Florida had an eventful hour on the recruiting trail on Saturday night — but it was without the precise event that most fans wanted.
First, the good news: The Gators landed a commitment from JUCO defensive tackle Kyree Campbell, who was on a visit to Gainesville, with Jim McElwain’s #ChompChomp tweet beating Campbell’s announcement of his commitment by more than an hour.
I'm thankful for the schools that have recruited but today I decided to be a Gator for live— Kyree Campbell (@CampbellKyree13) December 11, 2016
Campbell is a bigger get than it might seem. A 247Sports Composite three-star prospect in high school, Campbell spent time at two high schools in Virginia, eventually graduating from Woodbridge — the same school that produced 1980s Gators great Tony Lilly, and more recently produced Alabama tackle Da’Shawn Hand — and originally signed with North Carolina last February, but failed to qualify with the Tar Heels, and spent the fall at prep school. Now, he’s apparently ready to make it into college, and had been coveted by some big-name schools despite his prep stint, including Big Ten powers Michigan, Ohio State, and Penn State, if the pinned tweet on his profile is to be believed.
And Campbell’s offer sheet as a high school senior was even more impressive, including Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Florida State, and in-state schools Virginia and Virginia Tech. He was a four-star prospect in the eyes of both ESPN and Rivals, if a low four-star prospect — and his being a three-star prospect in the Composite won’t help Florida’s blue-chip ratio, in case you care about macro-scale metrics that miss plenty of micro-scale details above all else — but he is also a defensive tackle, and a big one at 6’5” and around 300 pounds.
That’s a huge man who plays a position where Florida has a huge need — and Campbell has at least been through one “collegiate” season away from home, spending the fall semester at Wyoming Seminary Prep — which is actually in the Wyoming Valley of Pennsylvania, not Wyoming itself.
Campbell appears to have significant punch at the point of impact on film, and I’d project him as a useful run-stuffer in the Joey Ivie mold, rather than a more disruptive Jonathan Bullard- or Caleb Brantley-like tackle, if he pans out. And that may not be a bad thing, as CeCe Jefferson could be a player in the latter mold for Florida in 2017, while Khairi Clark and Taven Bryan have been Ivie-style players with mixed results for the last two seasons.
Nabbing a big, potentially plug-and-play defensive tackle was really important for Florida after the defections of three DTs from the Gators’ recruiting class this fall. And while adding Penn State target Campbell after the Nittany Lions flipped former Florida commit Fred Hansard is still probably a pseudo-trade James Franklin’s staff will be okay with, it’s quite possible that Campbell will be more valuable to Florida in 2017 than Hansard would have been.
Of course, Campbell also committed just minutes after the available player potentially most valuable to the Gators in 2017 opted for another school. Only 20 minutes prior to McElwain’s tweet, Baylor transfer Jarrett Stidham announced his commitment to Auburn on Twitter.
These last 6 months have been crazy and the craziness is finally over. Time to start my next chapter at Auburn University! WAR EAGLE! pic.twitter.com/BckaHMO6D3— Jarrett Stidham (@Jarrett_Stidham) December 10, 2016
I wrote extensively in July about Stidham’s value, and it’s only gone up for the Gators since, in the wake of another fall of underwhelming-to-excruciating quarterback play. Stidham would have been an immediate upgrade to Florida’s quarterback corps, and I would have expected him to be a very good two- or three-year starter for the Gators; there’s a chance, even, that Stidham will be the SEC’s best quarterback for as long as he was at Auburn. There’s no understating how good he was in limited action in 2017.
But he was deciding between Auburn and Texas A&M for much of his recruitment, with Florida only truly in the mix as of very recently. That the Gators missed on a player who was never really a Florida lean, even as McElwain and Doug Nussmeier put on the full-court press over the last week — and who will go to a program that, all things considered, makes a fair bit more sense as a fit for him — will not blunt the pain of missing out on a potentially program-changing recruit for most fans.
Florida finished Saturday in a better place than it began, in terms of its 2017 recruiting class. But it also didn’t finish in the best possible position. And Gators fans, for better and worse, are weary of their team being decent but not dominant, and wary of what McElwain’s recruiting potentially portends as his tenure rolls on.