Coming off a month-long recruiting dead period, Florida held back-to-back recruiting events on Friday and Saturday before another recruiting dead period went in place Sunday. Inside the Gators empties out six pages worth of notes, quotes, and observations from multiple targets in attendance for Saturday's cookout.
THE EXCEPTION THAT PROVES THE RULE
I've explained my thoughts on prospects 'committing' out of cycle several times already, and did so once again last week when 2023 four-star tight end Mac Markway pledged to the Gators.
To that point, of the last 10 Florida commits out of cycle, only one eventually signed with the Gators.
However, Milton (Fla.) 2023 receiver Raymond Cottrell may be the exception that proves the rule.
After talking to him back in May when he received his UF offer, he said all the right things, calling UF his dream school and telling Inside the Gators that he was tempted to commit on the spot. At that point were actually considering making him only the fifth underclassmen with a stand-alone article here on the site.
Then, I had a chance to speak with him again after a June camp session – where he stood out enough to be ranked as our No. 8 best June camp performer.
This commitment didn't come out of nowhere.
“I already planned on doing it,” said Cottrell of his Friday commitment. “I've been wanting to go to this school for a long time.”
Though he had it planned, he still caught the staff off-guard.
“I surprised them with it. They were all excited,” said Cottrell. “First I talked to Coach Gonzales and then I talked to the big boss, Dan Mullen. At first he was like, 'Man, stop lying to me.' I was like, 'This is where I want to be.' He was excited. He jumped up and gave me a hug.”
On Saturday, Cottrell was adamant that his very early commitment would stick.
“I'm cutting my recruitment off,” said Cottrell. “100-percent cut off, I'm 100-percent committed to Florida. There won't be any other schools contacting me or anything. This is where I want to be, it's a great place to be. I know if I trust Dan Mullen, if I trust Coach Gonzales they can put me where I want to be.”
He may want to hope Gonzales has either a short memory or a forgiving heart.
Cottrell said that during the water balloon fight he hit his future position coach several times in the head with a balloon
FOUR-STAR COMMIT RETURNS TO CAMPUS
Back in June, for the second cycle in a row, Florida went into the Yellow Hammer State and walked out with a prospect coveted by Alabama.
Getting an early commitment is one thing, holding on to it for the remainder of the cycle is quite another.
In an interview tweeted out in July, after talking about why he committed to Florida, he was asked about Alabama. He smiled while talking about how hard the Tide were still recruiting him.
Regardless of what is said, there's no doubt that they will be a factor until he signs his Letter of Intent.
However, on Saturday he said that the two-day visit to Gainesville helped the Gators chances.
“It really showed me that I made the right decision," said James. “It was less about football, surprisingly. We were just like, laughing and kicking it this whole weekend.”
James said he is 100-percent locked in with the Gators and plans on being in the Swamp for two of the first three games of the season.
SMITH COMES OUT OF HIDING
After committing to the Gators in June, Orlando (Fla.) Bishop Moore four-star receiver CJ Smith basically went into seclusion. The normally approachable Smith ignored multiple interview requests and wasn’t heard from until he showed up at Friday Night Lights.
It was a bit of a relief to find out I wasn't the only one he wasn’t responding to. According to Smith, not only didn’t he give any post-commitment interviews, he didn't answer his phone for anyone – particularly college coaches.
“At this point, I don't reach out to any of them and I'm not answering any calls,” replied Smith when asked about communication from coaching staffs he didn’t pick. “Pretty much they've all respected my decision.”
That memorandum on communication of course doesn't apply to the staff of the program he committed to. He said he has been in constant contact with Florida
“Once every other day, like four times a week they are checking up on me to see how I am or vice-versa,” said Smith.
Though he didn't actually camp, leaving during positional drills, Smith said he still got a good feel from Florida being on campus the first time as a committed prospect.
“It's much more of a different vibe,” said Smith. “It feels like home mostly.”
Smith said he had a chance to talk to commit Nick Evers – calling him a great quarterback and saying that their relationship is growing.
While this may have been an abbreviated visit, look for Smith to be on campus multiple times this fall.
“Whatever I can fit it in, I'm going to try to get to as many games as I can,” said Smith. “There are no visits anywhere else, it's 100-percent done. Coach Mullen said he loves me and he's excited to have me.”
LYONS STILL HAS FLORIDA IN FRONT
Melbourne (Fla.) Vierra four-star defensive tackle Jamari Lyons has been on campus multiple times and hasn’t been shy about the fact that he likes Florida.
He told us just a few weeks ago that the Gators were holding down his top spot.
Saturday was more of the same.
“This is like any other visit coming here,” said Lyons. “But just like having fun with the people. Having fun doing activities they had us doing. It was great.”
With so few defensive linemen on campus over the weekend, it gave Lyons a chance at more one-on-one time with David Turner.
“The message from Coach Turner is he really wants me here, he pretty much talks to me about how he could use me in his defensive schemes, how he could put me in this position, in that position, that I'm a versatile player. He expressed how he really wants me here and I can be an impact player on his defense.”
He also once again reiterated how much current defensive tackle Gervon Dexter is in his ear about the Gators.
Lyons said that Florida has held down his No. 1 spots since he officially visited in June. He also visited Indiana then and has a September official visit planned for South Carolina. He said he may also set an official visit with Ohio State before his scheduled announcement on October 6.
He went on to say that while he will let the public know on his mother’s birthday, the coaches involved won’t be left out in the cold, he plans on informing all of the staff’s of his decision before he makes his announcement.
THIS & THAT
* A prospect who earned an offer over the weekend was Zephyrhills (Fla.) Wiregrass Ranch 2023 four-star wideout Bryson Rodgers. He camped at Florida for about an hour, but before he had to leave they brought him over to say hi to Christian Robinson, his area recruiter.
Before that, he was mostly with Billy Gonzales.
“Coach Gonzales really loved the way I moved and played. I would say I talked to him the most that day.”
With over 20 offers already, the 6-foot-2, 175-pounder isn't ready to narrow his list, but he did say that he has a couple of programs that stand out.
“Florida, Alabama, Rutgers, and Iowa State.”
* After being one of the standout offensive linemen at Florida's June Elite Camp, Eufaula (Ala.) 2023 lineman Patrick Screws and his parents returned to Gainesville over the weekend for FNL and the Saturday cookout.
Not much has changed on the recruiting front since his late June visit, he still holds offers from Arizona State and Georgia and said that he is still hearing from Florida, Alabama
He took what he learned from the Elite Camp and has worked on his technique over the last month. Apparently, that has paid off.
“The coaches say that they have seen improvement from the last time I visited and now I just need to ball out my junior year.”
* Another 2023 target who was a June camp standout and then attended Saturday's cookout is Jacksonville (Fla.) Westside defensive lineman Jordan Hall.
The 6-foot-4, 310-pounder, who is incredibly athletic for his size, was escorted to the event by former Florida wide-out Johnny Gaffney, who serves as a mentor.
Hall already has offers from the likes of Florida, Florida State, and Georgia and spent some time with David Turner.
* One prospect to keep an eye on going forward is Miami (Fla.) Gulliver Prep three-star De'Carlo Donaldson. At 6-foot-2, 215-pounds he is listed as a tight end, but moves like a receiver.
At first he didn't think he would be able to make it to FNL, but after his performance at the camp, the coaches asked him to stay over through Saturday.
He and his mother were escorted around by Assistant Director of Player Personnel John Herron.
Donaldson had early (foot in the door) offers from Florida State and Miami before pledging to Tulane. Size and skill-set wise he sort of reminds me of former commit Jaheim Bell out of Valdosta (Ga.) from the 2020 recruiting cycle.
I don't know if there is room at receiver or tight end for him in this class, but if a spot opens up, we'll see if UF starts recruiting him harder.
* In what wasn't an overly attended FNL camp, at least talent-wise, as far as offensive linemen are concerned, there was one prospect who caught my attention.
When I asked him his name and high school, he replied and told me his name and said Eastside. Somewhat stunned because being local, I had never heard of him – so I asked, here in town, and he replied, no in Georgia.
It turned out to be Covington (Ga.) Eastside 2022 lineman Jalen Farmer, who ended up being offered by Florida after the camp.
“I got invited to Friday Night Lights on campus and I performed really well,” said Farmer. “Coach Hevesy really liked me and I got my official offer today (Sunday).”
For now, he has offers from East Carolina, Florida, and Georgia Tech, but he believes more are on the way.
“My recruitment has just started to take off,” said Farmer. “A couple of other teams are on the verge of offering, but I really like UF though. I hope to return for the Alabama game this fall."
* I'm getting to be in the age range where players I watched as a fan have younger relatives who are being recruited. A couple of months ago former Florida linebacker Fee Bartley called me up to tell me to be on the lookout for his nephew during camp season.
At that point, he said that he didn't have a prospect database page on either 247 or Rivals, but was a track standout with size and a prospect to watch out for.
That prospect was Jacksonville (Fla.) Raines 2023 defensive back Kenton Kirkland, who was offered by both Florida and Georgia on Saturday.
Before receiving the offer, the 6-foot-1, 185-pounder got a chance to hang out with the Florida coaches on Saturday.
“I liked the vibe and energy the coaches gave off towards me,” said Kirkland. “The coaches said they like what they have seen from me and would definitely like me to come play for them in the future.”
* Ocala (Fla.) Vanguard Class of 2024 athlete Fred Gaskin tweeted out an offer from Florida after being on campus this weekend. To be clear, he told me that the offer came from Assistant Director of Player Personnel Kiewan Ratliff.
Those are more of a ‘get your foot in the door’ type of offers than one that comes from a position coach or Dan Mullen himself.
That means Florida obviously likes him and wants to recruit him, but a step down from an assistant or the head coach pulling the trigger.
* Miami (Fla.) Central 2023 four-star defensive lineman Rueben Bain was supposed to visit Florida over the weekend, but couldn't make it in. He did say that he planned on visiting for at least one Florida game this fall.
* It was a big weekend for Jacksonville (Fla.) Trinity Christian 2025 quarterback Colin Hurley, who received offers from both Florida and Georgia. It was made a bit more special because he said his mother flew in from her Army base just to watch him at UF's FNL.
* Tampa (Fla.) Carrollwood Day Class of 2024 running back Anthony Carrie was offered by Florida at the end of June, and returned to campus on Saturday for the cookout.
“I loved the whole experience!” said Carrie, who added that he, 2023 five-star Richard Young, and 2022 four-star Jaylon Glover teamed up to nail Greg Knox with a water balloon.
The 6-foot, 180-pounder is already stacking up offers from the likes of Georgia and LSU among others. He said he will be back on campus for a game this fall.