A whole lot has happened in the world of Florida football recruiting since just last night, and it managed to happen on the one Monday night in a long time I spent just hanging out with my family, so apologies on the lateness here.
Three-star CB Nelson commits, is Gators' latest 'Bama prospect
Sometimes, players commit to schools largely out of the blue. Sometimes, players' public commitments are strategically timed, and come after months of behind-the-scenes effort. Alabama cornerback Antonio Nelson's commitment to Florida on Monday is likely one or the other, given how quiet Florida's pursuit of him had been — and if it's the latter, it's probably a very good sign for the Gators.
Blessed to say that I've talked it over with my family & that I would like to commit to the University of Florida pic.twitter.com/YRPlw3CA70— T . Clutch Nelson (@Tony_Clutch1) November 24, 2015
Nelson, who attends Carver High School in Montgomery, appears to be a fine player in his own right on video, though he lacks a 247Sports Composite rating because he hasn't been rated by all four major recruiting services. He's tall for a corner, at 6'2", and lanky. His junior tape begins with four consecutive fine plays — all in run support.
And while Nelson doesn't have a great pedigree as a cover corner, that's fine: Florida needs depth and players to develop at the position far more than it needs instant-starter players, because it should "only" lose Vernon Hargreaves III to the NFL Draft and Brian Poole to graduate after the 2015 season. It's after 2016, when Jalen Tabor and Quincy Wilson could both head to the NFL, that Florida's CB need is dire.
But Nelson isn't an island unto himself: He's the fourth Alabama prospect to commit to the Gators in the 2016 cycle, following Lamical Perine, Jeremiah Moon, and childhood friend Jeawon Taylor. And Nelson's greatest connection is to the other guy in this picture — five-star linebacker and high school teammate Lyndell "Mack" Wilson.
Wilson has, to the surprise of many who thought he was ultimately destined for Alabama, talked up Florida for months. (The reason for the Gators' interest in him should be obvious: Florida is already dangerously thin at linebacker, and could be more so next year.) And he spent Monday night tweeting in support of Nelson — who, in turn, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that Wilson "is like a brother to me."
Wilson seems set on committing on National Signing Day, which gives Alabama and Auburn plenty of time to continue working on him. But he's also seemed very much infatuated with Florida for weeks and weeks, and the Gators' growing platoon of Alabamans may well give him more reason to join the party.
With Franks decommitting from LSU, is a Florida pledge soon to follow?
And yet Nelson's commitment may not have been the biggest recruiting news of Monday night for Florida, thanks to Feleipe Franks announcing his decommitment from LSU.
The pride of Wakulla High, Franks is a consensus four-star prospect, and not far off being a five-star one: The 247Sports Composite has 28 five-star players at the moment, and Franks is rated as the No. 45 player in the country. He's also one spot back of Florida State commit Malik Henry, the highest-rated quarterback in the country, and his 247Composite rating of .9767 is .0005 behind Henry's .9772; at that small a difference over a ratings system that factors in four industry ratings, it's basically a dead heat.
So, yeah, Franks is very, very good. And him slipping out of the state — especially after very early buzz that Florida had the inside track on him way back in 2013, but squandered it by failing to offer his brother, UCF tight end Jordan Franks — was viewed by some Gators fans as a massive error from Will Muschamp's era.
But recruiting is a marathon, not a sprint — even though legions of fainting goats on messages boards haven't learned this lesson yet, and likely never will — and Jim McElwain's staff made and stayed in contact with Franks when they came in. (Florida offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier almost certainly had a pre-existing relationship with Franks thanks to his year at Alabama.)
And the Gators positioned themselves well for the towering passer (Franks is 6'5" or 6'6", though he's also stringy, weighing near 200 pounds) all season, taking only relative unknown Kyle Trask from the summer high season of quarterback recruiting and showing they were intent on finding a bigger name to complement him.
Franks has reciprocated Florida's interest of late, by showing up at games against Vanderbilt and Florida Atlantic this month. Wakulla County isn't that far from Gainesville — though Harrison Smith, a 7-on-7 coach who knows Franks well enough to tag him in a video of Jameis Winston on Facebook, hinted very subtly on Twitter Monday night that it's also closer to Tallahassee than The Swamp — but it's still enough of a drive that showing up for two games in three weeks, both noon games, practically requires significant initiative.
So Franks doing the same thing for a third game in four weeks and turning up at Florida-FSU this weekend, as he plans to do, would seem to be tipping his hand.
21 industry experts have made predictions on Franks in his 247Sports Crystal Ball; 17 of those experts are now predicting he'll land at Florida, with 16 of those predictors making their selections since Saturday and 14 doing so since Franks decommitted on Monday.
Essentially: Either almost observer is wrong, and momentum is going to change dramatically at some point in the next five weeks (Franks is in line to be an early enrollee), or Franks is ultimately going to be a Gator.
And if Florida lands the No. 2 quarterback in this recruiting class? A staggering coup won't be flattering enough to describe the result.
Florida touts signings of Gardner, Swain
Florida signing Chauncey Gardner to a financial aid agreement — a "grant-in-aid," in NCAAese — isn't a surprise. The Cocoa cornerback has been committed to the Gators twice for long stretches, and to both Muschamp and McElwain; the presence of graduate assistant and Cocoa great James Rowe has given Florida an in-road at one of the state's most peculiar football powerhouses. (Cocoa won three consecutive state titles from 2008 to 2010 despite undersized players and relatively small rosters that necessitated significant two-way contributions.) He was set to be an early enrollee, too, and so he was eventually going to sign a grant-in-aid.
What is surprising is McElwain touting Gardner's signing — and that of Freddie Swain — on Twitter Tuesday morning.
This is new for Florida. The Gators signed early enrollees in the 2014 and 2015 recruiting classes, and were theoretically able to do the same sort of public acknowledgement of those players after the receipt of their financial aid paperwork
But they didn't. McElwain mentioned Daniel Imatorbhebhe, Kalif Jackson, and Tyler Jordan only on National Signing Day, and Muschamp didn't talk about Florida's 2014 early enrollees until they were enrolled in January.
This is also seemingly kind of minor. While it's a feel-good thing for plenty of people Florida to be able to say things about recruits it is proud to have, it doesn't feel like it provides all that much of an advantage for Florida to brag about Gardner or Swain or someone else.
What could be advantageous, though, is McElwain showing he's signed a high-profile prospect out of the blue ... like, say, an early enrollee-to-be named Feleipe Franks. Imagine McElwain tweeting a picture from Crawfordville with Franks, similar to Mark Richt's shot with Georgia signee Jacob Eason from a diner. That would send some shock waves, wouldn't it?
Recruiting is a long, arduous process, but even seemingly minor things matter when assessed in the aggregate. McElwain and staff producing high-quality graphics to celebrate signees isn't much in isolation, but taken as part of the understanding in the program that everything needs to be held to a standard of excellence, it's heartening.