Gator Nation had its eyes on three members of the class of 2023 on Saturday but none of them ended up committing to the orange and blue when all was said and done. Four-star safety Joenel Aguero picked Georgia over Florida in the morning and four-star linebacker Malik Bryant pushed back his commitment, leaving four-star offensive tackle Payton Kirkland to decide between his top five of Florida, Alabama, Miami, Michigan State and Oklahoma.
Kirkland shocked everyone and chose Texas, a program that not only failed to make his top five in March but also failed to get him on campus during the recruiting process. Florida hosted Kirkland for an official visit and plenty of unofficials, but that didn’t matter much once Steve Sarkisian’s staff swooped in at the last minute.
Andrew Ivins of 247Sports spoke with Kirkland as he made the announcement on the site’s YouTube page. He said that the decision wasn’t an easy one to reach but it was ultimately what he felt was best for him. Arch Manning, the nation’s consensus top recruit, committing earlier in the month couldn’t have hurt the Longhorns’ chances with Kirkland, either.
Florida was considered a major player in Kirkland’s recruitment given the frequency in which he turned up on campus. He would have been the Gators’ highest-rated offensive line commit and things went their way. UF still has four-star interior offensive lineman Knijeah Harris and three-star offensive tackle Bryce Lovett to fall back on.
Kirkland is ranked No. 274 overall on the 247Sports composite and is No. 25 among offensive tackles in the class of 2023. If Billy Napier plans on adding another tackle to the class, he’s running out of blue-chip options. Samson Okunlola, Monroe Freeling and Tyree Adams are the only recruits ranked higher than Kirkland that Florida has both offered and had reported contact with.
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