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On Brashard Smith decommitting and Issiah Walker transferring from Florida

Recruiting in a pandemic is a new, no-blame exercise.

Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl Photo by Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images

Late last Saturday night, speedy Class of 2021 wide receiver Brashard Smith of Palmetto High decommitted from the Florida Gators, stressing “I still LOVE florida” but citing a desire to “see what’s best for me” and enjoy his recruiting process.

On Monday evening, news broke of Florida freshman offensive lineman Issiah Walker, Jr. entering the transfer portal.

And while both players were good prospects — Walker, a four-star tackle, would have qualified as a “blue chip” in the sense that human beings are numbers to be moved around a college football program’s roster as if it were a balance sheet, and Smith was a high three-star prospect with some upward mobility — I really cannot bring myself to blame either one for a decision.

Probably, there are picayune and significant reasons for both players choosing to part ways with Florida. Smith wanting to see other schools is perfectly understandable as a rational decision for any big-time recruit. Walker deciding, after a semester that didn’t allow him to get on the football field, that he’d rather be somewhere other than Florida? That’s fine, too: People can find Florida either a bad fit academically or athletically, and it’s no crisis.

Importantly, too, Walker’s departure — despite coming about a year after touted freshman Chris Steele’s departure — seems to be a personal decision unrelated to other decisions by Florida’s staff, and also one that won’t be spun as such regardless of the full truth. It’s just one isolated decision, and will be regarded as such.

So Walker leaving hurts Florida’s depth at tackle, and Smith cutting himself loose from Florida’s recruiting class means the Gators might have one fewer playmaker in 2021 and beyond, and ... like, okay?

I strongly believe that we’re going to see and hear more stories of players making choices for their personal happiness over the course of the coronavirus pandemic, whether that gets said out loud or not. If a family member — or a player — contracts the virus, that could very well instantly change priorities; even if someone falls ill with something else, the fact that hospitals are still being strict with visitors might put stresses on a family that lead to changes of heart.

And, because of that belief of mine, I can’t bring myself to get worked up one way or another about recruiting wins and losses right now. Not only are these things only proxies for taking the temperature of a program — which, in turn, only matters during the offseason if you’re prone to put stock in squabbling with other fans on social media or elsewhere — but they are far from meaningful to a person’s life in the same way that a player’s family member or high school coach getting coronavirus would be.

The other big news of the week from Florida is that the university is gearing up to be the preeminent test-and-trace apparatus in the state of Florida, with UF President W. Kent Fuchs going so far as to say that means Florida has “declared war on COVID-19 and its impact on our campus,” which frankly sounds like bluster to me — especially at a time when social distancing and other safety precautions are fundamentally non-aggressive.

But it is also true that one of the best tools we have as a species in our response to this coronavirus pandemic is the sort of test-and-trace system that has been wildly effective in South Korea, New Zealand, and elsewhere. So far in the United States, triage has largely dictated focused on treating patients who have fallen ill, rather than wading into the weeds of epidemiology. If UF can make its test-and-trace system a valuable asset to the state of Florida, it’s likely to save lives and provide a lot of reassurance to the general public.

That, more than a fleet-footed wideout wanting to see some other schools, matters to me.

Feel free to tell us the sky is falling in the comments, though.