National Signing Day roundtable: How concerning is it the best prep players left Florida?

Jon Santucci
The Gainesville Sun
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Another National Signing Day is in the books.

Monsignor Pace defensive lineman Shemar Stewart picked Texas A&M, Cardinal Gibbons edge rusher R Mason Thomas and Forest athlete Jamarrien Burt and are headed to Oklahoma and Miami added linemen Ahmad Moten and Matthew McCoy.

USA Today Florida Network reporters Jon Santucci, Chris Boyle and Emilee Smarr discuss the biggest news, winners and surprises from National Signing Day. 

Ahmad Moten (99) of Cardinal Gibbons chases Cocoa QB Davin Wydner during the Class 4A state football championship Thursday, Dec. 16, 2021. Moten signed with Miami on Wednesday.

Which in state school had the best day Wednesday?

Boyle: Miami closed best. I don’t think anyone particularly closed well. But Miami pulled TreVonte’ Citizen away from Florida and a few others. They got Matt McCoy to fill a big need at offensive line and they kept Ahmad Moten home. Of the major programs in the state, I would say they had the best actual signing day.

Smarr: I feel like Miami is the obvious answer here. Ahmad Moten is a really big one to secure. I think (Mario) Cristobal is already starting to kind of establish his dominance and bring recruiting back to South Florida. They had a pretty good haul today.  

Santucci: I think Miami probably had the biggest disappointment in not getting Shemar Stewart, but they closed well. The Gators had a bunch of kids commit since the end of the early signing period and I don’t think Miami had any. It’s rare but Miami jumped from being one of the worst Power 5s under Manny Diaz to being top 12 now.

IMG Academy safety Kamari Wilson signed with Florida in December.

Overall, how should Gators fans feel about this class?

Boyle: I would say strong start, flat finish. Maybe that should be tempered because of the expectations of who they were targeting Wednesday. I think it’s a solid group, particularly at safety with what they were able to accomplish in December with Devin Moore and Kamari Wilson. The transfers from Louisiana will help. There will be disappointment with the way Wednesday went considering they didn’t hit on (Harold) Perkins or (Jacoby) Mathews. Their work was better in December than it was Wednesday.

Smarr: I think it depends on how you frame it. You might have missed out on some guys, but I think it gives those powerful four and five star recruits that you did sign that much more room to grow and make an impact. I’m here on the end of optimism, glass half full. It leaves more opportunities for these guys to make a statement.

Santucci: I think it looks worse than it was because of the guys the Gators were finalists for on Wednesday but didn't get. Overall, this is a pretty good class with guys that can come in and make a difference, like Kamari Wilson and Shemar James and Jamari Lyons. But if a couple things went different Wednesday, it could have been a really impressive haul for Billy Napier.

Monsignor Pace High School's Shemar Stewart, the No. 3 player on the USA Today Florida Network top 100, picked Texas A&M on Wednesday.

How concerning is it than eight of the top 10 players in Florida are leaving the state for college?

Smarr: I kind of think this only applies to this class. Obviously, with Mario being here, he made his presence known during the early signing period. I think with him being here you’ll see the Florida Power 5 schools be competitive and boost their recruiting. It seems like everybody is doing a turnover. I think we’ll see a lot more kids stay in the next cycle.

Boyle: It’s a concern … if it continues. With two of the three traditional powers changing coaches late in the season, it’s to be expected. But with Napier and Cristobal in place and Gus Malzahn seemingly very settled at UCF. (Florida State coach Mike) Norvell is the one on the warmest seat. You’d think the Florida schools would have a better chance of picking off the top talent next year. However, the out of state competition is still going to make an impact. You’re literally seeing Nick Saban and Kirby Smart helicopter in and scoop the best players out of the state. They’re not going to back down. Until one of these programs proves it can win again and until they do there’s no reason for the best players to stay.

Santucci: Ask me next year. I think it’s not good obviously. But I also think that Florida was terrible during the second half of the season, Florida State was terrible during the first half of the season and Miami’s recruiting was terrible from start to finish under Manny Diaz. So, you would hope with more stability comes more players. But I agree that they have to win.

Ocala (Fla.) Forest defensive back Jamarrien Burt signed with Oklahoma on Wednesday. He was previously committed to Florida.

Which Florida player's decision surprised you most on Wednesday?

Boyle: Terrance Gibbs going to Georgia Southern. That was a big surprise. He’s got to be the highest recruit they’ve ever landed. That comes with a caveat that he’s missed a lot of time due to injury over the last two seasons. But this was a kid who was committed to Dan Mullen’s class at Florida. He took a visit to Texas in December. No one had Georgia Southern even remotely in the picture for him.

Smarr: I’m going to say Shemar Stewart because Miami fans were pretty confident all week. Obviously, he had a lot of options on the table. But you see how Mario gets people to rally around him and people just believe in him. Miami is at the verge of a rebuild. I feel like it was a bit of a surprise.

Santucci: Jamarrien Burt. Not because he went to Oklahoma because he’s really good. It’s because it seemed to happen so quietly. He was even saying he might sign on Thursday. And then all the sudden he signed with Oklahoma on Wednesday afternoon. I just wasn’t expecting it to play out that way.

Gibbons defensive end Mason Thomas (7) celebrates a sack during the Class 4A State Championship game between Cardinal Gibbons and Cocoa at DRV PNK Stadium in Fort Lauderdale, FL., on Thursday, December 16, 2021. Thomas signed with Oklahoma on Wednesday.

Which team did the best job in Florida since the end of the early signing period?

Santucci: I really like the guys Syracuse added, but I'm going to go with Oklahoma. Brett Venables finished really well in December and he did it again by adding R Mason Thomas and Burt. They're both big-time players who went under the radar -- Mason at the beginning and Jamarrien at the end. 

Boyle: Texas A&M. They did everything well. Everything and anything they did well. They got two of the best players in the state, the latter being Shemar Stewart.

Smarr: Miami and Oklahoma did an awesome job. Think about how much Miami loaded up two months ago and still managed to continue that Wednesday. Mario came in with a plan and he’s executing it.

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