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Florida football recruiting: Gators cap final official visit weekend with Jacob Copeland

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The Gators are trying to get a top-flight receiver back in the fold.

University of Florida Introduces Dan Mullen Photo by Rob Foldy/Getty Images

Today is a relatively quiet day on the recruiting trail, as prospects get to mull over their options and offers in advance of National Signing Day on Wednesday.

That wasn’t the case over the last several days, as the Florida Gators — and every other team in America — spent them feverishly working to finish their 2018 recruiting classes.

For the Gators, that came in the form of in-home visits with players like offensive lineman Richard Gouraige last week, and hosting a handful of official visitors, headlined by Pensacola wideout and former Florida commit Jacob Copeland over the weekend.

Those two players, Gouraige and Copeland, remain among the top three prospects on Florida’s board, along with Tampa offensive tackle Nicholas Petit-Frere. (Gouraige and Petit-Frere made their official visits to Florida a week ago.) Where Florida stands with all three is a matter of some curiosity.

The Gators could be said to lead for all three players: They hold 59 percent of the 247Sports Crystal Ball predictions for Copeland and 64 percent of those for Petit-Frere, and have kept Gouraige’s commitment without many predictions of a flip despite the firing of Jim McElwain. And while all three players have other programs in hot pursuit — for Copeland, Alabama; for Petit-Frere, Alabama, Ohio State, and Notre Dame; for Gouraige, Auburn and Clemson — the Gators have proximity on their side for the offensive linemen, and sentiment on their side for Copeland, who memorably committed while expressing his love for Florida, and Gouraige, who has not flipped or renounced his commitment despite ample time and opportunity to do so.

In Copeland’s case, the Gators also have the benefit of hosting his final official visit, one on which he hung out with Florida signee Emory Jones and says he “caught good vibes”. And in Petit-Frere’s, the Gators may stand to benefit from turnover elsewhere: Ohio State defensive coordinator Greg Schiano, whose ties to Petit-Frere’s high school in Tampa, Berkeley Prep, were said to be a factor in his interest in Ohio State, is reportedly considering leaving the Buckeyes to join the New England Patriots.

Finishing with all three of those prospects becoming commits would be a good start for a fine finish for the Gators. But developments with other players, both positive and negative, are also shaping the Florida finish.

The largest one — literally and figuratively — was the decision by Apopka offensive linemen William Barnes and Ed Montilus to not take scheduled official visits to Florida this past weekend. Barnes and Montilus had been considered heavy Florida leans while the Gators had offensive line coach Brad Davis, but Davis was ultimately not retained by Dan Mullen, and so it seems both Barnes and Montilus are headed to North Carolina, which had nipped Florida’s heels for both players for much of 2017.

Missing out on both of those players — and especially Barnes, who could be an impact freshman — is a significant blow to Florida’s offensive line recruiting, but the Gators’ pick-ups of Griffin McDowell last week and Noah Banks and Chris Bleich in December are likely to help cushion the blow. And a class consisting of Banks, Bleich, Gouraige, McDowell, and Petit-Frere — or even the first four, sans Petit-Frere — would still be a formidable offensive line crop for the Gators, especially in a transitional year.

More positively, Florida appears to have all but landed Maryland cornerback Noah Boykin, and to have won a battle with Miami for American Heritage defensive end/rush linebacker Andrew Chatfield, who visited Gainesville a week ago. Every Crystal Ball prediction for Boykin is for him to become a Gator, and Florida now holds 70 percent of the Crystal Ball predictions for Chatfield, including almost all of the most recent ones.

And while landing Chatfield would give the Gators a potentially dynamic edge rusher in a recruiting class that currently lacks one, it also might give the Gators a leg up on getting defensive tackle Nesta Silvera, Chatfield’s teammate at American Heritage in Fort Lauderdale.

Silvera has been committed to Miami for quite some time, but Florida has been in contact with him throughout his recruitment, and did manage to get him to campus for an official visit two weeks ago. I wrote then — and still believe — that Silvera is more likely to stay a Hurricane than become a Gator at the 11th hour, but I do now think that the potentially destructive interior defender is making a final decision between Florida and Miami, and that sort of uncertainty has long been seen as more promising for the team that does currently hold a player’s commitment.

Florida also brought in two other players — JUCO defensive end Dorian Gerald and Mississippi defensive end Fabian Lovett — on official visits this past weekend, and remains in the mix for Florida defensive end Malcolm Lamar, Alabama end Malik Langham, and Georgian defenders Caleb Johnson and Caleb Tannor. All six of those players seem to be juggling offers from a variety of programs that are themselves trying to figure out how many spots they will have come National Signing Day, so it’s hard to be certain whether Florida or any other school considers them takes at this precise moment, and/or which schools to consider front-runners for their commitments.

But it’s worth noting that Florida should no longer be holding spots for Barnes and Montilus, and thus would seem to have as many as nine open slots for signees beyond the 16 enrollees, signees, and commits currently in its 2018 class — and that number could actually be 10, depending on whether Florida can add an additional signee in the place of enrollee Randy Russell, whose collegiate career is over before it began because of a heart condition.

And, also, while it is likely that Florida’s additions to this 2018 class will come largely from that list of players named above, there still remains the possibility that developments over the next few days will result in a player no one had previously publicly tied to Florida ending up with the Gators. While this year’s introduction of an early signing period in December was meant to restore some sanity to the recruiting process, what it seems to have done is actually produce two separate periods of frenzied effort, and doubled the opportunity for late-breaking and bizarre decisions by programs and players alike.

So, in other words: As ever, if you would like to follow the ups and downs on the recruiting trail, you might want your seat belt safely fastened.

Below, a few Twitter postings from players who visited Florida this weekend.

Jacob Copeland

Dorian Gerald

Fabien Lovett