With ’21 football class almost full, UF finalists for 3 recruits nearing commitments

Ben Hill Griffin Stadium [Alan Youngblood/Gainesville Sun]

Although there will not be a Friday Night Lights –– Florida’s largest recruiting showcase held annually in late July  –– for the first time since the event was founded by former coach Urban Meyer, there’s no shortage of momentum on the recruiting trail for the Gators as the team inches toward fall camp. 

Florida’s 2021 class now has 22 prospects in the fold after landing four –– in-state wide receiver Marcus Burke, hard-hitting safety Donovan McMillon, top-10-ranked center Jake Slaughter and Rocco Underwood, the top long-snapper in the 2021 class –– in the span of just six days last week.

With the ‘21 class nearing capacity, Florida can essentially pick and choose from a select group of highly recruited targets when it comes to the remaining spots, as UF expects to sign anywhere from 25 to 27 prospects in the 2021 class. 

Burke’s pledge gave UF its 12th commitment from an in-state prospect, and coach Dan Mullen and Florida’s coaching staff likely aren’t done when it comes to landing prospects from the talent-rich state of Florida. 

“It’s obviously already a good class,” Steve Wiltfong, 247Sports’ Director of Recruiting, told the Gainesville Sun, “when you look at what’s already in the fold.” 

Now comes the critical close, which could happen far sooner than whenever the next signing period happens. In fact, the Gators could theoretically fill their remaining spots before August comes to a close.

Corey Collier, a 6-foot-3 safety out of Miami Palmetto and one of the state’s top prospect, has the Gators in his final three choices as he looks to make a decision Aug. 10. 

Miami remains a threat to land Collier’s pledge, as does LSU, but the Gators remain a legitimate contender to land the four-star defensive back; some reports indicate Florida is the team to beat heading into the final stretch. Just a week prior, Collier cleared up any doubts as to whether or not his pledge would be final, saying “when I commit, there’s no decommitting” July 17 on his Twitter account. 

Florida’s position with Collier’s teammate, five-star defensive tackle Leonard Taylor, isn’t as solid. Ranked the No. 4 overall prospect by 247Sports, Taylor narrowed his final decision to either Florida or Miami, and the expectation is Taylor will stay close to home and choose the ‘Canes when he announces his commitment Aug. 6 in a livestream –– which would mean the Gators lose out on one of the few remaining game-changing targets. 

“Leonard Taylor is the No. 1 defensive tackle on our board and a guy that we think is going to be an early selection in the NFL draft,” Wiltfong said. “He’s the ultimate difference-maker and a guy that can be the difference in a national championship run for a place like Florida, that’s kind of been in that New Year’s Six realm but trying to take the next level.” 

And, after initially leading for another Miami Palmetto standout, four-star defensive back Jason Marshall, the Gators appear to be trailing Alabama when it comes to his recruitment –– a sign that Florida, despite possessing the No. 11 class in the nation by 247Sports, still trails the nation’s best when it comes to winning critical recruitments. 

“They’ve lost a lot more of these than they’ve won over the years, down the stretch, these type of blue-chip battles,” Wiltfong said. “Can they go out and win one of these highly contested heavyweight battles on the trail late? Because I think they’ve lost a lot more of these than they’ve won over the last few cycles.”

The Gators do appear to be the favorite to land another defensive tackle: Armwood standout Desmond Watson. The 6-foot-5, 350-pounder out of Seffner has the Gators atop his list after attending both Junior Days in Gainesville prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. Watson, whose older brother is a wide receiver at Oregon, also holds scholarship offers from Alabama and Texas A&M, in addition to FSU and Miami. 

Aside from the trio of Collier, Taylor and Watson, the Gators are also still looking to bring Bryce Langston back into the fold. The former UF commit and Vanguard standout is down to Florida and LSU, and it would appear the Gators are the team to beat, according to six predictions in favor of UF on 247Sports’ Crystal Ball Predictions. Langston posted on his Twitter account that any visit plans to Baton Rouge were put on hold due to the pandemic, meaning proximity and familiarity with the program theoretically could ultimately play in Florida’s favor. 

With top prospects, however, Wiltfong doesn’t expect that to be the case –– although, with the pandemic’s full effect yet to be determined, anything is possible. 

The real key for the Dan Mullen-led Gators to take the next step will be to land highly regarded prospects that don’t have proximity or familial ties to the program, said Wiltfong. No matter what, Mullen has shown a tendency to get the most out of his roster, yet only time will tell if he’ll be getting the most out of the team’s remaining top targets. 

“Maybe if they were battling a Big Ten school, maybe proximity goes in their favor. I don’t know if it’s relevant to what’s happening at Florida,” Wiltfong said. “If Leonard Taylor picks Miami instead of Florida, it wasn’t because of the pandemic.”