Florida commit CeCe Jefferson hasn't become Florida signee CeCe Jefferson because his National Letter of Intent hasn't been received by the Gators, 247Sports's Thomas Goldkamp reports.
For recruits (and schools), the National Letter of Intent (NLI) is crucially important: It's binding once received, allows a school to start discussing a prospect — this was why Jim McElwain had to dance around discussing Jefferson (and Byron Cowart) in his Signing Day press conference — and is the last major step in the high school recruiting cycle. A recruit can commit and decommit as many times as he wants, but only one Letter of Intent will be held up as valid.
Jefferson appeared to sign his NLI to Florida on camera on Wednesday, and later told Jacksonville radio host Frank Frangie that he was planning to send in the letter on Thursday morning.
But now it appears that Jefferson's father, Leo, is obstructing that plan. Asked by 247Sports whether his son's NLI had been sent, the elder Jefferson said "No, sir"; asked if there was a reason for that, he replied "Yes, sir," and pressed for the reason, said "I can't tell you that."
As Goldkamp also reports, former Florida Gator and longtime Florida radio reporter Brady Ackerman told a radio show that the reason is essentially Leo Jefferson.
"Now he's going to be a Gator, but as of right now his letter of intent has not been received by Florida," Ackerman said. "You say, well what's the story there, Brady? There's a lot of back story to this, so I'm giving you what people I know in Baker County in Florida, Macclenny just outside of Jacksonville, are telling me, Bill. Not what the coaches are telling me, not what I think that I know from the inside the University of Florida. This is straight from the folks I know at Baker County, and I know a lot of them.
"Apparently his dad is not allowing him to sign with Florida just yet. His dad, his mom, while live together don't see eye to eye. The mom wants him to go to Florida. There's a lot of Gators in Baker County. As you know, the proximity, Bill, is very close to the University of Florida. This kid wants to be a Gator and apparently his dad is not signing it. From what I understand, he's 19, but I was also told a parent still has to sign it.
"That's where the story ends for me right now. From the Florida perspective, they feel very confident that CeCe Jefferson will be a Gator and that he is a Gator, but from the legal standpoint, we kind of went through this yesterday with [Byron] Cowart down at Armwood, it's not officially official, if you will."
If there's an issue with CeCe Jefferson's commitment to Florida, it's only that one of his two parents is apparently holding up the process.
Jefferson's mother, for what it's worth, seems plenty happy with her son's commitment, openly sobbing on camera — to which CeCe playfully told her "Stop cryin'!" — after he donned his Florida hat. Goldkamp was at that commitment ceremony and got quotes from CeCe about why she cried, and the value of proximity:
"I know exactly why. I have a brother in prison. I have two sisters, they graduated high school, but I’ll be the first one of her kids to attend college, a university. So I know where that emotion comes from. It was kind of hard for me not to cry, but I stayed strong, I knew there was too many people watching. I’m just happy for my parents. I’m just happy I can let them experience this."
"That’s pretty cool. I’m right here in the yard announcing where I’m going to college and she’s crying like I’m about to go to war or something, so I can only imagine how she’d be feeling if I went nine hours, six hours down the road. That was big for me and her. My dad, he takes care of himself. Leo’s Leo."
So: CeCe Jefferson and his mother seem to have settled on Florida as his best choice, but CeCe Jefferson's father — widely reported throughout the recruiting cycle to have a Gator head tattoo — isn't quite so convinced. "He takes care of himself" and "Leo's Leo" could mean any of many things, but, well, I can't imagine many of them speak to a totally traditional relationship between father and son.
While this might just be a private family conflict made public by Jefferson's fame, it's certainly a shame that Jefferson's decision seems to be on hold because of reasons beyond his control. And while I expect that any resolution to this situation will still end with CeCe Jefferson becoming a Gator, it might get uglier before clouds clear.