The Florida Gators were thought to be reeling on the recruiting trail as recently as Saturday, with three of the five members of the so-called “Palmetto Five” having made pledges to Miami and the last two thought to be strongly considering being Hurricanes-to-be.
On Monday, after 24 hours in which seemingly everything and nothing changed in college football, Florida is no longer reeling on the trail — more accurately, the Gators are reeling in, given that those final two Palmetto High standouts, five-star cornerback Jason Marshall and four-star safety Corey Collier Jr., made public commitments to the Gators on Sunday and Monday.
Marshall’s commitment was made early Sunday evening, with a tweet featuring two graphics.
Collier’s came Monday, with a (repeatedly delayed) live announcement on the CBS Sports channel coinciding with the release of a Rivals-branded YouTube video that ends with him announcing his choice of Florida — and, along the way, attributes his toughness to his father, Cornelius, a member of the 1999 Florida State team that won a national championship.
Of the two players, Marshall is probably both the slightly better prospect and more important piece for Florida going forward — but not by a lot on either count.
Marshall is a five-star in the 247Sports Composite and the No. 29 player in the class of 2021 per that same ranking, but for Florida’s purposes, it’s his ball skills, smoothness, and ideal size (at 6’2” and around 180 pounds) as a corner that set him apart in this class. Marshall has the talent to challenge for a starting spot opposite what should be then-junior Kaiir Elam next fall, and will be expected to do so.
Collier, meanwhile, joins what is suddenly a glut of safeties to be at or pledged to Florida, and his timeline for contributing seems like it could be slightly longer than Marshall’s. That’s no knock on the four-star player, ranked No. 83 in the 2021 cycle in his own right: It’s a reflection of how well Torrian Gray and Ron English have restocked the Gators’ defensive backfield, an area where inexperience and a lack of depth early on in Dan Mullen’s tenure led to some big plays and few effective measures to replace the players who allowed them.
On his highlight reel, Collier looks like the sort of savvy, ball-hawking safety who isn’t likely to allow many of those big plays: The first five clips include two interceptions while playing center field, one pick that is the result of a great break on the ball and results in six points for Palmetto, and two excellent tackles, including one that sends a fumble squirting out of a runner’s arms.
Florida was long considered the favorite for Marshall and Collier, and had also been favored at times for their top-flight Palmetto teammates — five-star defensive tackle Leonard Taylor, four-star defensive tackle Savion Collins (a Miami commit since 2018), and three-star athlete (and former Florida commit) Brashard Smith. But Smith picking Miami in late July and Taylor surprising many by following suit last week helped trigger several predictions for Marshall changing to the Hurricanes, and none of the prognostications for him in the 247Sports Crystal Ball as of Sunday had him picking the Gators. (By contrast, the three most recent of the five selections for Collier suggested he was Gainesville-bound.) And Florida and Miami battling for the quintet individually and as a “Palmetto Five” whole was undoubtedly going to be the in-state recruiting story of the 2021 cycle, no matter which program ended up with whose commitments.
If those commitments all stick — which is, frankly, possibly more dubious with a pandemic and potentially scrapped high school and college football seasons as the backdrop for this recruiting cycle than any commitments sticking have previously been in recruiting history — the narrative will say that the battle was close to a draw or a split decision, with Florida continuing to restock its vaunted secondary but missing on a potentially great defensive tackle while Miami ends up with that tackle, a linemate, and an offensive weapon, but nothing for its secondary. Florida, playing on unfriendly turf, could have scored a knockout by scooping Taylor along with Marshall and Collier; Miami could have landed its own flooring punch by limiting the Gators’ raid of a Miami-Dade County high school to just one (or none) of five big-name prospects.
What happened instead gives plenty of fodder to both schools’ fans — who can, in turn, razz the Florida State fans whose program currently holds just two commitments from four-star in-state players and just three from Floridians ranked inside the top 500 prospects in the 2021 class.
Florida’s coup of coupling Marshall and Collier also provides a bigger boost than Miami adding Smith and Taylor to its commit list; the Gators are up to No. 6 in the 247Composite team rankings, while Miami sits at No. 9, its true biggest news of the last month being the commitment of top-10 safety James Williams, thought of as a heavy Georgia lean.
Florida’s 2021 class also now consists of 25 commits — 24 high schoolers and JUCO standout Diwun Black, originally a star of Florida’s 2019 recruiting class — and will be hard to add to without some attrition.
But in recruiting as in life, hard is hardly impossible.