Smart recruiting is the lifeblood of a successful college program. There’s not much more that can be done for the long-term health of a team that experiences near-constant turnover than make it a desirable place to play. The most marketable brands in college football – your assorted Alabamas, Ohio States, and Georgias – have an easier time at reeling in recruits, but it’s not especially easy for anyone to get their guys in-house when there’s a battle for players.
Things became even more complicated when the NCAA shut down in-person recruiting in response to the then-rapidly spreading COVID-19 pandemic. Termed a recruiting dead period, colleges haven’t been allowed to schedule home visits, campus visits, or private workouts for over a year.
Thanks to advances in the understanding of the virus and availability of the vaccine, the dead period is about to come to an end. Players and coaches can get together face-to-face starting in June. Before recruiting gets back to normal, let’s take a look at the players who have already committed to play for the Gators. This foundation for their 2022 recruiting class doesn’t constitute their top players, but they’re the ones who got early attention from the team and are confident enough in the team to make their choice relatively quickly.
OT Tony Livingston
If someone thinks they've seen everything in this sport, I'd invite them to take a look at Livingston. A multi-sport star who originally shined as a wideout and a guard on his basketball team, he was a bit of a late bloomer physically whose shifting body type has forced him to find new roles. He plays tight end at the moment, but the Gators recruited him as a tackle. They're taking on a big project by bringing Livingston to Florida, who Sports Illustrated called their most intriguing commit. https://twitter.com/Blake_Alderman/status/1383834096963506181 At the moment, he's obviously a bit small to play in the trenches at the SEC level. His broad 6-foot-4-inch frame can hold more bulk than he currently carries, and packing it on will one of the first priorities when he gets together with the staff in Gainesville. What makes him an exciting prospect, though, is that he has outstanding body control and movement skills for a man of his size. He doesn't have experience as a blocker and he can struggle technically at the point of attack, but with added reps and size, he could be fun as a quick blind-side blocker.
DE Francois Nolton Jr.
Nolton Jr. has a long frame and is a fluid mover, making him a handful for less nimble offensive lineman. He just needs a sliver of light to open and he's going to make life difficult for the opposition. His style is punchy and he's able to take advantage of the fact he's speedier than most of the players he matches up against to get the most out of his power at the point of attack. https://twitter.com/zach_goodall/status/1368595388215746560 The first thing that Nolton will have to do in order to be a successful SEC player is add functional strength. He's going to be facing smarter coaches and more talented opponents and a quick-moving gimmick won't work on its own merit anymore. However, his style of play should translate well to a modern defense that prioritizes pressuring quarterbacks, because that's what he's all about.
QB Nick Evers
With offers on the books from a handful of high-major programs, Evers decided that the Gators were the right fit for him and committed in early March. Since then, he's played the role of recruiter as well, reportedly talking up Florida to other Texas-based recruits, including one the team's top targets, Terrance Brooks. Evers doesn't look like a standard Dan Mullen quarterback, but noting that he brings a bit of variety to the table is hardly a complaint. https://twitter.com/NickEvers12/status/1395350681435901952 Evers is a pass-first quarterback who can put some real force behind his throws when needed. His foremost attribute as a passer is his willingness to try for the deep ball with frequent success, stemming from his easy strength and properly leading pass catchers. He's still lean and could add even more juice to his throws by putting on a little weight. What remains to be seen is whether he can be mobile enough to weather the storm of an SEC pass rush. Additionally, Mullen deserves the benefit of the doubt as a schemer, but it's not totally clear whether he'll have the complementary pieces in place for a guy like Evers, who isn't his normal type.
WR Isaiah Bond
Bond is very fast, which is inescapable when reading about the young receiver. The difference between a contested deep ball and a clean reception can sometimes be a matter of a tiny difference in the long speed of a target and defensive back, making Bond a more dangerous deep threat than his smallish frame would indicate. There's literally no one who can outrun Bond on either side of the ball at any point during any high school game that he participates in, and he can reasonably be expected to be faster than most college opponents as well. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PNRSixNwcaw Bond is also a sprinter, and maintaining his body for both football and track has meant that he can't get into ideal shape for either sport. Once his focus is solely upon his duties on the gridiron, he's going to add weight and possibly lose a whisker of his currently game-breaking speed. At an even 6-foot height and reedy frame, it's not as if he's going to transform into a tank. However, it will help him successfully run routes at times when he simply can't be schemed wide open.
TE CJ Hawkins
A first-year football player, Hawkins' arrival on the recruiting radar of major colleges as a junior is impressive in and of itself. Formerly a forward on his basketball team, he's become a long tight end who outlives his lack of nuance by being bigger than linebackers and stronger than edge rushers and was useful inline and as a mismatch receiver. https://twitter.com/thebettermarkle/status/1395451175273738241 There's a lot of work to be done with Hawkins from a technical standpoint – he's by far the lowest ranked of the Gators' current recruits for that very reason – but the physical tools are present. It's exciting to think about what the massive tight end could become in both the passing game and when he's assigned protections, but it's also important to remember that his vast range of outcomes also encompasses total failure. With the right tweaks by the coaching staff, though, there's almost nothing Hawkins will be unable to do as a tight end. [listicle id=43300]