Every cycle, there are two or three days that are truly important in college football recruiting for each program. One is National Signing Day, the point at which the last few stragglers decide and sign with their respective teams. One is the last day a prospect can enroll early at each school in January for the spring term, effectively ending those players' recruitments.
And one, for some schools, is the day in the summer of the year when a school tries to get as many big-name prospects on campus as possible for a "camp" or a cookout that serves as the biggest recruiting event any one school puts on. For the Florida Gators, that day is the last Friday in July, and that event is Friday Night Lights.
And it's here.
I'm not going to give you the long lists of players coming to campus, or bullshit you about how all of those players could be Gators. Those lists are a) better supplied by people who get paid to cover recruiting on a full-time basis — at Rivals ($) and 247Sports ($) and Gator Country ($) — and b) more or less useless without a sense of which players have a chance at eventually committing to Florida.
And, unfortunately, I'm not going to be able to make it out to The Swamp tonight, because I've got two days to get moved out of one apartment and into another one, and I need them. (I'll have eyes out there, and a full recap tomorrow, but I just can't make it out myself, and I'm sorry about that. Life comes first.)
But I do know a little something about what might be in store for the Gators tonight.
Après George, le deluge?
The first big piece of news for Florida today was the commitment of Cincinnati offensive lineman/baby gator handler George Brown, Jr., who is close to Florida commit Jerome Baker, and to Florida commit Tyler Jordan, and to coveted prospects Tevon Coney and Adonis Thomas.
On his own, Brown isn't a home run commitment, as we mentioned earlier: He's a little underweight at 6'6" and 250 pounds, and will need time — and probably a redshirt year — to contribute to an SEC team. But if Brown's a key to landing Coney and Thomas, both top-flight linebackers who would help Florida restore depth in a position group that will be quite green in 2015, he's a great key to have on the Gators' chain.
Coney is in Gainesville now, and has been since Thursday, so it's probably safe to put him on commitment watch for the weekend. Thomas commits on August 1, along with teammate Mike Horton, and there's a chance Horton and Thomas could both be Gators, it seems.
And the list of Florida targets Brown is talking to is quite long.
"I’ve been recruiting a lot of people so far already," Brown said. "I’ve been recruiting my good friend CeCe Jefferson, Byron Cowart. I’ve also been talking to Adonis Thomas, Tevon Coney, Auden Tate, Jalen Merrick and a few other people."
Brown, then, might have just been the first domino of many that are about to fall Florida's way in the next week.
The Floridian five-star parade
The names Florida fans have read most since attention turned to the 2015 recruiting class are George Campbell, Byron Cowart, CeCe Jefferson, and Martez Ivey, and for good reason: All four players are five-star prospects per the 247Sports Composite ranking, and all four of them have been considered Florida leans for a while. Cowart attends Florida stronghold Armwood High in Seffner, Campbell is from the Tampa area that Florida tends to rule, Jefferson has been to Florida seemingly countless times, and Ivey has previously admitted to growing up a Gators fan.
Cowart, who visited Florida State with Campbell earlier on Friday, and is expected to swing by Gainesville on his way back down I-75, and Jefferson, who is on LSU's campus this weekend, seem likely to string out their recruitments to at least December, or perhaps the all-star games they will play in come January. And Ivey, who's already done with his Florida visit for the day, might well do the same. Cowart talks up Oregon as a contender for his services, Jefferson has visited Alabama more than once, and Ivey is going to have Apopka teammate and Auburn commit Chandler Cox in his ear about the Tigers all fall, but Florida's in great shape for all three players if it has a good season, and it can't have a good season on a Friday in July, so there's really not much to talk about with them.
Campbell, though, has already made one commitment — and it was at a summer recruiting event like Friday Night Lights, the 2013 edition of BBQ in the Big House. And so there's a chance Florida could press for his commitment and get it this weekend.
But I would be somewhat surprised if Campbell, who has largely avoided talking about recruiting since decommitting from Michigan in December 2013, wants to make any public pledges right now. (Of course, this weekend started with a kid using a baby gator to make his commitment to Florida, and I definitely was not expecting that, so who knows?)
The Trinity, er, trinity
There's one more big-name Floridian prospect to consider, too, even though linebacker Jeffrey Holland is hairs shy of being a five-star player.
Holland and former Florida State commitment Kendrick Norton, both of Jacksonville powerhouse Trinity Christian, have been on campus in Gainesville since Wednesday, and have been joined today by their teammate Deontai Williams — who is at Florida's premier recruiting event just one week after committing to Georgia.
Holland, who has family ties to Auburn, has been presumed to be leaning toward the Tigers of late, but spending over 48 hours on Florida's campus would seem to tell a different tale; for Norton, who decommitted from FSU last month, spending that same stretch in Gainesville might be a tipoff. And Williams popping up in town is an indication that his recruitment might not be over.
Of the three Trinity players, Holland's by some margin the best-liked by the recruiting industry, but Norton would be the most likely to commit this weekend. I wouldn't expect any of the three to publicly do so, but they bear watching.
Running backs, hot and cold
Florida's long been presumed to be the front-runner for Tampa athlete Ray-Ray McCloud III, and McCloud's announcement being scheduled for Monday, July 28, just after his trip to Friday Night Lights has long been seen as a good sign for the Gators. But Tampa-based 247Sports reporter Josh Newberg flipped his Crystal Ball pick on McCloud to UCLA early this week, and a slew of 247Sports writers have followed suit since.
Then again, ESPN's Derek Tyson mentioned on Thursday that USF would have a shot at McCloud, a claim backed up by his father ... and undermined by McCloud telling 247Sports' Thomas Goldkamp that he knows where he's going, and has just four finalists: Clemson, Florida, Maryland, and UCLA.
That sounds to me like there's misinformation coming from someone in or close to McCloud's camp. Pressed for a pick on McCloud, I'd still lean to Florida.
And then there's Miami commitment Dexter Williams, currently a 'Cane in a house full of Florida fans who does things like tweet about Miami while heading to Florida. Williams has been linked to Florida since even before his West Orange teammate, Florida commit Jalen Julius, committed to the Gators while riding in a car with Williams, and he'll be linked to Florida until he signs with any other team, whether or not Miami has four running backs committed in the class of 2015.
I don't know that Williams will end up a Gator, and I don't want him to end up a Gator if he's made to do so by a family that coerces him; that's not how a recruit should make a decision. But it seems clear that Florida, and Julius, and his family, will stay in his ear about the Gators, and that may prove persuasive.
Line 'em up
Brown committing gives Florida two offensive linemen — Tyler Jordan is the other — in its 2015 class. A spot will probably remain open for Ivey for as long as is necessary, too. But though Florida has just three seniors set to depart from its offensive line, there's still room for a few good linemen in the Gators' 2015 class.
A few possibilities will be in Gainesville this weekend. Virginia mauler Matthew Burrell is already in town, New Smyrna Beach giant Jalen Merrick is on the way (and being recruited), and Georgia big man Brandon Sandifer is headed down to Gainesville, though he's scrapped a potential Saturday commitment. Merrick's the most likely of the three to end up a Gator, based on proximity alone, but getting Burrell and Sandifer on campus is a big deal for Florida's chances with both players, as most players who have talked to Florida offensive line coach Mike Summers have come away raving.
And then there's the most tantalizing non-Ivey prospect of all: Maryland lineman Isaiah Prince, who has tremendous upside thanks to his massive 6'7" frame, is in town, per 247Sports's Luke Stampini ($). It was only five months ago that Florida got burned on another massive offensive lineman named Prince from Maryland — Damian Prince visited Gainesville the week before National Signing Day, but opted to stay home at Maryland — but Summers, who wowed Damian Prince, will have longer to forge a relationship with Isaiah.
An uncertain future
Finally, there's an awkward truth to acknowledge about this edition of Friday Night Lights: While many 2015 prospects will be in Gainesville, most will not work out, instead getting plenty of attention from coaches trying to sell them (and their families) on the Gators. There will be scouting and coaching done, but it will mostly be of prospects in the 2016 class and beyond.
This is dicey, because it's not exactly a sure thing that Florida's coaching staff will be around to sign a 2016 recruiting class, but it's also because 2015 may be the last class to have grown up with the Gators running the state.
Florida's in great shape for many members of the 2015 class partly because of past successes: When Florida won its third national title in the 2008 season, members of the 2015 cohort like CeCe Jefferson and Martez Ivey were still in elementary school, and the Gators were the unquestioned dominant team in the Sunshine State. Since, though, Florida State has mostly risen, Florida has mostly fallen, and Miami has emerged from Randy Shannon's tenure and NCAA clouds; the playing field is close to even.
2016 recruits will hear the same "Muschamp/T-Rob/Durkin/(insert coach) won't be around next year" song and dance that 2015 recruits are getting now, and they'll hear it for longer, but Florida's coaches can do something about that this fall by winning enough games to have Muschamp and his staff retained. What Florida can't control in the same way is how good Florida State or Miami will be, except by beating the 'Noles — and though there's obviously recent precedent for Florida stomping FSU in Tallahassee, Miami can sell its 2013 win over Florida for some time to come.
If you're predisposed to worry about recruiting tonight and this weekend, worry about the class of 2015, because that's the group that Florida's coaches can convincingly sell.
It won't be all that worthwhile to worry about anything beyond that until we know the fate of this coaching staff.