Yesterday I discussed where Florida turns to now that Tampa Plant athlete James Wilder Jr. is off the board at running back. His signing definitely would have changed how Florida recruited its running backs, but it would have had more impact on the linebackers still on Florida’s board. With Wilder projecting more as a linebacker at the next two levels, Florida’s coaching staff would have had to change its approach to linebacker recruits if Wilder had committed.
Here’s a look at the top linebackers still on Florida’s board and how Wilder’s Florida State commitment will effect them.
Curtis Grant, 6-foot-3, 220 pounds, Richmond, Va., Hermitage
Grant is one of the top linebacker prospects in the country and has the ability to play inside and out. He’s probably going to be a middle linebacker in college, but he’s got the speed to work sideline to sideline. After seeing him at the Gridiron Kings tournament, Grant will definitely challenge to be the No. 1 linebacker once the 2010 high school season is done. As far as recruiting goes, he has slowed it down considerably. His main focus is on his senior season and he doesn’t plan to take any official visits until after the season. Florida was considered his leader over the summer, but he now says that everyone is pretty much even. He’s got a laundry list of schools after to him, but when he schedules his five officials, expect Florida to get a visit.
Wilder effect: Losing Wilder should help the linebacker spot more than anything. Grant had to be feeling much better about how Florida’s linebacker depth will look next year now that Wilder is off the board. There aren’t a ton of bodies he’d have to compete against at Florida, so he would be walking into an attractive situation. I think Florida’s chances were high even if Wilder committed to Florida, but with him at FSU, it only helps the Gators.
Tony Steward, 6-2, 225, St. Augustine Pedro Menendez
Steward is the consensus No. 1 linebacker in the country. It looks like he’s pretty much down to three schools in Florida State, Clemson and Florida. Alabama has made a run, but the feeling is that those three are the ones that will be in it until the end. FSU and Clemson are leading at the top, with Florida behind but making up some ground. When talking to him, Steward makes sure to mention that he’s visited Florida plenty of times this year, but I think it will be too hard to pull him away from his childhood favorite in FSU.
Wilder effect: Even with Wilder committed to FSU, I don’t think it will have too much of an impact on Steward. He plays in the middle, while Wilder projects as an outside linebacker. Steward grew up an FSU fan, so no matter who is there it’ll be tough for schools to pull him away. Florida is helped by not getting Wilder, but I’m not sure it’s a tremendous boost. Florida will be in the hunt and it will be a long one because Steward isn’t planning to announce his intentions until National Signing Day.
Stephone Anthony, 6-3, 220, Wadesboro, N.C., Anson
Anthony has had Florida at the top of his list practically from day one. No matter who he talks to, Florida is the school that remains in front. He’s looking to officially visit Florida in September, and it shouldn’t take long for him to make a decision. Florida has simply led for too long for anything to change.
Wilder effect: Not getting Wilder just makes Anthony’s decision much easier. They both play the same position, but now Anthony doesn’t have to worry about coming into the same class as him. His lean toward Florida just got even closer.
A.J. Johnson, 6-3, 226, Gainesville, Ga.
Johnson was originally committed to Tennessee, but after Lane Kiffin left for USC, he decommitted. Now, he’s got a top three of Florida, Tennessee and Clemson. Florida has made the biggest push after he was blown away by what he saw in Gainesville at Friday Night Lights. His family came with him and they loved it. Johnson told me Florida has a slight edge over everyone else at this point, and he’s definitely an option for Florida. The staff might be looking to see what the bigger-named prospects will do, but Johnson is a guy who will be on the board for a while. He’s visiting Florida for the LSU game in October.
Wilder effect: Johnson projects more as an inside linebacker at the next level, but not having Wilder on the board certainly has to make him feel better about Florida’s linebacker situation. I don’t think Wilder would have had much of an influence on where Johnson went, though.
Lamar Dawson, 6-2, 230, Danville, Kent., Boyle County
Dawson is a young man who has quietly become one of the top linebacker prospects in the country. He impressed at camps this summer, and when I saw him at Gridiron Kings he looked pretty fast for his frame. He’s not much of a talker, but the feeling is that Kentucky has really made a big impression on him. He checked out Florida and rumors spread about him wanting to commit. He said that wasn’t true and that he’s taking his time. Because he’s an in-state guy, he might not officially visit Kentucky, but that won’t hurt the UK staff’s chances of landing him. He’s looking to officially visit Florida, and USC has gotten into the picture. His popularity is sure to go up as his senior year progresses.
Wilder effect: Dawson is an inside guy, but he also plays tight end and shows that he has the speed to go outside if needed. Seeing Wilder go to a school that isn’t on his list helps out the schools that are. Not having to worry about seeing Wilder in the same uniform is a plus for Dawson and should increase his interest in schools that were after Wilder.
Lateek Townsend, 6-2, 197, Bennettsville, S.C., Marlboro County
Townsend is a guy who truly fits Florida’s fast-paced defense. He can simply fly and has been a guy who has been stuck under the radar because of bigger-named prospects out there. He’s certainly got interest in Florida, but Clemson will be a tough school to beat. He’s getting interest from schools like LSU and USC as well. I expect him to visit Florida when he sets up his officials.
Wilder effect: This could really help Florida because this opens up a spot on the outside for Townsend. If Florida were to sign another outside guy, it would still leave room for him as well. Getting him on campus will be the next step, but not having Wilder to battle should become extremely attractive to Townsend. He’ll be a guy to watch this season.