Gators look to close strong prior to Early Signing Period

IMG Academyrunning back Trey Sanders is expected to visit UF this weekend. [Herald-Tribune staff photo / Thomas Bender]

The final weekend before the commencement of the Early Signing Period — set to begin Wednesday — is poised to be a critical one for the Florida football program.

The Gators expect to host five official visitors, with the No. 5 overall prospect, IMG Academy running back Trey Sanders, leading the pack of attendees in Gainesville.

Sanders, whose brother Umstead Sanders joined Florida prior to the 2018 season, initially backed off a pledge to Alabama, and the dynamic back is expected to sign with either the Crimson Tide or the Gators come Wednesday. But don’t count out Georgia, which landed Sanders’ highly regarded teammate, defensive end Nolan Smith, a week before the early signing period opens.

It’s no secret the Gators lack depth at defensive tackle, but help could possibly be on the way. Siaki “Apu” Ika, ranked the No. 11 defensive tackle prospect in the 2019 class by 247Sports, will take his fifth and final official visit to Florida over the weekend. Ika, who initially committed to Brigham Young University before his recruitment skyrocketed, is regarded as one of the top tackle prospects at 6-foot-4, 285 pounds — meaning Florida has its work cut out if it hopes to land the uncommitted prospect. Ika will sign early, and recruiting analysts believe he’ll decide between Alabama, Oregon and Florida come Wednesday.

Florida hosted two highly regarded Lakeland prospects — defensive end Lloyd Summerall and tight end Keon Zipperer — last weekend, but the Gators aren’t done recruiting the area.

Offensive guard Deyavie Hammond, ranked by 247Sports as the No. 12 guard prospect in the 2019 class, will give the Gators an official visit before he signs early next week. The 6-foot-4 Hammond has a slew of offers from around the state and SEC, and current projections peg him to sign early with the Gators.

And two UF commits — cornerback Chester Kimbrough and wide receiver Dionte Marks — will take their only official visits of the year before signing early. The two committed to Florida prior to UF’s 9-3 season and the New Year’s Six Bowl berth — meaning Saturday will be an affirmation and celebration rather than a typical recruiting visit.

Aside from the official visitors, the Gators expect a full slate of unofficial visitors — headlined by IMG Academy offensive tackle Evan Neal. The 6-foot-8 offensive lineman has already used all five of his official visits, but the Gators did make Neal’s final list of six schools in consideration to receive his services. It would likely take an unparalleled visit to sway Neal away from committing to Alabama — however, with Sanders in tow, the Gators could still capitalize on the recent momentum and land at least one of the state’s top uncommitted prospects.

Three UF commits — linebacker Diwun Black, defensive back Jaydon Hill and running back Nay’Quan Wright — will take unofficial visits to Florida prior to the early signing period. Hill and Wright will join the contingent of double-digit early signees in Gainesville. Black, however, earlier indicated an intention to sign early, although his situation remains in flux. It’s more likely the dynamic outside linebacker/defensive end prospect will sign with the Gators in February on National Signing Day — although, like all aspects of recruiting, anything can change between now and Wednesday.


  1. Always infuriating when we have to go up against Bama for a RB or an OL especially… we never seem to win those battles.

    We have about a 50/50 chance with Sanders because mama loves the UF coaches, UF’s academics, and Trey will be closer to home… and mama will play a role.

    We have maybe a 3 out of 10 chance for Neal.

    Thibadeaux isnt coming to UF, so dont get your hopes up… but this class is still going to be very, very good.

    • Sanders’ mom doesn’t just love the coaches and academics, she’s a long time Gator fan. He’s talked about how she used to make him watch the games when he was little and he became a big fan of Rainey and Demps after watching them win the championship. I’m sure she’s really hoping he comes here.

      • Joe. And Trey’s father is a huge FSU fan and he wants Trey to go to FSU to play. The split may actually be working against both Florida and FSU, with Trey maybe and likely heading to Georgia or Bama to help keep peace in the family.

        • Swampy, fsu is basically on his list because of his dad.

          There have been reports coming from sources at fsu since about the Clemson game that Akers might be looking to transfer. Reports are he can’t showcase his skills behind their awful OL and he isn’t getting developed properly. Francois isn’t coming back. Their starting LB is transferring, Burns decided to jump to the NFL, and they have no real prominent OL in their current class. Their locker room was a panic room the entire season, and let’s face it, fsu now has their McElwain in Taggart as HC. fsu is a train wreck. Sanders would do about as good as Akers did as RB.

          If he goes to Bama, he’ll basically sit two years before having any real shot at a starting job, and he’ll probably only get mop up duty here or there in year #2.

          He’d RS here at UF is Perine stayed, but would get some PT his first year if Perine jumped. Regardless, it’s hard to beat Bama for a 5* RB. Lets hope he picks the good guys in this one. We have a chance, but I still think it’s about 50/50 between us and Bama. At least we have mama on our side, and reports are that mama WILL have a big say.

          If this was a 3 or 4 star kid looking at fsu, I could see him going there, but Sanders is a 5* and he wants every chance to succeeed.

    • Todd. Florida recently won the battle for a running back that Bama wanted. His name was Perine. Florida also won the battle for Langaham (sp?), the DE recruit from Alabama in last year’s recruiting class. Bama badly wanted both players and Florida won both those battles with Saban.

      • I realize that, but I was talking about 5* RB’s, and Perine saw the depth chart at Bama at that time too. He knew he’d sit. Anyway, UGA was the more prominent opponent for his services anyway. Glad he’s a Gator too.

      • Oh, and about Langham, he saw depth chart, and he didn’t want to grey shirt. He wouldn’t have touched the field until as a sophomore, and there was no guarantee he ever would because he’d have to wait on a scholarship to open.

        What some folks don’t realize about Bama is that Saban runs a pretty strict roster/development system and a new player doesn’t know if he’s ever going to get a scholly if he grey shirts or if Saban brings in a better kid next class and he sits on the bench behind him for most of his career. Saban with not renew a kid’s scholly if he under-performs to get a higher ranked kid in the next class.

    • Todd – what is really mind boggling is the AMG Academy Florida Boys leave the State of Florida to play for another state. WTF??? GATOR NATION is back and you would think that Florida players would like to be a part of the success that is in the GATORS future. I don’t know what is in the minds of these young men, but if they leave the state then they should have to give up their Florida card! GO GATORS!!!

      • The thing is, even though IMG is in Florida, a lot of their players transfer in from other states, like Nolan Smith who committed to UGA for example, he’s from Georgia, so a lot of them don’t really have ties to Florida or Florida cards to lose. Unfortunately, FSU has created a pipeline with that school, so the players who are from Florida, usually go there.

        • Things can change. Kids go to I’m going to go pro. 4 and 7 teams like champ and Mac destroy pipilines. Now FSU is just as bad but CDM has a path for two of everything here to go pro. that includes QB imo. Let Jones be j hurts if Franks gets too amped up against Georgia or too flat against Missouri next year.

          • Mveal, when are you ever going to learn? If your computer wanted your opinion on what you were trying to say, it would have given it to you. And to think, next thing you know we’re gonna have self driving cars………

          • LOL! I feel your pain. For sure things can change and based on what we’re seeing going on in Miami, it looks like things are changing real quick. I can’t imagine what Cane fans are thinking right now with only a few days till the early signing period and recruits jumping ship right and left. They’ve only got 1 offensive commitment and now defensive players are starting to bail after Diaz left. I just want to see 1 recruit from IMG sign on the dotted line, then we can finally break the cycle and start turning that pipeline in this direction.

        • I should have done some research – thanks Todd. I just don’t get on the comp. for lengths of time. I got pissed when Dion Sanders was coach for a game with future college players and the RB that was going to UF didn’t play very much. So I cannot stand that idiot and “YES” Dion I would say it to your face! OK – enough of my hatred, now we know that CDM will have recruits wanting to play here. I believe he will have to start turning recruits down with everyone wanting to play here. We will see part of the future next week with early signees. You know what they say…If your not a GATOR then you are a HATER! GO GATORS!!!

        • IMG takes 4 and 5-star recruits from out of state and gives them ‘financial aid.’ A little known fact about college recruiting. Boosters from the Power 5 schools pay IMG to steer certain players to certain schools. Up to $100 g more for some. There is nothing illegal about this as the school is not connected to the booster or IMG. IMG is a BUSINESS, not a charity. Florida should take any IMG player it can as IMG does not invest in 3-star prospects or less.

          • Cattrick that goes to the follow the money principle. I would agree that the schools that have had the most recruits from IMG have put in the most pie.

        • Todd. You are right about Weinke. I live across the street from IMG. Weinke is no longer there. No reason discovered except he got a gig with ESPN or Fox Sports. See my take below on how IMG operates as a money-making business.

          • cattrick and everyone else – I just did some research and found out the following: IMG is a business first and foremost and they only take the cream of the crop athletes and IMG rates are like $77.000+ per year. IMG takes only high character athletes, so they have an advantage of their students being of high character. IMG is also funded by Gatorade and another NCAA preferred business. This also means that IMG academy cannot play ANY post season games due to the unconventional business practices with Highschool students. So students that attend IMG Academy go there to prepare for College athletics and College academics. Chris Weinke is no longer the head Blue Team coach, so that has no bearing on where recruits are going. It also seems that IMG students are getting recruited hard by every NCAA team available. Also it looks as though many students already know where they want to play. I suggest that everyone should check out IMG Academy’s site and the controversial opinions that go with that Academy. I just learned a lot about them and now have a much better understanding of that situation. Thanks Todd and cattrick for prompting me to research them. GO GATORS!!!

  2. What exactly is the real meaning and purpose for the ”new early signing period”? Is it to get those early signees enrolled in some January classes in colleges and universities, if they graduate high school early and qualify? Because I cannot see much of a reason for an ”early signing period”, other than that reason, honestly.

    • gatorgi. The early signing period was mostly created by the NCAA and member schools to allow those recruits who wanted to end their recruitment early to do so. It also allows for schools to plan their roster needs and recruit to the end (the first Wednesday in February) better, and as well as save schools money in their recruiting budgets. Early enrollees were already allowed to sign early if they planned to enroll early. But they had to count back to the previous year’s class under the old rules. With early enrollees now, they can count to this year’s class numbers or back to last year’s numbers. Works better for schools and the recruits in many, many ways. Hope that helped.

    • Adding to what Swampy wrote, the early signing period is used to flush out those long-term bilateral verbal commitments between recruits and schools.

      Some recruits will make verbal commitments to less preferred schools to hold a spot while waiting for offers from, or official visits to, more preferred schools. Then, they de-commit from the early choices and commit to the later ones. Some schools encourage verbal commitments from recruits they rate lower on their boards while waiting for commitments from those rated higher on their boards. Then, they quietly withdraw their offers to the lower rated recruits when they gain commitments from the higher rated recruits.

      The early signing period makes both sides be more honest, while allowing both sides more time to eventually land in a good final place in February.

      Go Gators!!!

  3. Graham. Nolan Smith has been committed to Georgia since last summer. All he did this week on Instagram was to post the re-confirmation of his previous commitment to Georgia and that he would be signing with them next week for sure after visiting Alabama. He did not commit to Georgia this week. Just thought you should know that. And he did that right after Trey Sanders visited Georgia on his official last weekend. And Trey responded to his Instagram post by asking Nolan if he had an extra bed in Athens for him to sleep on in Athens as a roommate. Everyone up in Georgia took that response to mean that Sanders is going to Georgia. I think he was just having some fun. We will see. I think Trey signs with Bama on Wednesday, along with his teammate, Evan Neal. And Zipperer and Summerall now seem to be leaning more to Miami and/or FSU instead of Florida, as I think Florida has other more pressing roster priorities than at TE and are now targeting other DE recruit priorities other than Summerall (the DE recruit committed to MSU, the DE recruit committed to Auburn, the DE recruit committed to Auburn, and the couple of DE recruits committed to FSU; as Florida will likely flip at least two of those DE commits elsewhere by February).

    • Sanders was definitely trolling UGA. He’s more than likely Bama, but it’s definitely between Bama and UF. I’m basing that off an article that was posted yesterday by 247, which was a crystal ball outlook of the top uncommitted recruits. UGA wasn’t even listed on his crystal ball. It was Bama 91% and Florida 9%. I’m curious as to why you think Zipperer and Summerall are leaning towards Miami and FSU now? Besides the fact that Miami is losing recruits at an unprecedented rate, that same article has them both heavily leaning to UF. Zipperer is 89% Florida and 11% Miami and Summerall is 94% Florida and 6% FSU. They have room for those guys and some of those defensive players you listed, so I’m wondering if you heard or read somewhere where those predictions for them drastically changed in the last 24 hours? Zipperer looked like he was having the time of his life on his last visit and every picture I saw of him he was beaming. It looked like he was pretty much a done deal. That’s besides the fact that he’s been carrying around the Chucky doll for months. That would be some seriously dedicated trolling if he went somewhere else.

  4. UF won’t be a truly elite program again until we start signing at least 25 percent of the state’s top 20 players on an annual basis. Can’t let programs like BAMA, UGA, Clemson and OSU come in and take half of those players. Then you have miami, fsu, and UF fighting it out for the rest. None of the programs can be elite if they can’t recruit their state better than outside programs. If you look at those programs, they sign 50 percent or more of their state’s top 20. No reason why we can’t sign 25 percent or better and we did when we were elite. Like to see UF concentrate less on players west of geogia and more on Florida players. Plenty of players from Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, and Virginia to make an elite program. No reason recruit all over the place and stretch ourselves out. Florida high school players have no commitment to Florida schools and in turn Florida schools haven’t shown a commitment to them.

  5. The players have clear choices– join a dynamic youthful coaching staff that is the future of college football, or be coached by Saban, a fossil with a bad dye job like an old woman who is in decline and will be a drooling shell eating applesauce through a straw sooner rather than later.

    All they can learn from Smart is how to choke in big games.

    Miamia and FSU? They will both be looking for new coaches within 2 years, so a commit to either one is a commit to chaos and turmoil.

    Choose glory, choose greatness, choose Gator!

  6. IMG gets paid big bucks to send a 4 or 5-star player to a Power 5 school. Money comes from boosters not
    associated with Alumni Association. Unethical yes, but not illegal. IMG is a business, not a charity. IMG takes recruits from all over US and provides ‘financial assistance,’to attend IMG, knowing it’s 90 percent certain they’ll get that ‘aid’ money back.