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Wednesday February 1, 2012National Signing Day Blog: A look at Gators in rankings, plus Durkin's take on 3 signees (updated 8:33 p.m.)

Scott Carter
By SCOTT CARTER
GatorZone.com Senior Writer

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – If there is one thing I’ve learned in nearly 20 years as a sports writer, it’s that sports fans love rankings.

Oh, and that most locker rooms smell really bad immediately after a game.

But back to the love of anything we can rank. We rank everything from the best hot dog in the majors to the worst college football uniforms.

When it comes to recruiting rankings, I take them like most other rankings -- not that seriously. But they are fun talking points.

Still, at least recruiting rankings provide some type of gauge in the aftermath of National Signing Day.

Where does the Gators’ 2012 recruiting class rank, you ask? Well, let’s take a look at the three major websites that cover recruiting all year long.

First, Scout.com has the Gators currently ranked fifth nationally. Scout.com’s top five are Texas, Alabama, Ohio State, Michigan and Florida.

Next up is Rivals.com, which has the Gators ranked third nationally. Rivals.com’s top five are Alabama, Texas, Florida, Ohio State and Stanford.

Finally, the Gators racked up nine members of the ESPNU 150. As a result, ESPN.com ranks UF’s class fourth in the country.

ESPN.com’s top five are Alabama, Florida State, Texas, Florida and Georgia.

So, if I’ve got my math correct, the Gators’ class averages the fourth-best group in the country if you combine the three major recruiting sites.

I guess that means I’ll trust ESPN.com’s rankings the most. My math says so.

Before I call it a night on the blog, I’ve got a couple more Q&As I want to share. The first is with Gators special teams/linebackers coach D.J. Durkin discussing kicker Austin Hardin.

Hardin signed with the Gators out of The Marist School in Atlanta.

Here is Q&A with Durkin:

Q: What makes him a good prospect?

A: “He has one of the strongest legs I’ve seen in a kid coming out of high school. He came here when we had our kicking camp. If you took the top 10 kickers in the country, probably eight of them were in that camp. We had a lot of great guys competing. He just stood out because of his leg strength. I think he can come in right away and help us on kickoffs. And with [Caleb] Sturgis coming back for another year, it gives him a year to get his stroke right and all that to be the place-kicker.”

Q: When recruiting a kicker, do you rely on camps and seeing them in person more?

A: “You watch film on a guy and definitely get something on a guy from that, but it’s almost like the same as recruiting a quarterback, you want to see that guy throw in person. You want to see a guy kick in person. You want to watch the ball come off his foot; listen to the ball come off his foot. It’s one of those deals where it’s not just off film.

Next up is Durkin answering a few questions about defensive back Rhaheim Ledbetter, a teammate of fellow UF signee Jonathan Bullard at Crest Senior High in Shelby, N.C., which also produced former Gators linebacker Brandon Spikes.

Q: What caught your eye with Ledbetter?

A: “Rhaheim is teammates with Jonathan Bullard and he’s a guy, when you talk about what makes him different or stands out, he will knock your head off. He is a physical player. He seeks to strike someone when he is on the football field. He plays running back and safety – he is probably going to play safety for us – but when he runs the ball, he punishes people who try to tackle him. We’re excited about him. I think he is a guy who can come in and compete and play on special teams right away. He’s a tough guy.”

Q: When did he get on the radar?

A: “It’s kind of like with Bullard. Everyone up in that area was talking about those two guys when they were young. They have been on our radar screen for a long time. We’re thrilled to have both of them.”

Q: What kind of program is Crest to produce so many Division I players?

A: “It’s a great program. They lost in the state finals this year. They have been good to the Gators up there and we’re excited about both of them.”

Last but not least, Durkin answers a few questions about defensive lineman Dante Phillips from Venice High. Phillips is a former high school teammate of current Gators Trey and Clay Burton.

Q: What makes Phillips a top prospect?

A: “He is one of the largest human beings that I know I’ve ever recruited. He is not a big overweight guy. He is just a large, large human being. He is 300 pounds and he looks like 260, 270, one of those guys. He looks like you could put more weight on him and he is already [near] 300 pounds. He moves very well. He was banged up a little bit his senior year and didn’t play a full senior year. He played well when he played, and then he went down to the Army game and dominated against the best talent in the country. He is just one of those guys who is freakishly large and runs very well. He’ll be huge for our defensive line.”

Q: What’s his greatest asset at this point?

A: “Normally you don’t find guys that size, or if you do, they’re not as fundamentally sound or play with great technique, and he does.”

Q: What’s your history with him?

A: “He has been committed to Florida since early in his junior year. He’s been a Gator. He is from Venice and he’s always wanted to play for the Gators. He knows he wanted to be a Gator and he is a Gator. For us, it’s been more about him getting to know the new staff when they came in. He came to almost every home game this year. He knows our team really well and obviously knows the Burtons.”

Note: Phillips also goes by Omari, hence Durkin’s response to final question.

Q: What’s his personality like, a big teddy bear or grizzly bear?

A: “Omari, he’s a character. He’s got a good sense of humor. He’s a funny guy. He’ll fit in well. He’s easy to get along with.”

 

(6:44 p.m. post)

The final letter-of-intent the Gators received earlier today on National Signing Day was a big one.

We mean that figuratively and literally.

Stone Mountain (Ga.) Stephenson defensive tackle JaFar Mann is 6-3, 293 pounds, one of the biggest players the Gators signed.

He also has a big head. We mean that in the most literal sense.

Gators defensive coordinator Dan Quinn helps explain how the size of a defensive lineman’s head is important. The larger the helmet size, usually the better.

Here is a quick Q&A with Quinn about Mann:

Q: What makes him a talented prospect?

A: When you are looking for an inside player, you want to see real power at the point of attack for a nose tackle. If you are a really good nose tackle, rarely do you get single-covered. When we are looking for nose tackles, we want to see, ‘Hey, can this guy take two?’ The linebackers’ job will become easier. When you are looking for a guy like that, you want a guy who has got power, who is square, and who is really strong at the point of attack, and those are the attributes that JaFar showed to us in playing nose tackle. He is a good athlete for a guy his size. He’s got toughness. We thought on tape evaluating him that he could finish. He could hold the point and stay and take a double team. He could push the pocket as a rusher. For us, at nose tackle we want a guy who’s got toughness, can finish and hold the point. A nose tackle in our defense has to be one of the toughest guys around because he’s got to be an unselfish guy and really take pride in saying, ‘Hey, I’m going to take my two guys. I’m going to take pride in doing the dirty work.’ Those are the things that we explained to him that are required in that spot and he jumped at the challenge, which fired me up too. It’s nasty in there; it gets noisy. That’s the kind of guy we need inside to mix it up.”

Q: How did he get on your radar?

A: We ended up looking at him through his junior year. I just remember watching him on tape and saying, ‘This is a guy who has got the size we’re looking for, plays with toughness, and can finish.’ And then he came down for a junior day. We got to meet him and his family and his dad. It just felt like, ‘OK, this is the kind of guy we’re looking for at nose tackle that can finish, is tough.’ When it came time for him to make a decision, we felt really good knowing that we got a big guy who is tough inside – one of the guys we’re going to add to put in the mix right away. We feel like we have a good group and now we’re adding value to it. That’s what we were looking to do.”

Q: What else can you tell us about JaFar that people might not know?

“He’s a big guy. He’s got a big head. When you are looking for a D-lineman, you are looking for a guy who has the big head. Fullbacks, nose tackles, you like them to have big heads. There is really no dominant good D-lineman with a little head. We’re excited about him and the stuff he adds.”

MORE TO COME …

 

(1:51 p.m. post)

One of the biggest surprises on National Signing Day was the Gators’ signing of Tallahassee Lincoln receiver Raphael Andrades.

Andrades had offers from other schools but always wanted to play for the Gators like his position coach at Lincoln, former Gators receiver Jacquez Green.

He finally got his wish late last night when Florida coach Will Muschamp called with an official offer. Andrades signed his letter-of-intent on Wednesday and is now one of 17 new members of Florida’s football program.

I caught up with Gators recruiting coordinator/receivers coach Aubrey Hill for a couple of questions about the 6-0, 190-pound receiver:

Q: What makes him a good prospect at this point?

A: “Ralph has very good hands and he comes from a very good football program.”

Q: He was a littler under the radar with fans, but how long were you guys on him?

A: “We knew about him all of last year and going into this year as far the recruiting class. We knew about him the whole year, but he became a prospect here when we started to look at him harder late.”

Q: When he first steps on campus, what will be his best asset?

A: “I think his best asset is his ability to catch the ball and also his body-speed combination to come in and help us.”

Q: What non-football stuff have you learned about him from recruiting?

A: “He’s a great kid. He’s a high academic kid, and he is a multi-sport kid as well. He plays baseball as well.”

 

(1:17 p.m. post)

The Gators have officially added Armwood High running back Matt Jones and Georgia defensive lineman JaFar Mann (Stephenson High/Stone Mountain, Ga.) as the 16th and 17th players signed on National Signing Day.

Jones is a key piece of the 2012 recruiting class because he brings much-needed size to the backfield.

A 6-2, 213-pound tailback that helped lead Armwood to a state title as a senior, Jones is a physical presence in the backfield that the Gators lacked in head coach Will Muschamp’s first season.

Here is what Gators running backs coach Brian White had to say about Jones, who he closely recruited:

Q: What makes Jones a top running back prospect?

A: “He obviously has size and power, but Matt has outstanding hands, too. You can flex him out and play him as a receiver. He’s got elite hands, which you usually don’t see out of big backs. He’s a 6-2, 210-, 215-pounder right now that is going to be really big. He’s an athletic big guy.”

A: When did you first realize his potential?

A: “We’ve had him on the radar since early in his junior year. We offered him really quickly, right when Coach Muschamp got here. And he committed pretty early in February.”

Q: When he first gets here, what would you say is his greatest strength?

A: “The size and power. We don’t have that real dimension in our backfield. We haven’t had it for a while. We don’t have what people would categorize as a big back and he’s a big back.”

Q: What did you learn about Jones through the recruiting process?

A: “He’s got a great soul and he’s a compassionate guy. He is a really selfless young man and he is really a good teammate. He’s not all wrapped up in himself. You can see that when you are around the school and around him. People genuinely like and admire him because he is unselfish.”

Meanwhile, the 6-foot-3, 293-pound Mann offers the kind of size along the defensive line of scrimmage that Muschamp and Co. has often talked about adding to build future teams.

I had a chance to catch up with Gators defensive line coach Bryant Young for a couple of questions about Mann. Here is what Young had to say:

Q: What makes him an intriguing prospect?

A: “Definitely size. We don’t have a lot of big bodies and he brings a lot of size. Here’s a guy who does a good job in terms of making plays and just being a presence on the defensive line with his stature. I think the sky is the limit in terms of what he can do. He is guy who in my opinion is going to be very coachable in just getting to know him through the recruiting process. He can move, he can run and he can play the game.”

Q: What got him on the radar?

A: “He’s always been there. We watched him way back and he’s always been around and committed for a long time. We’re just happy he stayed committed with guys flipping here and there. He’s been a guy who has been pretty steady.”

 

(11:41 a.m. post)

The latest surge of signees pushes the Gators’ total to 15 on National Signing Day. The most recent letter-of-intent to arrive is from outside linebacker Dante Fowler Jr. of Lakewood High in St. Petersburg.

Fowler flipped to the Gators from FSU on Wednesday and provides a talented newcomer for the defensive staff to develop. Fowler is listed at 6-3, 261 pounds.

Fowler’s signing came just minutes after Pinellas Park High linebacker Jeremi Powell and Tyrone, Ga., defensive lineman Quinteze Williams’ letters-of-intent arrived safely in the UF compliance offices.

Since you would rather hear from the coaches than me, here are some comments from Florida defensive coordinator Dan Quinn on the trio:

Quinn on the 6-foot-5, 255-poound Quinteze Williams --

Q: What makes him an intriguing prospect?

“When you are first evaluating defensive linemen, especially guys who will potentially move inside, you want to look for initial quickness, size and length. Length can come in a lot of ways. It doesn’t necessarily mean that everybody is 6-5 or 6-6. Sometimes a guy has really long arms, so that is one of the things that Quinteze has,’’ Quinn said. “He’s got really good initial quickness off the ball. He plays with good pad level, and you can see his length, where he can strike and separate – either shed to make the run, or use his length to push the pocket and rush the QB, get a guy’s hands off him. And I think the guy can really run. I think the sky’s the limit for him. I think he is going to be a really big man in a few years. So we’re excited about the things that he is going to bring to our team. He is going to immediately get in the mix with the guys and I’m excited to see how far we can take him.

Q: What are his strongest assets at this point in his career?

“One, his size and his length, and two, the guy shows he can make plays. He can get off blocks, he can finish. When you are ultimately looking at a guy, at the end of the day, do they make plays? That’s the bottom line for us on defense. Can the guy make plays? And that’s the No. 1 think I saw with him when we watched tape.”

Q: How did he get on the radar?

“We first knew about him as a junior. He had had an earlier connection in high school with [current Gators LB] Michael Taylor. They had gone to the same high school early and then he transferred. So we knew when he came down he would gravitate toward Mike and stuff like that. We saw his junior tape and we said, ‘This guy has all the kind of stuff we are looking for in an inside player.’ He really came on and had a terrific playoff season. We explained to him the position we’re going to play him at – D-end and D-tackle and how we would use him. He’s versatile enough to play in both schemes. I knew we had a good guy with us who we can develop.”

Next up, Quinn on the 6-1, 193-pound Powell:

Q: What makes him a top prospect?

“This is a top athlete. I think the term explosive is the one that jumps out to me. He’s versatile enough to play outside linebacker, do a good job as a pass rusher, he’s a good blitzer. The thing that jumps out is that this guy makes plays. When his team needed a blocked kick, he got it. When they needed a sack, they needed an interception, when they needed him to run the ball, he did. This is a football player. I think in time he is going to get bigger. Right now we see him as an inside linebacker for us and he is going to be a key part of all the stuff we do in nickel. He can cover a tight end, he can cover a back. That’s going to be something that we’re going to count on him to do right away. And for all of us, it’s important to find what roles these guys can get into fastest and they feel like they can excel. For Jeremi, this guy is going to have a huge impact right away on [special] teams right away and in our nickel, I’d say because he has top speed, quickness, that he can match up with people. He’s all over the field and plays with effort and finishes. He already plays the style that we’d like to play at, so now we’re adding another guy who wants to play that style into the group we already have.”

Q: He’s a guy who at least physically seems able to be a hard-hitting bigger safety. How do you decide on a position when it comes to players who can probably play multiple positions?

“Really, when we do it, some guys need to play closer to the line of scrimmage, and other guys can naturally gravitate toward the back end with their ball skills and seeing stuff, playing more coverage. Some big safeties gravitate toward linebacker because they play better where the action is. So with him, he’s already down there and he makes a lot of plays already, so we want to keep him close to the ball as opposed to moving him further away. And the guy is long. He’s got a body type that he is going to get big. He is still lean and in time I think he is going to be a 230-pound linebacker who is going to keep his speed and quickness.”

Q: What got him on your radar?

“We started watching tape during his junior year and that’s where we got the evaluation on him. We just kept seeing over and over again – this guy makes a lot of plays. We went through another game, and again, he’s making a lot of plays. It wasn’t just one game. It was kind of the culmination: this guy is a really good football player. Then we had him up and found out what type of guy he was and knew this was the kind of guy we wanted to have to add to the program. I’m excited to see where he can go because I think the guy is a terrific athlete and makes plays. Now we’ve got to get some size on him.”

And last but not least, a quick take from Quinn on the 6-3, 261-pound Fowler:

"He is a really unique guy who has pass-rush ability. I thought the guy had a real fire about him in terms of intensity to work and stuff like that. He can play on his feet. We've seen him at Friday Night Lights where he can go out and cover tight ends and receivers and want to do that, and then get down to 1-on-1s in the pass rush. He can cover, he can drop and he can rush. We're anxious for him to get going and be a big part of our program. For us he'll play as a rusher and an outside backer. He's got a real upside and we can't wait to train him."

 

(11 a.m. post)

The official number of signees is up to 14 for the Gators on National Signing Day. The most recent additions are linebacker Jeremi Powell of Pinellas Park High School and defensive lineman Quinteze Williams of Sandy Creek High in Tyrone, Ga.

I’ll provide you some insight into Powell and Williams shortly.

Meanwhile, one of the most talented players the Gators have signed so far on National Signing Day is cornerback Brian Poole from Bradenton Southeast.

Poole, listed at 5-10 and a thick 202 pounds, chose the Gators over several of the nation’s top programs.

I had a chance to catch up with Gators linebackers coach D.J. Durkin to discuss Poole. Here is what Durkin had to say:

Q: What makes him such a good prospect?

A: “Brian made a couple of huge plays in the Under-Armour Game. He is one of those guys who love the spotlight. He will play big in big games. The lights won’t bother him. He’ll go out in the Swamp in front of 90,000 in Game 1 and if he finds a way to start, he’ll be out there starting and it wouldn’t faze him one bit. He loves the spotlight. He is a phenomenal athlete. He played running back for his team; he played cornerback, he played safety. He is a kick returner, a punt returner. We’re going to start him out at corner here. He is a unique guy. He’s a big physical guy who can play corner. Most of the guys that big have to go play safety or something else. He has the ability, the foot speed, the hips and all that to play corner at his size. I think he can help us out in the return game, too.”

Q: How quickly did you notice his no-fear attitude?
A: “He’s got it. He’s got the personality. No stage is too big for Brian. He’ll be just fine.”

Q: When did he get on your radar?

“I recruit that area, and almost to a man every high school coach you talk to down there – ‘Who’s the best player in the area? Brian Poole’ – that’s been since his junior year. You watch film, you talk to people, but the people who know the best are the coaches that are down there. They are involved in it every day.”

 

(10:31 a.m. update)

The Gators have made it official with quarterback Skyler Mornhinweg, who is the 12th player to sign with the Gators so far this morning on National Signing Day.

If the name sounds familiar, Mornhinweg’s father is Philadelphia Eagles offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg. Skyler grew up in the Philadelphia area and played at Saint Joseph’s Prep.

His father preceded new Gators offensive coordinator Brent Pease at quarterback at Montana in the early 1980s and later coached Pease for a season.

I had a chance to catch up with Pease for a few comments on Florida’s latest signee, who joins fellow quarterbacks Jeff Driskel, Jacoby Brissett and Tyler Murphy on the roster.

Q: What makes him an intriguing prospect?

A: “What makes him intriguing is one, I’ve known about the kid and I’ve been connected to the family. He is a coach’s son and he has been around football. I’ve kind of followed him around in the past before I got here. Once we studied him on film here and kind of upon our need, just watching how he manages a game.”

Q: How has growing up around football helped his development at this stage?

A: “He’s been around football and he understands schemes and he understands concepts, so transitioning into college or wherever you’re going to go, should be a lot easier for him.”

Q: What’s probably his greatest asset starting out?

A: “I think his strongest asset would probably be knowledge and anticipation of throwing the football.”

Q: When did he get on your radar as a potential recruit?

“Well, I’ve known him since he was a young kid. Marty, his dad, coached me. We’re from Montana. We went to school together. Just following him from there and kind of seeing where his career was these last three years at Saint Joe’s.”

***Here is Mornhinweg’s bio:***

Skyler Mornhinweg, Quarterback

6-3/190

Philadelphia, PA/Saint Joseph's Prep

PRIOR TO FLORIDA: Rated a four-star recruit, the No. 6 player in Pennsylvania and the No. 19 quarterback nationally by ESPN.com…Went 110-for-229 for 1,546 passing yards and 13 touchdowns as a senior…Finished his career as the all-time leading passer at Saint Joe’s Prep and is fifth all-time in Philadelphia city history…Totaled 4,912 passing yards, 1,243 rushing yards and 71 total touchdowns (52 passing, 17 rushing, 2 interception returns) in his high school career…Engineered six fourth-quarter comebacks playing for Saint Joe’s…Was a four-year starter at QB and three-year starter at defensive back for Saint Joseph’s…Named the MVP of the Catholic League and was three-time First Team All Catholic (QB and DB)…First team all league, all city and all region selection…Won the Leroy Kelly Award, given to Southeast Pennsylvania’s Player of the Year…Named to the 2012 Pennsylvania Big 33 team…Played in the 2012 U.S. Semper Fidelis All-American game…Chose Florida over Penn State, Stanford and Tennessee…Coached by Gabe Infante…Son of Marty Mornhinweg, the Philadelphia Eagles Offensive Coordinator and former Head Coach of the Detroit Lions…Also played baseball in high school.

MORE TO COME…

 

(10:02 a.m. post)

The Gators have officially landed their 11th player in the 2012 recruiting class, signing Tallahassee Lincoln receiver Raphael Andrades.

Andrades is listed at 6-0, 190 and was an all-state selection in his senior year at Lincoln.

Here is a quick bio:

Raphael Andrades, Wide Receiver

6-0/190

Tallahassee, FL/Lincoln

PRIOR TO FLORIDA: Three-star recruit…Rated the No. 99 wide receiver in the country by Rivals.com…Receiver with good size and athleticism and has speed and leaping ability…Helped lead Lincoln to a 9-2 record as a senior…Selected to the AP Class 7A All State Second Team as a wide receiver…Totaled 37 catches for 750 yards (20.27 average) with 10 touchdowns as a senior…As a junior, helped the Lincoln Trojans win the FHSAA Class 4A State Championship…Chose Florida over Arkansas, Illinois, Notre Dame and Vanderbilt…Coached by Yusuf Shakir.

MORE TO COME…

 

(9:46 a.m. post)

The number of signees remains at 10 for now. As the wait for more letters-of-intent continues, here is more from the coaches on the 10 newest Gators.

Gators defensive line coach knows a thing or two about being a good defensive lineman. He played 14 seasons in the NFL with the San Francisco 49ers and was a member of the NFL’s All-Decade Team from the 1990s.

Here is what Young had to say about newcomer Jonathan Bullard, listed at 6-3, 263 pounds:

Q: What makes him a good prospect?

“He’s just a big body on the edge that plays with a lot of energy and juice. He plays with good technique, has a motor and has a love of what he does out there on the field. You watch him play and you see it; you see him moving around and just being excited about what he is doing out there on the field. There’s a ton of upside for him. I don’t think he understands what he has yet.”

A: What got him on your radar?

“We all watched him as a staff and me as a position coach. He’s a guy we fell in love with early and felt that he fits exactly what we’re doing. More importantly, he is a great character young man and that’s exactly what we’re looking for in terms of a complete player. He does the right things on and off the field and is a great player on the field.”

Meanwhile, Gators linebackers coach D.J. Durkin specializes in recruiting North Carolina for the Gators and he developed a close relationship with Bullard during the recruiting process. Here is what Durkin had to say about the talented defensive lineman from Shelby, N.C.:

Q: What makes him a top prospect?

A: “His size and speed. That guy is dynamic on the field in what he can do. He takes football very seriously and works really hard. He’s a guy who could come in and help us right away.”

A: What is his greatest strength at this point?

A: “The position he plays, defensive end, is not normally a position where you say a guy as a freshman can come in and play. It’s different up there playing in the trenches. But with the size he has and the maturity on and off the field and how he plays and some of the things he does on the field with his hands, the quickness off the ball, we think he is ready.”

Q: When did he get on the radar for you personally?

A: “I started recruiting him when he was a sophomore back in high school in North Carolina. That has been my area for a while now so I have known about him since then and obviously followed his career since then. He’s one of those guys that had some hype early on – maybe not as much as others – but really lived up to it and outlasted some of the other guys. Sometimes guys don’t pan out to what there supposed to but he has surpassed that. He played his best football his senior year. We’re fired up about him.”

Q: What is something you learned about Bullard through the recruiting process?

A: “The best thing about Jon is that he has a very close-knit family, from the grandparents on down. They do everything together. They are very close and they are great people. It’s been a great joy for me to get to know them all. We feel a part of their family now.”

BACK WITH MORE SHORTLY…

 

***Here are official bios on the second wave of players who signed: Bullard, Hardin, Ledbetter, Phillips and Poole***

Jonathan Bullard, Defensive Lineman

6-3/263

Shelby, NC/Crest Senior

PRIOR TO FLORIDA: A five-star prospect according to Scout.com and Rivals.com…Rated the No. 6 overall prospect by Rivals.com and the No. 2 prospect in the state of North Carolina, behind fellow signee D.J. Humphries…Also ranked the No. 1 strongside defensive end recruit in the nation by Rivals.com and the No. 4 Defensive End overall by ESPN and Scout.com…Ranked No. 37 on the ESPN 150…Named an Honorable Mention All-American by Sports Illustrated…Participated in the prestigious U.S. Army All-American Bowl…Selected to the AP All-State First Team as a senior…Recorded 82 tackles and 16 sacks during his senior season…Helped lead Crest to a 12-4 record his senior season and finished as the NCHSAA Class 3AA Runner-Up…Chose Florida over Alabama, Auburn, Clemson, South Carolina and Nebraska…Coached by Mark Barnes.

 

Austin Hardin, Kicker

5-10/204

Atlanta, GA/Marist School

PRIOR TO FLORIDA: A three-star prospect according to ESPN and Scout.com…Rated the No. 1 kicking prospect in the nation by ESPN…Kicked at the Under Armour All-America game…Named to the Georgia Sportswriters Association Class 4A All-State Team…Went 13-of-20 on field goals, including a 59-yard game-winner, and converted all of his extra-point attempts…Helped Marist to a 9-3 record as a senior…All seven of his misses came from over 50 yards…Chose Florida over Auburn and Tennessee…Coached by Alan Chadwick.

 

Rhaheim Ledbetter, Defensive back

5-11/195

Shelby, NC/Crest Senior

PRIOR TO FLORIDA: A four-star prospect according to ESPN and Scout.com…Rated the No. 9 Safety in the nation by ESPN and the No. 12 player out of the state of North Carolina by Rivals.com…Ranked No. 150 overall nationally by Scout.com…Selected to the AP All-State First Team as a senior…Helped lead Crest to a 12-4 record his senior season and finished as the NCHSAA Class 3AA Runner-Up…Chose Florida over Auburn, Clemson and South Carolina…Cousin is former Gator and current New England Patriot linebacker Brandon Spikes…Coached by Mark Barnes.

 

Dante Phillips, Defensive Lineman

6-6/270

Venice, FL/Venice Senior

PRIOR TO FLORIDA: A consensus four-star recruit…Rated the No. 9 defensive tackle in the nation and the No. 24 player in the state of Florida according to Rivals.com…Ranked No. 120 on the Rivals250 national list…Ranked No. 110 on the ESPN Top 150 national list…Participated in the 2012 U.S. Army All-American Bowl…Helped Venice Senior to the regional semifinals and a 9-2 record as a senior…Chose Florida over Auburn, Miami, USF, Alabama and Florida State among others…Coached by John Peacock.

 

Brian Poole, Cornerback

5-10/202

Bradenton, FL/Southeast

PRIOR TO FLORIDA: A five-star recruit by Scout.com who is also rated the No. 2 cornerback in the nation…Ranked as the No. 25 player in the country by Scout.com…Rated the No. 16 player in the state of Florida…Ranked No. 82 on ESPN’s Top 150 national list and ranked No. 80 on the Rivals100 national list…Participant in the 2012 Under Armour All-American Game…Selected to the AP Class 5A All-State First Team…Led Southeast to the regional finals and a 7-3 record as a senior…Chose Florida over Alabama, Florida State, Georgia, Notre Dame, Auburn and Miami among others…Coached by Paul Maechtle.

 

(9:18 a.m. post)

***I’m back with some comments from Florida’s assistant coaches on the newest Gators.***

I’ll start with TE Kent Taylor, who played at Land O’ Lakes High north of Tampa and is the son of former Bucs offensive lineman Rob Taylor.

Gators running backs coach Brian White had this to say about Taylor, listed at 6-5, 225.

Q: What makes Taylor a good prospect?

A: “He’s got size. He’s 6-5 and he is very, very athletic. He’s got elite ball skills. He can create mismatches for people because of his receiving skills. He is your prototypical athletic tight end who can really create things downfield and do things really well in the red zone because of his athletic ability and the fact he is going to be able to play low-post basketball in the paint, so to speak.”

Q: What is something he will work on once he enters the program?

A: “Kent is going to have to get stronger in the weight room, but he’s really gotten a lot bigger since we started recruiting him. He was a skinny 210-pound kid when we started recruiting him and now he is 230 pounds. He is going to be massive. He’s got a lot of tools and he is really intelligent. The thing that really jumped out about you at Friday Night Lights was he is an outstanding competitor. He did a great job competing throughout the evening, clearly one of the stars of Friday Night Lights.”

Also had a chance to catch up with Florida tight ends coach Derek Lewis to discuss Taylor and fellow TE signee Colin Thompson.

Here is what Lewis had to say about Taylor:

Q: What makes him a good prospect?

“He has unbelievable pass-catching skills. If the ball is in the air, it’s his, and obviously the big frame [stands out]. He can run for a big man. He looks to be a big-time attribute in the red zone.”

Q: How did Taylor get on your radar?

“He popped up really for me in the spring, but I really got to know him when he came out to Friday Night Lights and competed. He caught everything that was thrown to him against some pretty stiff competition. That let me know that he was in the upper echelon that can really play the position. He did a really fantastic job.”

Thompson is listed at 6-4, 252 pounds. He played in high school at Archbishop Wood in Warminster, Pa.

Here is what Gators tight ends coach Lewis had to say about Thompson.

Q: What makes him a good prospect in your view?

“At this particular junction in his career he gives us an element that we’ve been looking for as a guy who can handle the point of attack and still be able to run intermediate to short routes. He gives us an edge on the line of scrimmage and helps us run outside-zone plays. He just brings a physical presence.”

Q: What did you learn about Colin through the recruiting process that most people won’t know?

“Colin is about what we thought he was. One thing I did find is that he drinks a gallon of milk a day. That’s a lot of milk.”

Q: When he did get on the radar?

“He committed to us so early. He committed to us in the spring and he’s always been high on the radar. His ability to handle the line of scrimmage is what really caught our interest. If we are going to be pro-style we’ve got to be able to run the ball and get it to the edge.”

BACK WITH MORE SHORTLY…

 

(8:59 a.m. post)

The Florida football program has officially added five more players to the 2012 recruiting class with the arrival of the letters-of-intent from DL Jonathan Bullard, K Austin Hardin, DB Rhaheim Ledbetter, DL Dante Phillips and CB Brian Poole. The Gators have now signed 10 players on National Signing Day.

Bullard is a 6-3, 263-pound defensive lineman from Crest High in Shelby, N.C., the same school that produced former Gators linebacker Brandon Spikes. Ledbetter (5-11, 195) was a teammate of Bullard at Crest and is Spikes’ cousin.

Meanwhile, Hardin played at the Marist School in Atlanta, Poole is from Bradenton Southeast High, and Phillips is a former teammate of Clay and Trey Burton at Venice High.

I’ll be back shortly with more info and comments on these players.

 

(8:46 a.m. post)

For those asking, here are official bios of five players who have signed thus far:

Bryan Cox Jr., Defensive Lineman

6-3/247

Fort Lauderdale, FL/St. Thomas Aquinas

PRIOR TO FLORIDA: A three-star prospect according to ESPN, Scout.com and Rivals.com…Rated the No. 66 player in the state of Florida and the No. 37 strongside defensive end in the country by Rivals.com…Suffered a wrist injury early in his senior season and missed significant time…St. Thomas finished with a 10-3 record in 2011…Son of former NFL linebacker Bryan Cox, who played 12 seasons with the Dolphins, Bears, Jets, Patriots and Saints…Chose Florida over Louisville, Miami (FL) and Michigan State…Coached by Rocco Casullo.

 

Marcus Maye, Defensive Back

5-11/200

Melbourne, FL/Holy Trinity Episcopal School

PRIOR TO FLORIDA: Rated a four-star prospect by ESPN, Scout.com and Rivals.com…The No. 5 Safety in the country and the No. 70 player overall by Rivals.com…Ranked the No. 13 player in the state of Florida by Rivals.com…Competed in the Under Armour All-America Game…Recorded four interceptions and 45 tackles during his senior season at Holy Trinity…Also played running back for the Tigers, rushing for 712 yards and nine touchdowns as a senior…Against Heritage, Maye went 3-for-3 passing for 63 yards and two touchdowns, his only passing attempts of the season…Chose Florida over Alabama, Auburn, Florida State and LSU…Coached by Mark Ainsley.

 

Alex McCalister, Defensive Lineman

6-7/225

Clemmons, NC/West Forsyth HS

PRIOR TO FLORIDA: A four-star prospect by ESPN.com…The No. 14 prospect in the state of North Carolina according to Rivals.com…Also rated the No. 26 Weakside Defensive End in the nation by Rivals.com…Selected to the AP All-State First Team as a senior…West Forsyth finished with a 4-6 record during his senior season…Chose Florida over Georgia Tech, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina among others…Coached by Adrian Snow.

 

Kent Taylor, Tight End

6-5/225

Land O'Lakes, FL/Land O'Lakes

PRIOR TO FLORIDA: A consensus four-star recruit…Rated as the No. 1 tight end in the nation by Rivals.com and Scout.com…Ranked the No. 10 player in the state of Florida by Rivals.com…The No. 54 prospect on the Rivals100 national list as well as No. 73 overall in the nation by Scout.com…Named an Honorable Mention All-American by Sports Illustrated…Competed in the 2012 U.S. Army All-American Bowl…Selected to the AP Class 6A All-State Third Team…As a senior, helped Land O’ Lakes HS to a 7-3 record…Recorded 30 catches for 480 yards with five touchdowns in his senior season despite missing the first month of the season with a broken left hand…Named first-team all-conference his senior season…Chose Florida over many schools including Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn, Florida State, Georgia, Miami, Notre Dame Ohio State and Oregon…Coached by Brian Wachtel.

 

Colin Thompson, Tight End

6-4/252

Warminster, PA/Archbishop Wood

PRIOR TO FLORIDA: A consensus four-star recruit…Rated as the No. 2 tight end in the nation by ESPN.com and Scout.com…Ranked No. 117 in the ESPN 150 and No. 106 overall by Scout.com…The No. 5 prospect out of the state of Pennsylvania according to Rivals.com…Named an Honorable Mention All-American by Sports Illustrated…Participant in the 2012 Under Armour All-American Game…Selected to the Pennsylvania Sportswriters Class AAA All-State Team…Helped Archbishop Wood to a 14-1 record in his senior season…High school finished No. 19 in the final POWERADE FAB 50 rankings and No. 21 in the final USA Today Super 25 rankings…Archbishop Wood won the school’s first-ever title, winning the PIAA Class 3A State Championship Game 52-0…Had 13 catches for 208 yards and four touchdowns as a senior…Chose Florida over many schools, including Alabama, Penn State, Pittsburgh, South Carolina, Stanford, Tennessee and Wisconsin…Coached by Steve Devlin.

 

(8:30 a.m. post)

So we know five players are signed, sealed and delivered: DL Bryan Cox Jr., DB Marcus Maye, OLB Alex McCalister, TE Kent Taylor and TE Colin Thompson.

In the last post I posted some thoughts from Gators defensive coordinator Dan Quinn on Cox Jr. Here are some comments from assistant coaches about the other players:

Here is Quinn on Maye, a 5-11, 200-pound defensive back who also plays basketball at Trinity Episcopal School in Melbourne:

“One of the things that jump out at you right off the bat is, ‘This guy is explosive.’ He can jump, he can hit, and he has terrific ball skills,” Quinn said. “He can track it as a middle-field safety. If the ball is in the air, he can go get it. He can cover. I love his competitive toughness. If the ball is in the air, he was going for it. If he was covering man-to-man, his guy wasn’t getting the ball. Those were some of the things that really jumped out at me. I loved his size for a safety. I think the sky is the limit for this guy. He has terrific leadership qualities about him. He’s got everything going for him in the right way. He’s on top of his grades, he’s a leader, he’s a terrific player, he plays with toughness and he’s a guy that people gravitate towards. He’s a really important part of our [class on] defense and we’re really glad to him in the mix. He is a complete player in terms of on the backend.”

Is that play-making ability his biggest attribute at this point?

“Yeah, those are the things that jumped out to me. He’s explosive. At DB, you want that guy who can break on the ball and go get it, or if he’s coming up in run support, to make the big hit, where he can finish. And I don’t think you can under-emphasize this guy is a real leader. You can see why people gravitate toward him and why he has such a positive effect on his team. Certain guys have the right stuff. I don’t think you can have enough guys like him on your defense, in your locker room.

Sounds like he must be a point guard in basketball?

“He carries the ball and does everything. He is a good rebounder. We were impressed. He can play defense. They play a lot of man-to-man defense at their high school, and you could tell he has a real competitive side to him that comes out. When he competes, he has a laser focus to him. I think the guy has a huge future.

What kind of got him on the radar?

“He has been such a terrific player down there that he has been on the radar early in his career since the time he has been there as a freshman.”

I’LL BE BACK SHORTLY WITH COMMENTS ON TAYLOR…

 

(8:12 a.m. post)

The Gators officially have their five newest players.

St. Thomas Aquinas DL Bryan Cox Jr., DB Marcus Maye of Melbourne’s Trinity Episcopal School, OLB Alex McCalister of West Forsyth High in Clemmons, N.C., Land O’ Lakes TE Kent Taylor and TE Colin Thompson of Archbishop Wood High in Warminster, Pa., have all signed their national letter-of-intents.

I caught up with Gators defensive coordinator Dan Quinn to discuss Cox Jr., the son of former NFL linebacker Bryan Cox.

Here is a quick Q&A with Quinn:

Q: What makes Cox, listed at 6-foot-3, 247 pounds, a good prospect?

A: As a prospect, Bryan Cox has toughness and toughness is a talent. When you watch his tape, he strikes guys, he knocks them back and he plays physical. That's kind of the style all defenses like to play. Who wouldn't want a defensive player tough as nails? That's one of the things you notice. He loves ball and that just jumps out at you."

Q: What’s his potential landing spot?

A: "I think he could end up being a really big guy. We're deciding where the best spot is to play him. Is it going to be outside linebacker and pass rusher, or some day we could see him moving inside to play end and tackle. We are going to wait and see but we know we like what he brings to the team."

Q: How well do you know him considering your background with his father?

A: I coached with his dad. I've know BK for a long time. He may have only been on our radar for two years, but he has been on my radar for five years. I'm excited about where BK is and where he is ready to take off in his career.

MORE TO COME ON THE OTHERS

 

(7:36 a.m. post)

Hey folks, just a reminder nothing is official until the UF compliance office validates an LOI.

That’s why often times on National Signing Day you’ll hear confusing reports about Player A signing with a school but the school then later says he isn’t officially part of the class.

There’s a process to all the madness and as soon as the first player is official, I will post with exclusive comments from coaches.

Anyway, just wanted to give you an update on how the process works when writing for UF’s official athletics website on NSD.

 

(6:58 a.m. post)

The national letters-of-intent are expected to start arriving shortly in what is expected to be a stellar 2012 recruiting class for the Gators.

GatorZone.com will provide regular updates throughout the day as signings become official. We’ll have exclusive comments from the assistant coaches talking about recruits and other content.

Our National Signing Day blog will be updated periodically during the day with the latest update time listed in the headline of the blog on the home page of GatorZone.com.

 

(Previous post)

You can check out our blog, you can follow @GatorZoneNews, @GatorZoneFB or @GatorZoneScott on Twitter for regular updates.

Once all the national letter-of-intents are officially signed, GatorZone.com will post updated bios on every member of the Gators’ 2012 recruiting class and a story with reaction from Florida coach Will Muschamp.

This is Muschamp’s first full recruiting class since taking over the program in January 2011.

Muschamp is holding a press conference scheduled for 3:30 ET Wednesday afternoon that will be streamed live at this link on GatorZone.com.

In addition, fans can Like the Florida Gators page on Facebook or the Scott Carter (GatorZone.com) Facebook page for links from the day’s coverage and the ability to add your comments about this year’s group of recruits.

Finally, in the wake of our full coverage on Wednesday, GatorZone.com will roll out Q&As with the six early enrollees beginning Thursday plus recruiting videos of them playing for their high school teams.

We hope you’ll stop by and visit throughout the day for our increased coverage of National Signing Day.

 

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