiate futures. Walker was in attendance Saturday, and, after arriving in Orlando with the ‘Canes and Gators neck and neck at the top, Walker returned to his hometown of Miami having gained some clarity.
“Florida is my leader,” Walker told 247Sports following the game. “Then Miami, then FSU.”
Saturday served as Florida’s shot to sway several prospects committed elsewhere. Just a day after committing to the Crimson Tide, four-star defensive lineman Tim Smith planned on making the trip to Orlando for UF’s bout with the ’Canes, as did four-star defensive back and current Texas commit Ethan Pouncey.
From a numbers perspective, the Gators have landed their targets at a high clip outside of one position — running back. After signing four-star halfback Nay’Quan Wright last season in the 2019 class, the Gators remain in search of a running back in the 2020 class. UF’s primary target, highly ranked Lakeland native Demarkcus Bowman, committed to Clemson in early May, and the Gators were subsequently unable to prevent Clearwater native Keyvone Lee from committing to Penn State. As it stands, the drop-off from Bowman and Lee appears steep from a talent stand-point — yet there’s another name possibly in the mix.
Belen Jesuit Prep running back Don Chaney is ranked the No. 6 running back in the 2020 class by 247Sports, and many expect him to see his commit to Miami through until Signing Day.
But an interesting move along Florida’s recruiting staff could pay dividends when it comes to prying Chaney away from the rival Hurricanes, in addition to bolstering Florida’s staff next year.
The Gators reunited with recruiting assistant John “JHova” Herron prior to Florida’s season opener, with Herron returning to the program where he spent two years under Jim McElwain after working at Florida State during the 2019 recruiting cycle. Herron was highly regarded as a recruiting assistant during his initial time in Gainesville, and his addition makes sense from that standpoint alone. Yet, according to those close to the situation, it’s Herron’s relationship with Chaney’s father that could ultimately lead the Gators to poach one of the state’s top talents from an in-state rival. Regardless of how things shake out, the Gators appear to be swinging for the fences when it comes to reloading the backfield. After the 2019 season, Florida’s recruiting efforts will turn its focus towards bolstering Florida’s 2021 class, which currently stands at No. 5 in the country according to 247Sports, albeit with just four commitments.
While there’s just under four months until the early signing period, the work on the recruiting trail continues daily — even on a bye week, and even at neutral sites — for the Gators and Mullen as they look to sign another top-10 class.