Chomp: Florida targets making decisions soon; top recruits expected at Friday Night Lights; media not high on Gators

Florida head coach Billy Napier speaks during an NCAA college football news conference at the Southeastern Conference Media Days, Wednesday, July 20, 2022, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore) (John Bazemore, Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

This story first appeared in Chomp, our Gators football newsletter. Subscribe here.

Hey, Gator Nation!

We have some loose ends to tie up from Southeastern Conference Media Days last week, and award watch list season is in full swing.

And we now know that the Florida football team will report for fall camp on Tuesday and the first practice will be held the following day. But before that, Florida will host Friday Night Lights and some top targets will be making some big decisions.

😬 Florida awaits decisions from targets

Recruiting takes center stage this final week of July as several 2023 targets for Florida will be making their commitments.

First, let’s go over what happened this past weekend. On Saturday, four-star (according to both the 247 Sports Composite and the On3 Consensus) offensive tackle Payton Kirkland from Orlando committed to Texas, and four-star linebacker Malik Bryant, also from Orlando, delayed his decision. It was a battle between Florida, Miami and Alabama, and Bryant picked the Hurricanes today, but Gators Breakdown host David Waters notes that Florida did a good job of closing the gap.

Tomorrow, the “Osceola Trio” will announce their decisions together. David doesn’t anticipate four-star defensive linemen Derrick LeBlanc and John Walker picking the Gators, but he does expect four-star cornerback Ja’Keem Jackson to choose the Gators.

On Friday, four-star wide receiver Aidan Mizell of Orlando is set to pick between Florida, Alabama and Tennessee, and the Gators seem to be the favorite.

Then four-star safety Jordan Castell of Winter Garden has moved up his decision from Monday to Saturday, and he’s expected to commit to Florida. He’ll also be at Friday Night Lights in two days.

David breaks down all of the upcoming decisions in the latest episode of Gators Breakdown.

🌙 Big names expected at Friday Night Lights

While those are just the commitments that are scheduled, we could see some magic happen on Friday when targets and commits come together at Friday Night Lights.

Let’s take look at some of the expected attendees.

There’s four-star wide receiver Andy Jean from Miami. Could he push up a decision? Or could four-star defensive lineman Kamran James from Orlando? David says Florida is trending well for him.

But the biggest story coming out of Friday Night Lights will be the visit of five-star cornerback Cormani McClain from Lakeland. He’s the No. 1 target on the board right now.

Five-star edge Samuel M’Pemba of IMG Academy in Bradenton will also be there.

So will four-star defensive lineman Kelby Collins from Alabama. He’s leaning toward staying in-state with the Crimson Tide, but you never know what can happen when he gets on the campus in Gainesville.

Four-star wide receiver Daquayvious Sorey from Chipley — who would be a safety if he chose Florida — put out a cryptic Instagram message of “July 30.” If he does make a decision this weekend, expect Florida to be the pick.

And Florida’s board of offensive line prospects has expanded, and two four-star offensive tackles from Louisiana — Zalance Heard and Tyree Adams — will be at Friday’s camp. It shows how Florida’s staff, many of whom came with head coach Billy Napier from Louisiana, know the players in that state.

Middleburg running back Michael Mitchell, whom the 247 Sports Composite has as a four-star and the On3 Consensus lists as a three-star, will be in Gainesville on Friday, and while he’s currently committed to Utah, he’s looking for a Florida offer, David says.

And offensive tackle Caden Jones, whom the On3 Consensus classifies as a four-star and the 247 Sports Composite has as a three-star, from Louisiana is expected to be at Florida this weekend.

There will be a slew of 2023 commits in The Swamp, too: four-star edge Isaiah Nixon from St. Petersburg, four-star defensive lineman T.J. Searcy from Thomaston, Georgia, four-star cornerback Sharif Denson from Bartram Trail in St. Johns, four-star defensive lineman Gavin Hill from Buchholz in Gainesville, four-star wide receiver Creed Whittemore also from Buchholz, four-star linebacker Knijeah Harris from IMG Academy, four-star running back Treyaun Webb from Trinity Christian, and four-star athlete Aaron Gates from Sharpsburg, Georgia.

So with a lot of the targets coming together with the commits, the hope is that will work in the Gators’ favor, but David cautions he’s not expecting anything.

And that’s not even all of the names.

Friday Night Lights will also feature players in the 2024 and 2025 recruiting classes.

There are some big names not to overlook in the 2024 class who will be on campus this weekend, including four-star linebacker Myles Graham from Atlanta who’s the son of former Gators running back Earnest Graham. He’s a must-get for Florida.

There’s also five-star cornerback Desmond Ricks from IMG Academy, four-star athlete Fred Gaskin III of Ocala and quarterback Davi Belfort from Miami who reclassified to 2024 from 2025.

Another quarterback is DJ Lagway, whom the 247 Sports Composite ranks as a five-star and the On3 Consensus has as a four-star, from Texas, but the thought there is it will be hard to beat Texas A&M. If the Gators did get a commit from Lagway, would it affect quarterback recruiting in 2025?

Two quarterbacks in the 2025 class who will be at Friday Night Lights won’t have far to travel since they’re coming from Jacksonville. They are Mandarin quarterback Tramell Jones Jr. and Trinity Christian quarterback Colin Hurley. With having both of those two projected highly-rated quarterbacks in Jacksonville, David believes one has got to go to Florida.

And you can hear more from David on the latest Gators Breakdown as he previews Friday Night Lights.

🏈 Boone using football knowledge for next step

Also on the latest Gators Breakdown episode, redshirt freshman defensive lineman Justus Boone spoke with David ahead of fall camp.

On the show, Boone shares his growth from last season to this season and what he’s hoping to take from spring practice into fall camp.

“Spring for me was really good. It was really great actually. It was really big on coaching moments, stuff like that, got a chance to really get the coaching from [defensive line coach Sean Spencer],” Boone said. “And we talk more, rather than plays and going over the playbook, we talk more football this year. So I learned a lot about formations, a lot about like offense formation, and what it means when the running back is lined up here, what it means when the tight end is lined up, different things like that we communicated.

“And those were things I also look forward to carrying with me into the fall camp and into the season, just be able to pick up fast on what kind of formations there is, pick up fast on what kind of set there is, what kind of personnel there is, and I can figure out what kind of run they’ll be running just on their personnel, so every little thing like that I can pick up and take with me.”

😑 Gators picked to finish 4th in SEC East

With the conclusion of SEC Media Days comes the release of the preseason media poll. And it’s clear many don’t think much of this year’s Gators team.

Of course, the poll of media members covering Media Days in Atlanta picked Alabama to beat Georgia in the SEC championship game. Alabama was the overwhelming pick to win the championship, receiving 158 votes, while Georgia was second with 18 votes.

Looking at the SEC East, the Bulldogs were the overwhelming favorite with 172 first-place votes. While Florida was all the way down at... fourth, following Kentucky and then Tennessee.

BREAKING DOWN THE RESULTS: Media predict Alabama will beat Georgia in SEC championship

Here are the full results of the poll:

SEC EastSEC West
1.Georgia (172 first-place votes)Alabama (177 first-place votes)
2.Kentucky (4)Texas A&M (3)
3.Tennessee (1)Arkansas (1)
4.FloridaOle Miss
5.South Carolina (3)LSU
6.MissouriMississippi State
7.Vanderbilt (1)Auburn

While David wasn’t surprised more voters weren’t high on Florida, he thinks the Gators will be finishing stronger than fourth.

Here’s his predicted order of finish in the SEC this season:

SEC EastSEC West
2FloridaTexas A&M
5South CarolinaOle Miss
6MissouriMississippi State

In an episode of Gators Breakdown, David looks closer at the poll and his predicted order of finish. Also on the episode, Peter Burns, with SEC Network, and Braden Gall, with Athlon Sports, give their thoughts on Billy Napier and the Florida football team.

🐊 5 Gators named to preseason All-SEC Teams

Five Gators, including four defensive players and just one on offense, were named to the 2022 Preseason Media Days All-SEC Teams.

Offensive lineman O’Cyrus Torrence, a transfer from Louisiana who followed Napier to Gainesville, made the first-team offense. It’s another preseason honor for Torrence, a transfer from Louisiana who was also named a Preseason All-American by Phil Steele, Sporting News and Walter Camp.

Redshirt junior linebacker outside Brenton Cox Jr. joined the second-team defense.

And senior safety Trey Dean III, sophomore defensive lineman Gervon Dexter Sr. and redshirt senior linebacker Ventrell Miller — who represented the Gators at SEC Media Days along with sophomore quarterback Anthony Richardson, redshirt junior offensive lineman Richard Gouraige and Napier — were selected to the third-team defense.

View all of the teams here.

🏆 Award watch list season in full swing

Continuing off of the Gators tabbed to the Preseason Media Days All-SEC Teams, we have some more Gators to recognize who have been named to award watch lists.

Dexter and sophomore safety Rashad Torrence II were both named to the Outland Trophy Watch List. The award is given to the nation’s best interior lineman.

Miller earned his third straight Butkus Award Watch List honor. The award honors the nation’s best linebackers in the NFL, NCAA and high school.

And redshirt sophomore offensive lineman Kingsley Eguakun was placed on the Rimington Trophy Watch List. The award is handed out to the nation’s best center in college football.

🦃 Men’s hoops to take on Xavier on Thanksgiving Day

The Florida men’s basketball team will face Xavier on Thanksgiving Day in the opening round of the Phil Knight Legacy event in Portland, Oregon.

Tipoff is set for 5:30 p.m. Eastern on Nov. 24, airing on ESPN2.

It will be the Gators’ first holiday tournament appearance under head coach Todd Golden.

The Florida-Xavier matchup is paired with a Duke-Oregon State showdown in the bracket, with the respective winning and losing teams meeting up the following day, Friday, Nov. 25. The Gators will then meet a team from the opposite side of the bracket — Gonzaga, Portland State, Purdue or West Virginia — to wrap the event on Sunday, Nov. 27.

✉️ Send us your Gators thoughts & questions

David and I want to hear from you. Do you have any thoughts or questions about the Gators football program? Agree or disagree with something we’ve said? Let us know here, and we’ll share our responses to your questions.

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About the Author:

Jacksonville native and proud University of Florida graduate who joined News4JAX in 2016.