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Thursday Buffet: Recruiting dominoes favor Florida, All-SEC teams, Heavener Training Center

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Things seem to be breaking Florida’s way on the trail in a few cases. Also, thoughts on the Gators’ All-SEC honorees, and what will be their gleaming football palace.

Florida Gators

You know what these Buffet posts are about by now.

Recruiting dominoes falling in Florida’s favor?

Early Signing Day is just six days away, and the Florida Gators expect to sign the majority of a large 2020 class on Wednesday, December 18.

A span of several hours on Wednesday, December 11 suggested plenty about Florida’s possible trajectory on the trail — even if it didn’t immediately produce any public commitments to the Gators.

That span began with a bit of a shocker: Suwannee tackle Joshua Braun, long locked into a Georgia commitment, backed off that pledge days after former Georgia offensive line coach Sam Pittman was hired as Arkansas head coach.

And that move seems to have the recruiting industry believing Braun will end up with Florida, one of the programs that chased him hardest prior to his commitment to the Bulldogs. Since Braun’s decommitment, a flood of picks for Florida have come in on 247Sports’s Crystal Ball predictions feature, likely a reflection of both the Gators’ proximity to home for the Live Oak resident and offensive line coach John Hevesy’s relationship with Braun and his family.

If Florida can close on the four-star tackle, who is expected to sign on Wednesday — and possibly commit before then — it will add another gem to an offensive line class that seem likely to continue building a deep and talented group of linemen for Hevesy to develop to replace a shallower group of mostly upperclassman players left behind by Jim McElwain and his staff.

But Braun was just one of three Florida targets to announce decommitments on Wednesday. Four-star safety Avantae Williams and four-star running back Henry Parrish also decoupled themselves from promises, with Williams parting ways with Oregon and Parrish doing the same with Pittsburgh.

Williams had been considering signing early with Oregon, but has also long been pursued by both Florida and Georgia as a potential flip; Parrish, who just won the first Nat Moore Trophy as South Florida’s best player, had been committed to Pitt since June.

There’s still ground for Florida to cover with both prospects, especially now that both seem likely to sign in February, but the Gators are likely willing to take both: Williams is a top-100 prospect who could help restock Florida’s cupboard at safety, and Parrish would be filling a position of need, seeing as the Gators’ efforts to reel in a running back thus far this cycle have left them empty-handed.

Florida’s 22-commit class is currently eighth nationally, but adding the trio of Braun, Williams, and Parrish alone would push its “score” for the 2020 class to one that would currently rank fifth in the 247Sports Composite rankings. And while that would still be a far cry from the quartet of teams well out in front this cycle — Alabama, Clemson, LSU, and Ohio State have scores above 290; no other team currently tops 270 — it would represent Florida’s best recruiting class since the Will Muschamp era, and one with enough blue-chip talent to continue the Gators’ positive trajectory on the field.

Several Gators earn All-SEC honors, Greenard misses DPOY

Two All-SEC teams dropped this week, with one coming from the Associated Press and another from the SEC’s coaches — and both featured a few Gators.

Emphasis, maybe, on few.

The AP All-SEC team and coaches’ All-SEC team mostly agreed when it came to the Gators, with Kyle Pitts as both selections’ first-team tight end and Jonathan Greenard on the first-team defensive line. But the coaches put corner CJ Henderson on the first team and David Reese on the second, while the writers agreed on Reese and snubbed Henderson completely.

I have no real problems with those picks, though I don’t think I could’ve gotten Henderson to a first team at corner with three SEC teams not named Florida in the top 10 nationally in pass defense and Derek Stingley Jr. meriting his considerable hype in every game in which he didn’t have to see Van Jefferson. I also think that Florida putting together a 10-2 season while having just three or four All-SEC players over the course of the season — especially given that, according to the coaches, LSU and Alabama had six All-SEC first-teamers — suggests that either Florida’s players or its season are being undervalued. (In addition to the full All-SEC teams, the SEC also releases an All-Freshman team; this year’s version included Florida corner Kaiir Elam, so the Gators arguably had five honorees total.)

But if I do still have a bone to pick, it’s with Auburn’s Derrick Brown getting SEC Defensive Player of the Year over Greenard, an honor he swept across both electorates.

Brown and Marlon Davidson were unquestionably the best tandem of defenders in the SEC, but Greenard bested their individual stat totals in fewer games. And while I get that Brown is considered a more talented player and that stats don’t capture all of his havoc as an interior lineman, I also don’t think that the disparity between Brown’s (very good!) stats and impact is vast, and think that Brown getting credit for freeing up Davidson largely didn’t work the same way when considering Davidson’s impact on Brown — while, all along, Greenard was more or less a one-man show, thanks to Jabari Zuniga’s injury-plagued and underwhelming campaign.

Greenard, however, probably improved his NFL Draft stock far more than Brown or Davidson did this year — though the latter may have gone from first-rounders to early-to-mid-first-rounders — and provided a blueprint for coming into Florida’s program with experience and leaving it as a leader with a successful season. And for what that example can show players on the recruiting trail, I’ll take it.

Florida reveals name of Heavener Training Center

Florida’s $85 million football facility has been in the news a fair bit over the last two weeks, with the Gators debuting a rendering video of it on video boards in The Swamp prior to their win over Florida State and, earlier this week, revealing its name — and likely primary donor.

That name won’t come as a surprise to many, as it’s going to be the James W. “Bill” Heavener Football Training Center, adding to the list of the many things the multi-field magnate has slapped his name on at the University of Florida over the last 15 years. Heavener previously donated enough to get his name on the Heavener Football Complex that mostly serves as a glorified lobby for the Gators and, through a $35 million donation, got Florida’s undergraduate business school (and its new classroom building) renamed in his honor.

Now, Florida’s palatial new facility will be the latest edifice to bear the Heavener name.

Exactly what Heavener forked over to earn this honor is unclear and will remain so, per Florida’s release, but that release does refer to it as a “lead gift,” which likely means it will be the largest donation toward that projected $85 million cost, and so it’s probably fair to assume it’s another donation comfortably into eight figures.

What that buys, as shown in the video above and a recently published (and deleted) post of renderings from HOK, the giant architecture-engineering firm handling the project, is what looks like an beautiful building in the middle of paradise that should put Florida near the head of the pack in college football’s facilities arms race at the time of its December 2021 opening. And if that finally hushes the decades of grousing about Florida’s perceived deficit in facilities and amenities, it will certainly be money well spent.