On Thursday night, the first of the "big two" high school all-star games took place in St. Petersburg, FL. For us as fans, it was a chance to see some of the recruits we’ve talked about for months or even years. For the Florida Gators' coaching staff, it may have been a welcome sigh of relief after watching the performances of three prospects in particular.
The Gators’ 2012 recruiting class is nothing to scoff at. Ranked among the nation’s best, the class is typical of what Florida brings in year after year in terms of talent, but until you see players in action, you never really know. On Thursday, impressive performances painted a slightly clearer picture on what is headed to the University of Florida.
Brian Poole was in a record-setting mood and in the second quarter his 93-yard interception return for a touchdown broke two marks set by past Gator recruits. It topped Andre Debose’s record for the longest touchdown (and would be tied by Alabama’s Amari Cooper on a fourth quarter punt return) and Will Hill’s for the longest interception return. A ball-hawking defensive back with Poole’s ability will be a more than welcome addition. He's still deep within the recruiting process, but remains committed to Florida.
In need of wide receivers, the Gators can’t wait for Latroy Pittman to get to campus. The drooling intensified when we all got to witness Pittman’s blocking ability. If a "pro-style" offense is truly coming to Gainesville, reliable receivers will be as desirable as those that can block effectively. Pittman may be both. He showed time after time he can clear the way for runners when asked.
The star may have been Florida’s best recruiter as well. Marcus Maye lined up at outside linebacker during the game and spent most of the rest of the week hyping the Gators to other recruits. On the field, Maye had seven tackles, a fumble recovery and a blocked punt. Over the years, blocked punts have become a source of pride for Florida and orange and blue clad fans everywhere. Maye’s may have bumped him up to favorite recruit status on many lists.
For Austin Hardin, the game wasn’t representative of his best work. Kicking off of a difficult surface in a stadium that can only be described as one of the worst in the country (and that would be for an entirely different sport!), Hardin began the night with two missed kicks before settling down somewhat. He had troubles finding consistency with his holder – FSU commit Jameis Winston – and just wasn’t his normal self. Don’t take too much from this as conditions will be very different when Hardin is kicking for the Gators.
Also participating were offensive lineman Jessamen Dunker and tight end Colin Thompson. Although neither made the highlight reel and offensive line play was questionable all night, both provided solid blocking despite working with their teammates for such a short period of time. Blocking schemes – even basic ones implemented into games such as this – can be tough to perform adequately when you are lined up next to someone you’ve never played with before.
All in all, it was a good performance for the future Gators. Poole and Maye were the stars and Pittman proved he’ll do the dirty work. While things could have been better for Hardin, being sick all week didn’t help matters. The future looks bright for the 2012 class based on what we’ve seen so far. With a month to go, we’ll all eagerly watch how the class shapes up.