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Recruiting Roundup: Florida official visit weekend highlighted by defensive backs

Florida is looking to bulk up at a position of need, indeed.

Florida v Tennessee Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Since the introduction of the College Football Playoff, the college football recruiting calendar in January has been even more crammed to the gills than it already was. The Florida Gators’ first official visit weekend was representative of that: Several big-name targets and a pair of Florida commits came to Gainesville to kick off the sprint to February’s National Signing Day.

The visitor list

Twitter user Alfredo Rodriguez helpfully (“helpfully,” maybe?) put together cool, sun-kissed graphics for all seven prospects in town for official visits.

Those players, in alphabetical order: Florida commit Elijah Blades, a California cornerback; Devon Hunter, a Virginia safety; Levi Jones, a Texas linebacker; Florida commit Ventrell Miller, a linebacker and Florida commit from Lakeland; James Robinson, a receiver from Lakeland; Maryland offensive tackle and Maryland commit Cam Spence; and Georgia athlete Eric Stokes.

Hunter, Blades among three potential DBs in town

The biggest name on Florida’s campus over the weekend may have been Hunter, who made Gainesville his final stop for an official visit prior to a January 20 commitment ceremony.

Hunter tweeted a picture of himself — one borrowed from Snapchat — with Florida’s national championship trophies and a short video of himself posing in a Gators uniform, accompanied by an emoji with dollar signs for eyes.

Hunter is likely to stay in his home state and end up at Virginia Tech, but Florida seems to be positioned as his choice if he decides to leave the Commonwealth.

Florida getting Blades back to Gainesville for an official visit is a strong sign for its chances of keeping the California corner in its 2017 recruiting class, but it will have to sweat out Blades — who sure seems unenthused about chatting with reporters — making visits for the rest of the recruiting cycle. First up is one to Nebraska, scheduled for this upcoming weekend; visits to Georgia and USC, long seen as Blades’s “hometown” school, may follow.

Stokes is an intriguing visitor, largely because he would appear to be a secondary or tertiary option at defensive back (or wide receiver, or athlete) for the Gators, who have multiple corners committed and would probably take Louisiana corner Brad Stewart before any other option left on the board. (247Sports lists Stokes as a “scout look” for Florida.) He’s likely to end up at Georgia.

Robinson visits Florida before SEC West trips

James Robinson has long been considered one of Florida’s top targets at wide receiver in the 2017 class, and the Lakeland star has been viewed as the top target remaining since December, when Donovan Peoples-Jones did the expected and committed to his home-state Michigan Wolverines over Florida and others. (Florida also pursued Alabama commit Jerry Jeudy assiduously.)

But Robinson told The Gainesville Sun’s Graham Hall in late December that he hadn’t heard as much from Florida while the Gators were pursuing Jeudy, Peoples-Jones, and “one other (receiver) I can’t remember,” and Florida has seemingly had to make up some ground with Robinson — or at least put its focus back on him — in recent weeks.

Robinson has called Florida his “dream school” and named the Gators his leader more than once in the last 12 months, and Florida’s competition for him would seem more likely to be Oklahoma, which he previously visited, than Alabama and Ole Miss, which he is set to visit over the next two weekends. But Robinson is also seemingly certain to have some sort of National Signing Day ceremony, forcing Florida and its fans to sweat out his decision-making until then.

Jones, Miller show range of Florida’s LB targets

Ventrell Miller is a Randy Shannon recruit, through and through. He was under the radar when he committed to Florida, despite very impressive highlights, and fits the profile of the instinctive, powerful linebacker that Shannon likes to mold so well that comparisons to a fellow Lakeland product — Ray Lewis — may not be quite as far-fetched as they seem on the surface.

Levi Jones is far less typical for Shannon. Jones hails from Texas, and his ties to Shannon aren’t based on his growing up in Shannon’s South Florida stomping grounds, but on his father’s playing days with the Miami Dolphins, where Shannon served as his position coach in the late 1990s.

Jones also named Florida his leader after his weekend in Gainesville, but it might be a short-lived lead: Jones named Florida State a leader in late December, and still has more visits to take this month.

If Florida can add Jones to a linebacker class that includes Miller and South Florida prospect James Houston — reputedly waiting in Gainesville to enroll for the spring term — it will have depth behind the young linebacking corps that impressed when pressed into service by injuries that kept Alex Anzalone and Jarrad Davis from taking snaps at the end of Florida’s season.

Other notes

Maybe the most interesting prospect on Florida’s visitor list, though, was Spence, a Maryland commit who had the honor of having his out-of-the-blue visit interpreted as a sign that Florida was hiring Mike Locksley — who knows Maryland as well as any recruiter in the country — prior to Locksley opting to remain at Alabama.

Spence was also on his official visit at the same time that Florida offensive line coach Mike Summers’s departure for Louisville was announced, which would seem to make it unlikely that he will end up in orange and blue — unless he does so as a defensive lineman, which might be where Florida is looking for him to contribute.

The departure of Summers has also definitively swung at least one recruitment away from Florida. Shortly after the Summers news broke on Saturday, Georgia offensive tackle Caleb Chandler tweeted that he would no longer take a scheduled official visit to Gainesville later this month — and by Sunday, Chandler had committed to Louisville.

The obvious takeaway — that Chandler was a recruit tied closely to Summers — would seem to be a correct one, but it’s also seemingly true that Florida’s recruiting will not otherwise be materially hurt by Summers heading north. Kadeem Telfort remains enrolled at Florida, Gators commit T.J. Moore told 247Sports that he’s still committed to Florida — and that Jim McElwain told him an offensive line coach would be hired within the next couple of weeks — and big-time Florida target (and Michigan commit) Kai-Leon Herbert, despite saying he was “shocked” by Summers leaving, is still planning on an official visit to Gainesville.

Florida can survive taking a smaller recruiting class on the offensive line in 2017 thanks to loading up in McElwain’s first two classes, but it would still certainly like to add Herbert to Telfort and Moore, and is also pursuing Georgia tackle Tony Gray.