The best recruiters in college football never take a day off, and build relationships that endure because of it. Florida's latest commitment is going to test its abilities to do both as a program: The Gators picked up the pledge of 2016 athlete Tyler Byrd on Thursday, according to multiple reports, almost a thousand days — actually 957 — before National Signing Day in 2016.
Byrd is a rising sophomore at Naples High, where he tallied 451 yards and eight touchdowns last fall as a freshman wide receiver. But his athleticism goes beyond starring for the varsity in ninth grade: Byrd's already one of the nation's best long jumpers, and turned in a jump of 23 feet and 6.75 inches at a regional meet earlier this year. Byrd finished fourth at the FHSAA 3A track finals, behind Gainesville High product and rising Vanderbilt freshman Rapheal Webb, but was the only freshman to make the second flight of the competition, much less the finals, and his region-winning mark would have won the state title, had it been replicated.
He wants to be the No. 1 jumper in America, and it's not unrealistic to project that he might be.
It's not like the only thing Byrd can do is jump, either. His personal record in the 100 meters is a great-for-a-freshman 11.19 seconds, and his Hudl video begins with him dragging a defender 30 yards while the defender tries to strip the ball on a long pass. Though Byrd appears to score on the play in the video, media reports of that play indicate he stepped out — but the really intriguing thing about it is that the player Byrd drags is from Immokalee High — and Immokalee had elite corner Mackensie Alexander and Florida commit J.C. Jackson last year.
Neither of them were the player Byrd, who is listed anywhere from 5'11" and 160 pounds to 6'0" and 190 pounds in various media reports from the last year (and at 6'1" as an eighth grader here), beasted — that would be Jacky Marcellus, now a West Virginia rising freshman and 247Sports' No. 109 prospect in Florida in 2012 — but if you watch this Naples News video, you can see Byrd and Alexander go at it on one play, with the freshman clapping it up in the five-star senior's face at the end. Clearly, Byrd was ready for the challenge that a highly-esteemed, talented Immokalee team presented (so was Naples, given the 55-29 beatdown it administered) and that speaks volumes about his mentality on the field.
And Byrd's getting better. Check out these highlights from his spring game, via Big County Preps, which include a fake punt:
Accepting a commitment from Byrd also speaks to Florida's approach. D.J. Durkin is apparently the man on Byrd, and Byrd's likely to end up on defense at Florida, if he ends up at Florida; both of those facts taken together suggest to me that Durkin may, in fact, stay in Gainesville for a while, and that Florida has no problem taking elite athletes and trying to coach them into being defenders instead of letting them do more natural things on offense.
But accepting a commitment from any player in the 2016 class shows an enormous amount of faith by Florida in the staff's ability to keep that player in the fold, their projections for that player, and that player's ability to continue improving as he ages. Offering and/or taking a commitment from an exceptionally young player like Dylan Moses or David Sills, a player clearly good enough prior to high school football to justify continued watching, is jumping into a shark tank and hoping for survival until the end of a battle; offering and/or taking a commitment from a player like Byrd, who is more under the radar, is going all-in pre-flop and hoping you win the hand.
Florida seems to have a good chance of doing so, and might not have to bluff, given that Byrd told ESPN's Derek Tyson ($) "Florida is the school I grew up liking, and that's where I want to go." But it's important to note that the play, regardless of the result, is gutsy.
When the result is the commitment of a player like Byrd, who can do things like this...
...it's probably worth the risk.