One year after rolling into National Signing Day with 25 commits and 12 early enrollees, the Florida Gators approach the last major day of 2017’s recruiting cycle in entirely different — and arguably dire — straits.
Florida enters this Wednesday with 18 commits, five early enrollees, and only a handful of players plausibly set to become Gators on this day. Jim McElwain will need at least a few of those players to make the call to join Gator Nation for Florida’s National Signing Day to be a success, and not the last disappointment of a recruiting cycle that has left some Gators fans scratching their heads, and some others tearing their hair out.
Here's what to watch for on National Signing Day 2017.
Florida’s super six
There are six prospects considering Florida on Wednesday that likely need no other dominoes to fall to be able to choose the Gators when their hat ceremony — proverbial or literal — happens. Here’s when their announcements should happen.
- 8 a.m.:: Tedarrell (T.J.) Slaton, South Florida offensive/defensive tackle, considering Florida and Georgia; Levi Jones, Texas linebacker, considering Florida, Florida State, and USC
- 11:35 a.m.: K’lavon Chaisson, Texas defensive end, considering Florida, LSU, and Texas
- 12 p.m.: Christopher (C.J.) Henderson, South Florida cornerback, considering Florida and Miami; Brian Edwards, South Florida defensive back, considering Florida and Miami
- 12:40 p.m.: LaBryan Ray, Alabama defensive end, considering Alabama, Florida, and Tennessee
All of those players except Edwards are 247Sports Composite four- or five-stars, with Chaisson and Ray each enjoying five-star status. Only Slaton, though, is a likely Florida commit, as the five other prospects in this sextet are all predicted to head elsewhere by the body of predictors in their respective 247Sports Crystal Balls.
The backup plans
Florida does still remain in the mix for a handful of other prospects, though, and should be expected to land at least a few signees not publicly committed to the program on this Wednesday, between players on that above list and not.
Slaton — who will commit on ESPNU at 8 a.m. — seems very likely to be one of those Signing Day commits, and he could be joined by California defensive back Elijah Blades and Clearwater running back Adarius Lemons, whose stories — and decommitments from Florida — are well known; Georgia athlete and defensive back Eric Stokes and Miami linebacker Lacedrick Brunson, whose stories are not; and Malik Young, a JUCO defensive tackle who would provide instant depth at the defensive tackle position that Florida has been working to restock in this cycle.
Blades could jump in Florida’s class without hesitation, reoccupying his old slot, but is not expected to do so — his commitment is happening at 4 p.m. Eastern, after Jim McElwain’s scheduled media availability at 3:30 p.m. Eastern, a strong indication of Florida’s feeling on Blades. Brunson, Lemons, Stokes, Young, and any number of other sleeper recruits on the Gators’ big board might still be waiting on the decisions of other players that would free up scholarship slots for them. But with Florida seemingly on the outside looking in for much of that big six mentioned above, those slots seem likely to be open on this day.
Flipping out? Nah, not really
If there is any truly and emphatically good news for Florida, it is that it seems likely that no players currently in the Gators’ recruiting class will be exiting on Signing Day.
Despite some committed players taking official visits elsewhere during these last few weeks of the cycle in January, there’s little but whispers to make anyone think that the lion’s share of the Gators’ 13 commits not already enrolled and tied to Florida will not sign with the school today.
The drama with those 13 players is likely to be limited to the order of their confirmation as signees by Florida, which will be populating its @GatorsFB Twitter account and Jim McElwain’s @CoachMcElwain account with graphics all day.
The one exception? Florida tight end commit Zech Byrd, of whom Rivals site Inside the Gators reports “We are unsure if committed tight end Zech Byrd will be permitted to sign or if he even has a Florida Letter of Intent.”
We will be updating this live open thread with details as National Signing Day unfolds, and linking to our postings from here, but discussion is probably best kept to the comments here.
7:18 a.m.: Here is an unnecessarily dramatic video of a fax machine.
7:34 a.m.: Florida’s first confirmations of received and verified National Letters of Intent should be tweeted out soon.
Jake Allen says he just faxed in his LOI. Daquon Green says he's doing it now. #Gators.— Andrew Spivey (@AndrewSpiveyGC) February 1, 2017
Commit Malik Davis is also expected to be an early fax, but the order of NLIs received and the order in which they are confirmed can vary — and the order of transmission doesn’t really matter, so we’re waiting on Florida to publicly confirm them.
Meanwhile, Steve Addazio is meme-aware.
Can’t decide whether the better part is the office assistant receiving a phone call to tell her a fax is in when the fax is sitting in the printer tray or Addazio wearing sunglasses inside.
7:49 a.m.: Marco Wilson, who will probably eventually lose the “brother of Quincy” identifier, wins the race to be announced first:
Interesting that Florida’s putting measurements — to include, in Wilson’s case, arm and hand size — in its graphic.
7:55 a.m.: Looks like @GatorsFB has highlights, @CoachMcElwain has announcements.
It should also be noted that @GatorsFB is also tweeting out highlights from early enrollees.
8:13 a.m.: Eric Stokes won’t be a Gator. Scout reports that he’s headed to Georgia:
It’s not a huge surprise that he’s headed to a school other than Florida, but it is a bit of a surprise that that school is Georgia, as Stokes was presumed to be an Ole Miss lean.
But National Signing Day is rarely predictable.
8:30 a.m.: You’re doing too much, @GatorsFax.
8:30 a.m.: Daquon Green’s signing is announced.
8:35 a.m.: Lineman Tedarrell “T.J.” Slaton commits to the Gators, giving Florida another player at a position of need.
8:42 a.m.: This is ... brave.
I'm a real, working fax machine. Really. Here's my number, if you want to send me a fax. (Be nice.) (352) 363-2526— GatorsFax (@GatorsFax) February 1, 2017
Someone will send something entirely inappropriate to that number.
9:10 a.m.: Texas linebacker Levi Jones just executed one of the best head-fakes of this National Signing Day so far live on ESPNU, taking off a jacket to reveal a Florida shirt, removing that shirt to reveal a Florida State shirt, and then taking off that shirt to reveal a USC shirt, which he confirmed was his final choice with a “Fight on.”
We have a National Signing Day shirt trick courtesy of OLB Levi Jones pic.twitter.com/psv0exhRTJ— Barrett Sallee (@BarrettSallee) February 1, 2017
The crumpled Gators hat, though, was a clue that Jones was not Florida-bound.
9:30 a.m.: Is Florida the pick for Chris (C.J.) Henderson after all? It seems very much like that’s going to be the case heading into his noon announcement.
Henderson had been a Florida lean for months before Miami found the inside lane for him last weekend, surprising many. But Florida did not let up in his recruitment, and now has the last five predictions for Henderson in the 247Sports Crystal Ball — including ones from Florida-based writers for 247Sports sites covering Florida, Florida State and Miami. Even ESPNU’s slower, less responsive broadcast has mentioned that Florida “is not out of it” for Henderson Wednesday morning.
Landing Henderson after a week of worries about Florida’s defensive back crop — thanks to Elijah Blades decommiting and Henderson himself trending away — would be a coup for the Gators.
9:57 a.m.: How is Miami’s National Signing Day going, as C.J. Henderson and Brian Edwards trend toward Florida? Uhhh:
A miami fan started that hashtag. so0o0o0o0o0o....... https://t.co/Oczy4YUPrM— StateOfTheU.com (@TheStateOfTheU) February 1, 2017
Fine. Then blame me if we don't get Henderson and Edwards. It's my fault. I'll take it. https://t.co/jOzsf2DeLI— StateOfTheU.com (@TheStateOfTheU) February 1, 2017
Note yet but all signs and reports are pointing that way for both https://t.co/EFm5Ns9UTN— StateOfTheU.com (@TheStateOfTheU) February 1, 2017
Recruiting is not for the faint of heart.
10:14 a.m.: Linebacker Lacedrick Brunson commits to the Gators, as Florida completes its linebacker class with a little-known prospect.
10:42 a.m.: The @GatorsFax takeover continues...
10:46 a.m.: Florida tight end commit Zech Byrd will reportedly not sign with the Gators today. The report indicates that Byrd will not sign anywhere today and that he hopes to still eventually sign with Florida.
11:16 a.m.: Will Adarius Lemons end up with Florida after all?
Clearwater coach Don Mesick said Adarius Lemons will most likely sign with Florida later today. #TBSD17— Bob Putnam (@BobbyHomeTeam) February 1, 2017
Lemons left and then returned to Clearwater High after a tumultous fall that also saw him decommit from Florida after, er, trying to decommit from Florida. He could leave and then return to Florida’s 2017 recruiting class, too.
Conliffe’s signing being announced means that the only signing by a current commit we are waiting for Florida to announce on National Signing Day is that of Nick Smith, who signed his Letter of Intent to Florida earlier today. Commit Zech Byrd is not signing with the Gators today, likely because of academic issues.
12:15 a.m.: Scads of projections of cornerback Chris (C.J.) Henderson deserting the Florida program that he had grown very fond of for Miami were made last week, and were part of why a lot of Florida fans were strenuously worrying about the Gators’ 2017 class of late.
Yet it’s now National Signing Day, and Henderson was announced as a Florida signee just minutes after committing to the Gators on Periscope.
The clear takeaway? Florida and Jim McElwain had Henderon’s National Letter of Intent in hand well before his announcement, and closed beautifully on one of their primary targets at defensive back while also preventing Miami from landing a big-time player.
Again, recruiting is not for the faint of heart. But it’s fun, sometimes.
12:33 p.m.: With Florida’s announcement of the signing of Nick Smith, it’s official: The Gators have all of their pre-National Signing Day commits (save Zech Byrd) either signed or enrolled.
That means the only things remaining to watch for are commitments and signings from uncommitted prospects — like, say, South Florida defensive back Brian Edwards and Central Florida running back Adarius Lemons...
1:17 p.m.: I didn’t include Alabama defensive end LaBryan Ray in that last update, partly because I knew it was overwhelmingly likely that he would stay an Alabama defensive end — in a different respect — by committing to the Crimson Tide.
Florida is still waiting on Edwards and Lemons, it seems, but is not in it for any other players who have national profiles at this point.
1:45 p.m.: South Florida DB Brian Edwards commits to Florida. DBU continues to reload as the Gators pick up their fifth cornerback commitment. Florida also announced his signing and tweeted his highlights.
2:30 p.m.: I ... just ... what:
2:35 p.m.: In much cooler tweets: Jim McElwain and Florida once again staged a faux National Signing Day ceremony for the Gators’ enrolled prospects.
Since they didn't get an official signing day at home, we created one for them. Congrats to our 5 midyear enrollees! Glad you're in the fam. pic.twitter.com/4yvTqQxItA— Jim McElwain (@CoachMcElwain) February 1, 2017
2:41 p.m.: If you want to watch Jim McElwain say words...
3:05 p.m.: Florida’s official listing of its early enrollees and signees, distributed to media at Jim McElwain’s press conference, has a few interesting details.
But while the listing of various defensive backs at CB, DB, or S is interesting, nothing is perhaps more interesting than listing Tedarrell Slaton as an offensive lineman.
Much of the coverage of Slaton’s recruitment suggested that he narrowed his choices down based on his interest in playing defensive tackle, and that Florida was keen to allow that — despite many scouting reports suggesting he has a higher ceiling on the offensive line. Is that OL an indication of Florida’s plans, or just a couple of letters on a sheet?
4:00 p.m.: In another, maybe mildly surprising, Signing Day coup, RB Adarius Lemons signed with Florida. Lemons, who was once committed to the Gators before decommitting during some senior year turbulence, had always appeared to want to end up at Florida and the Gators had always seemed to want to take him if they could.
4:15 p.m.: Jim McElwain gave a hilarious and triumphant press conference about Florida’s fantastic finish on National Signing Day. If you missed it - check it out. Trust us, you don’t want to miss this one.