When Tampa Plant athlete James Wilder Jr. announced his intentions of playing at Florida State next year, most of those who follow Florida recruiting were either glad to see that recruiting circus end or they were upset to see one of the top linebacker prospects in the country pick a hated rival.
While Wilder’s plan is to play running back at the next level, most believe that his talents are best suited at linebacker in both college and at the professional level. With that, Wilder’s decision not to attend Florida has both a positive and negative impact on Florida’s 2011 recruiting class.
First off, losing Wilder might have seemed like a relief to fans frustrated by his back-and-forth tendencies, but Wilder was not an average player on the field. He projects to be an outstanding talent at linebacker, and with his size and speed, he would have competed early at Florida. He’s definitely physically ready, but who knows how he would adapt mentally to the college game. Still, not having Wilder is certainly not great for Florida’s class. Getting a big name like Wilder could also have helped in bringing in bigger names, kind of like when Tim Tebow committed.
His time at running back probably wouldn’t have been long at Florida, so the Gators won’t necessarily be hurt at that position with his decision. It could actually help Florida’s staff when talking to the top running backs left on their board. With Emmanuel Moody leaving after this year, Florida will be looking to sign at least one running back, in order to have four on the roster next year.
With Wilder out of the picture, Florida can start recruiting running backs without the issue of having a guy like Wilder taking a spot.
Here is a list of the top running backs I think are still on Florida’s board and what effect Wilder’s decision might have on them:
Savon Huggins, 6-foot, 190 pounds, Jersey City, N.J., St. Peter’s Prep
Huggins could be the top running back on Florida’s board. He’s a big back who has great speed, and after his recent visit to Florida went so well, the Gators appear to be near the top of his list. The problem could be Rutgers. He’s been there many more times than Florida — or any other school — and the feeling is that it will be too hard for him to turn down the home team. While Florida has proven it can recruit well in that part of the country, Rutgers might have too much of a lead right now. However, Urban Meyer is personally recruiting Huggins and an official visit to Florida could change everything.
Wilder effect: Not getting Wilder means Florida’s staff, especially Meyer, can devote even more time to Huggins. Huggins should be comforted by the fact that without Wilder, the Gators probably won’t bring in another running back before him.
Mike Blakely, 5-9, 194, Bradenton Manatee
Blakely has said for months that Florida is his top school, but he’s still holding out on any sort of commitment. The reason? He said he wants to take his time, but there are some who feel he could be waiting for Florida’s staff to OK a commitment. Recently, he told Rivals.com that he has no leader. Regardless, Blakely has strong feelings toward Florida and the Gators figure to be in it for him until the end. But if Blakely gets impatient, Florida could be on the wrong end if the staff is waiting on other prospects.
Wilder effect: Like Huggins, not having to worry about Wilder anymore is a good thing for Blakely. It leaves that spot open for him on Florida’s roster. But does it buy Florida time now? If Wilder was the No. 1 target and Blakely wants to commit, you’d think that he’d get the green light. The longer Blakely goes without committing the more he and Florida could drift apart.
Mike Bellamy, 5-10, 175, Punta Gorda Charlotte
Bellamy was at one time considered a heavy Gator lean. It felt like it was only a matter of time before Bellamy committed to Florida. Not only can he run through the line, but he’s great in space. He’d be perfect for Florida’s offense. But things didn’t go as planned when he committed to Clemson in June. Bellamy was considered to be Florida’s top running back prospect at first, but the depth chart turned him off. However, Bellamy recently came out and said he was planning to look around at other schools. Things really got interesting when he decided to visit Florida for Friday Night Lights in July. Needless to say, he looked to be having fun interacting with the Florida coaches. If he is wavering on his Clemson verbal, expect to Florida to stay involved, but it could be hard for him to seriously consider the Gators if the depth chart doesn’t change.
Wilder effect: With Wilder gone Bellamy could start looking at Florida’s depth chart in a more positive way. It means having one less guy to battle early. It doesn’t help him with Florida’s current depth, but it could ease his concerns about who will be coming in immediately with him. If Bellamy is still the top guy on the running back board, Florida’s coaches will certainly make him more aware now.