For the Florida Gators, the last 12 hours in the wild world of recruiting have turned Lemons into, er, another running back?
First, late Tuesday, Florida running back commit Adarius Lemons became former Florida running back commit Adarius Lemons — again — by announcing his departure from Florida’s recruiting class on Twitter.
October 26, 2016
“The choice I made” could refer to his decision to decommit. It could refer to his openly-lamented 15 on the ACT, which would require close to a 2.7 GPA to qualify him for a Division I scholarship — something that may make Lemons a “grades risk” or whatever euphemism we’re currently using for “talented football player whose disinterest in or lack of aptitude for classroom learning may impair his ability to pursue football as a career because of stapled-on academic requirements.”
It could also refer to the “little trouble” Lemons got in that explained his first decommitment, or to whatever got Lemons reportedly suspended from Clearwater High School, prompting him to announce on Twitter that his high school football career was over last week.
My 2016-2017 season for high school is done had to leave Clearwater high for a semester.#PromiseImaGetItRight— adarius zabri lemons (@adariuslemons) October 21, 2016
Basically, this would seem to be the case: Lemons has handled the last four or so months of his life — the four since becoming a Florida commit — and/or his academics poorly, jeopardizing his future, and he — possibly with some prodding by Florida, given that Lemons is writing “hopefully they still want me” about a hypothetical future in which he has his affairs in order — is now backing off his commitment for a second time, ostensibly to handle his life better.
Whether that’s truly the case is something I don’t know, but Zach Abolverdi, who is pretty well plugged into Lemons’s recruitment, tweeting this message...
Really hope @AdariusLemons can turn things around & succeed not only in football/school but life! He's still the best back in FLA #handsdown— Zach Abolverdi (@ZachAbolverdi) October 26, 2016
...suggests that there’s at least some merit to thinking that Lemons has a fair few things to handle in his life. Obviously, we wish him the best, too.
Florida, though, may have already handled the problem of replacing Lemons, thanks to Malik Davis’s Wednesday morning commitment.
Just the beginning pic.twitter.com/bSPNQ7njZq— Malik Davis 2️⃣0️⃣ (@Campaign_Lik) October 26, 2016
Davis is a three-star player from Tampa Jesuit, rated the nation’s No. 902 player by the 247Sports Composite. (Lemons, by contrast, is a four-star player ranked No. 270 nationally.) His commitment to the Gators comes as little surprise: 247Sports reporter Ryan Bartow signaled that it would happen on Monday, and the growing consensus since Lemons first decommitted from Florida was that the Gators would find a backup plan for him in case of emergency.
Davis was offered last Friday, the same day that Lemons transferring from Clearwater High became public knowledge. His commitment ceremony was scheduled on Tuesday. If you can’t read the tea leaves here, you might want to get your eyes checked.
So Davis might be Florida’s backup plan, and while he’s been productive and well-liked as a Tampa high school back, his highlights are not the thrill that Lemons’s reels can be.
Davis has nimble feet and good quickness, and picks through holes well, but he seems more like a player who is fast enough than one that is plain fast, and he doesn’t seem likely to have the blend of power and speed that Lemons might have after time spent in a collegiate strength program, thanks to a slightly smaller build.
Davis looks like a fine player, in other words, but he’s not the “prize” or “catch” that Lemons would have been, and suffers for the unavoidable, unfair comparison. This probably shouldn’t matter to Davis, who benefits from Lemons’s failure to stick in Florida’s class by getting that spot, but it’s still unfair.
It’s also true that this might well not matter for Florida going forward.
The Gators would appear to have their starting running back for 2017 on the roster, whether it’s Jordan Scarlett, Lamical Perine, or Mark Thompson. (Jordan Cronkrite, with five carries over his last two games, no more than nine in any game this season, and 22 fewer than any member of that top three, does not look like that prospective starter, and it wouldn’t surprise me if he considered transferring this offseason.) They probably have their 2018 starter, too, as both Scarlett and Perine will theoretically be available then, and Perine will definitely be around even if Scarlett bolts to the NFL after three seasons in Gainesville.
That depth should allow the Gators to make a plausible “You can help us right away” pitch to at least one top-tier back in the 2018 class — and, hey, wouldn’t you know it, there’s a five-star back named Lorenzo Lingard in that class who hails from Orange City, and a four-star back, Brian Snead, from Florida stronghold Armwood.
And Florida’s coaching staff found and pitched Perine when he was largely unknown, and defended his commitment even after Alabama — which has now produced two of the three running backs to win the Heisman Trophy in this millennium, and is Alabama — came calling. They could be forced to go off the beaten path for runners, but their track record shows that they have done that well to date.
Maybe that’s the best reason to consider Davis a potential gem rather than a bauble hastily acquired after the crown jewel went missing: Jim McElwain, Doug Nussmeier, and Tim Skipper seem to know what they’re doing with running backs, and have earned more of the benefit of the doubt at that position, both in regards to recruiting and development, than any other.
But, well: Any recruiting developments, in the year 2016 of our lord Tim Tebow, are cause for discussion that can reach a fever pitch. And the 12-hour period in which Florida lost Adarius Lemons and had to try to make Malik Davis committing seem like lemonade seems like a moment in time we will revisit over this cycle — and, perhaps, for years to come.