Florida staff fends off Alabama for top commits

Zach Abolverdi
Gainesville Sun
Fort Myers Dunbar High senior defensive lineman Chris Thomas signs with the University of Florida.

Third-year Florida coach Dan Mullen signed his third consecutive top-10 recruiting class Wednesday. 

More importantly, he and his staff members enjoyed their third consecutive drama-free signing day.

No decommitments, no flips and no shenanigans.

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“We have some really good players in this class, so I think a lot of people are trying to recruit those guys,” Mullen said. “It says a lot about the character of the guys we recruit.”

The Gators signed 21 of the 26 members in their 2021 class, which is currently ranked No. 8 nationally according to the 247Sports Composite. The notable additions are a trio of top-100 recruits: five-star cornerback Jason Marshall (No. 27 overall), four-star weakside defensive end Jeremiah Williams (No. 73) and four-star strongside defensive end Tyreak Sapp (No. 96). 

UF had to fend off other schools for all of them. 

Marshall, who committed to Florida over Alabama and Miami on Aug. 9, received a personal call this week from Tide coach Nick Saban, but told him he was sticking with the Gators. 

“I guarantee you I talked to one or two of his guys too,” Mullen quipped. 

Sapp came to the same conclusion after initially planning to make a final decision in February. Alabama had been pushing for a flip for months — as well as Ohio State and Miami — but he decided to sign early with UF. 

“He's a guy that early on committed to us,” Mullen said of Sapp. “I know guys enjoy the recruiting process, and it's a great experience. But it says a lot about him … now having the opportunity to go live his dream and come be a Florida Gator.”

Williams was also on the fence in the 11th hour despite recently joining Florida’s class on Oct. 26. Auburn continued its pursuit and he revealed late Monday that he would be signing in February to be sure of his decision.

But on Tuesday, Williams changed his tune and tweeted that he was signing early after long talks with linebackers coach and primary recruiter Christian Robinson. 

Williams wasn’t the only prospect Robinson had to hang on to. 

Four-star linebacker Chief Borders reaffirmed his commitment to the Gators on Thanksgiving after getting accepted into Stanford, his dream school growing up. He’s one of five high school finalists for the 2020 Butkus Award.

“Academics were a huge part of his recruiting, but he also wanted the opportunity to go play big-time football. I think that’s the thing that attracted him,” Mullen said of Borders. “When academically you’re recruiting on the same level of Stanford and the same football level as a playoff team, we’re kind of the only university that’s in that combination.”

Florida’s linebacker class also includes four-star Diwun Black, the nation’s No. 1 JUCO recruit according to the 247Sports Composite rankings. The other top-rated signees include quarterback Carlos Del Rio-Wilson, wide receiver Marcus Burke and safeties Corey Collier Jr. and Donovan McMillon. 

Corey Collier Jr. of Miami Palmetto High reacts after signing a National Letter of Intent with the University of Florida at a ceremony Wednesday.

Del Rio is an Elite 11 finalist and one of two quarterbacks in the class. Mullen also landed three-star Jalen Kitna, the son of former NFL QB Jon Kitna. They will provide UF with more depth at quarterback behind returners Emory Jones and Anthony Richardson. 

“You're a trip getting on the bus and spraining my ankle away from having one quarterback here,” Mullen said. “So these guys are pretty close to competing for the backup job Day 1 that they get on campus. I know they’re competitors and we're really excited about both of those two quarterbacks.”

The Gators lose three receivers after this season and Burke will help fill that void along with four-star signee Daejon Reynolds. They also have a pair of four-star wideouts committed in Trevonte Rucker and Charles Montgomery, but both plan to sign in February. 

“Those guys committed early to us, never waved, stuck with us,” Mullen said of Burke and Reynolds. “They’re two guys that we had right at the top of the receiver board and to have those two guys come in, we’re really excited. They got great skill sets. They have size. They have speed, ability to make plays after the catch and I think are going to continue the great tradition of wide receivers here at Florida.”

With three departing seniors at safety as well, Collier and McMillon were priority targets on the defensive side of the ball. Collier is rated a five-star recruit by Rivals and Florida is still after four-star safety Terrion Arnold, who will decide on Feb. 3. 

The remaining positions of need for the Gators are defensive tackle (three seniors) and offensive line (four seniors). Their signings Wednesday included four-star offensive lineman Yousef Mugharbil, three-star center Jake Slaughter and three-star DTs Desmond Watson and Christopher Thomas.

“The defensive guys up front are guys to me that might have the opportunity, especially because we have some seniors on the defensive line,” Mullen said. “So Dez Watson and Chris Thomas, some of those bigger guys might have that opportunity to get in right away and make an immediate impact.”

Fort Myers Dunbar High School senior defensive lineman Chris Thomas attends a National Letter of Intent ceremony Wednesday where he signed to play at the University of Florida.

Florida has pledges from offensive linemen Javonte Gardner, Adrein Strickland and Deyavie Hammond (JUCO), but they won’t be signing this week. UF will also be adding ex-Clemson running back and former five-star recruit Demarcus Bowman, who is expected to enroll in January. 

“I do think with this class, front to back, I mean we’re really signed a complete defense,” Mullen said. “If anything, O-line is one that we probably want to finish the class off with moving forward. That's probably the biggest (need).”

Dating back to the 2019 class, the Gators haven’t lost any commits to other programs during the final months of the recruiting cycle except for Miami four-star receiver Marc Britt, who had grade concerns and signed with Ole Miss last February. 

The only other defection in December, January or February has been offensive guard Jovens Janvier, who failed to qualify academically and signed with Tennessee State.

Gators signing day

247 Composite class rank: No. 8 overall, No. 4 SEC 

Top signees: CB Jason Marshall, No. 2 cornerback, No. 27 overall; WDE Jeremiah Williams, No. 5 weakside defensive end, No. 73 overall; SDE Tyreak Sapp, No. 8 strongside defensive end, No. 96 overall

Biggest miss: Four-star linebacker Xavian Sorey chose Georgia over Alabama and Florida on Wednesday. He’s from the Sunshine State and visited UF last Saturday for the LSU game.

Grade: A- — Dan Mullen signed his third consecutive top-10 class, fending off Alabama for two of his top commits.

— Zach Abolverdi