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Chomping at Bits: Elijah Blades dismissed; Florida lands, loses commits

Florida’s cornerback depth is dwindling, but its recruiting isn’t monodirectional.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 09 Vanderbilt at Florida Photo by David Rosenblum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Chomping at Bits comes stocked with the best Florida Gators links and news we can find, and maybe some other stuff.

Elijah Blades dismissed from Florida program: Backup corner Elijah Blades is no longer with Florida, with Dan Mullen confirming Monday that “we dismissed him from our program” after Sunday reports that he had left the program.

After coming to Florida midway through fall camp, Blades did not play against Vanderbilt, and recorded just three tackles and a single pass breakup in the three games in which he saw the field as a Gator. His dismissal likely ends a college career that appears from the outside like the sort of itinerant journey that serves as a cautionary tale.

Blades first committed to Florida more than five years ago as a rising high school senior in June 2016 — to put how long that span has been (and felt) in perspective, neither Hillary Clinton nor Donald Trump had been officially nominated for President by their respective parties at that point. He would go on to decommit from Florida just before National Signing Day in 2017, sign with Nebraska on National Signing Day, then head to Arizona Western Community College that summer, averting the potential of going through the NCAA Clearinghouse qualifier process, being declared a partial qualifier, and spending a semester at a junior college before enrolling at Nebraska — saying, that summer, that he “always had some doubts” about his fit at the school, and crediting his recruitment largely to cornerbacks coach Donte Williams, who is now the interim head coach at USC.

After two years at Arizona Western, Blades was ranked by 247Sports as the No. 1 junior college cornerback available in the 2019 recruiting cycle and the No. 4 JUCO prospect overall, and there was some buzz about the self-described Gators fan ending up as a Gator, but he ultimately chose to continue his college career at Texas A&M.

In the 2019 season, Blades started six games for the Aggies, recording 19 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, a sack, and three pass breakups, but did not play in more than four consecutive games.

In 2020, Blades first opted out of the season while planning to return to Texas A&M, then declared his intention to enter the 2021 NFL Draft, then rejoined the Texas A&M program in December with intentions to play in College Station in 2021. He did not play a snap for A&M all season, not appearing in the Aggies’ Orange Bowl win over North Carolina.

His 2021 was more eventful than his 2020 on the field, if slightly less eventful on a Twitter account that is not currently active. In June, Blades entered his name in the NCAA transfer portal; in August, he landed at Florida, telling the Stadium and Gale podcast that he had once planned to do so with CJ Henderson and Marco Wilson, each now in the NFL; now, not even halfway into October, he is departing Florida, with one report this week claiming that he essentially removed himself from the Gators’ season opener against FAU at halftime, claiming an injury, and that “things continued to go downhill” from that point.

And so one of the top 300 or so prospects in high school football in America in the 2017 graduating class is seemingly going to end his collegiate career with fewer than a full season’s worth of games played at the FBS level and notable departures from two SEC schools — and, one imagines, the sort of reputation for baffling decision-making that makes NFL decision-makers stay far, far away from offering less than transcendent players employment in the league.

Presumably, Blades has college degrees from Arizona Western and Texas A&M, as he said he would be a graduate transfer upon announcing his intention to transfer and was referred to as a graduate transfer during his brief time on Florida’s roster. (He didn’t join Florida in time to make the Gators’ 2021 media guide, and no longer appears on the Gators’ online roster.) If that is true, then he got some tangible good — if largely in the form of certificates of his education, paid for by his labor as a football player — out of playing college football.

But I cannot fathom Blades making an NFL roster from here, and I imagine he’ll likely now live a life less rich than the one that an NFL career often affords — literally, but also figuratively. He’s from the Los Angeles suburb of Pasadena, and attended its John Muir High School, a school that was built nearly a century ago and educated no less disparate a quintet of people than Octavia Butler, Rodney King, Jackie Robinson, David Lee Roth, and Sirhan Sirhan. Back when he was a coveted recruit, it would have been easy to envision Blades one day returning to that school as a hometown hero and NFL player.

Now, he assuredly faces an uphill climb to be forever remembered as a notable Muir Mustang, and probably faces a deeply uncertain future as a human being. And considering his marginal role to Florida’s 2021 season, his departure will barely register as a blip on our collective radar as fans.

That, too, is a story of this season, and this sport.

Jamari Lyons commits, C.J. Hawkins decommits: Florida’s recruiting for the 2021 cycle got bumps of both the positive and negative varieties last week, as four-star defensive lineman Jamari Lyons committed and three-star tight end C.J. Hawkins decommitted.

Lyons — who is the first prospect from Brevard County’s Viera High School to commit to Florida to play football and made his decision during a livestream with hysterically copious product placement from a local athletic training gym that I, a Brevard County native, have never heard of — is rated a four-star prospect by the 247Sports Composite rankings despite his Viera Hawks being winless against the cross-town rival Rockledge Raiders since 2017. He is just the second defensive line recruit Florida has committed in a 2022 class that will likely need more recruits to help backfill a defensive line that will not have most of its 2021 contributors next fall — but unlike fellow commit Francois Nolton, likely to be a collegiate defensive end or edge rusher, Lyons projects as a defensive tackle, and will mostly need to add strength to a 6’4” frame.

Adding Lyons is thus probably a bigger deal for Florida’s future prospects than losing Hawkins, who announced a flip to Stanford last week. Hawkins, who is listed by 247Sports at 6’7” and 220 pounds, is seen as a player with significant potential as a tight end but a long road to hoe to get there; the most notable thing about his high school career thus far is likely that he also plays basketball for Berkeley Prep in Tampa. That sort of athletic versatility has often been coveted by football coaches, but most would probably prefer it to be paired with prowess on a football field, something that Hawkins lacks to date.

Florida appears to need add defensive linemen — and defensive tackles, specifically — to its 2022 team far more than it needs a tight end who would likely take significant time to be ready to contribute at the level needed to play at Florida, so the outside chance of Lyons being a better use of a scholarship in the 2022 class for the 2022 Gators than Hawkins is more than defensible, if an obviously reductive view. Adding in the context that Florida has a fine depth chart at tight end as is and is likely to be drafting off the success of Kyle Pitts in recruiting both high school and transfer tight ends for some time, it’s hard to get too upset about losing a prospect like Hawkins — especially considering that he’s heading to one of the country’s finest universities.

Gators’ second chance at first SEC road win: An 11 a.m. kickoff in Baton Rouge and LSU being a listing ship at present would seem to suggest that Florida will see a more hospitable environment for this game than its night game against a program that had not beaten it at home since the last year in which The Love Boat was an active television production, but if you think that means Florida can’t find a way to false start 13 times against LSU, you clearly haven’t watched a Florida-LSU game in two decades. (Chris Harry, Florida Gators)

Florida’s defense looking strong statistically: You can make stats say anything, of course — but it’s easier to let them help tell the story of what you’re seeing, and the stats tell a fairly promising tale about Florida’s defense so far. (Ethan Hughes, Gator Country)

Your semi-random Tuesday YouTube video: “Charlie Kelly: Illiteracy compilation,” a video that is somehow 13 minutes long and has very much earned its nearly six million views.