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Florida Gators 2023 Recruits to Know: Defensive End/Edge Rushers

Defensive ends and edge rushers to know in the 2023 recruiting cycle for the Florida Gators.

Photo: Malik Bryant; Credit: Zach Goodall

With the 2023 recruiting cycle in full swing and getting to the all-important spring/summer evaluation period, the Florida Gators are looking to make significant moves on the trail now that head coach Billy Napier and his staff have had some time to gain their footing in Gainesville.

After previously breaking down prospects to know at every position on offense, AllGators is taking a look at the early targets that have emerged on the Gators' board along the defensive line that can play the strong-side defensive end or JACK linebacker position, the edges of the front-four.

Derrick LeBlanc, Osceola (Fla.)

We will start the list with the prospect that has been on campus almost as much as the players that already play for UF. LeBlanc has been a priority target for Florida since Billy Napier and his staff stepped on campus. Making the trip up to Gainesville seven times since the current staff took over, it is safe to say that the interest between the two parties is mutual.

LeBlanc is a big kid with great size at 6-foot-4, 270 pounds, who can play either defensive end or slide inside to tackle should he continue to fill out his frame once he gets to campus at the college of his choosing.

RELATED: Gators view Derrick LeBlanc as a "walking mismatch"

LeBlanc released a list of top programs in December, narrowing his extensive offer list down to just seven schools, but it seems like a few programs have separated themselves from the pack with the Gators looking like they are the front runners. 

He was supposed to announce his college decision with fellow Orlando area prospects Payton Kirkland and Malik Bryant on July 23 but recently shared that he needs more time to assess his options.

Keon Keeley, Berkley Prep (Fla.)

Keeley, a Notre Dame commit, is one of the nation’s elite edge rushers. Standing at 6-foot-5, 240 pounds, he already has a college-ready frame and everything you look for when you’re recruiting someone that can get after the quarterback.

Keeley has first-step quickness, size, strength and speed to go with his impressive frame and that is exactly why just about every top program in the country is continuing to recruit him regardless of his commitment status.

The Tampa (Fla.) native has admitted that he grew up a fan of the Gators and that he has enjoyed each and every trip his taken to campus, most recently visiting on March 5. While he does remain locked in with the Irish, don’t expect Florida to take its foot off the gas when it comes to trying to flip the talented pass-rusher. 

The Gators will continue to push all the way until he signs his letter of intent and for good reason. You simply cannot let homegrown talent like that leave the state of you are Florida.

Tomarrion Parker, Central (Ala.)

Parker is a prospect that had the Gators as his leader early on in his recruitment under the previous coaching staff. However, the relationship started to sour a bit as things were winding down for Dan Mullen and his tenure at Florida.

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In February, Parker released a top six and the Gators were on the outside looking in. However, fast forward two months to April and Billy Napier and his staff have been able to get right back in the thick of Parker's recruitment. So much so, that he has labeled them as one of his top three schools after making the trip down to Gainesville on April 14 for the spring game.

Parker is the high school teammate of UF cornerback target AJ Harris. Harris and Parker have hinted on social media that they are a “package deal," and while history suggests that that is not likely to happen, Florida will continue to recruit both prospects in an attempt to get them to Gainesville based on their evaluation of each individual.

Malik Bryant, Jones (Fla.)

While many think that Bryant will transition to linebacker at the next level because of his height, Florida outside linebackers coach Mike Peterson continues to be the primary recruiter for the Orlando-based prospect.

RELATED: Malik Bryant predicts championship for Gators, talks UF recruitment

Bryant released a top five of Florida, Miami, Alabama, USC, and UCF on May 1 and has an official visit locked in with the Gators for June 10. Bryant is probably the hardest to read when it comes to the trio of elite Orlando prospects, LeBlanc, Kirkland and himself, as he typically keeps updates on his recruitment close to the vest.

He did name Alabama his leader after taking an unofficial visit to Tuscaloosa in early April and it’s hard to see any other team winning out for a recruit if the Crimson Tide really wants them. That being said, Napier and his staff have done an excellent job of making Bryant feel like a priority and could make a move on his official visit.

It is worth noting that when asked about his recruitment and his July 23 commitment date Bryant had this to say to a media outlet, “I’m not shut down anywhere until I sign on the dotted line.”

Anthony James, Wylie East (Texas)

James, a prospect that is currently committed to Texas A&M, is another recruit that the Florida coaching staff is looking to flip. While James has yet to make the trip over to Gainesville, he does have an official visit scheduled with the Gators as well as with two other programs, none of them being A&M.

On June 3, James will get his first chance to see what the University of Florida has to offer. However, just because that will be James' first time on campus does not mean he’s not in regular contact or familiar with the UF coaches. In fact, Sean Spencer just made his way out to Texas to see James during practice on May 16.

The other two official visits locked in for James are to Miami on June 10 and Washington on June 24.

Zavion Hardy, Tattnall Square Academy (Ga.)

Hardy announced on Twitter just under a week ago that he would be releasing his top five schools on June 5. While many think that South Carolina is currently the front-runner for the 6-foot-5, 260-pound defensive line prospect, the Gators had quite a bit of momentum in his recruitment in early March.

Just a day or two after Hardy’s visit on March 5, Florida head coach Billy Napier tweeted out his signature sunglass emoji that signifies a prospect has committed to the Gators. There was a lot of speculation as to who it might be, with Hardy being the player many thought it was directed toward.

The smoke has since settled and if it was Hardy, the Gators do not seem to be the clear-cut favorite anymore. I would however expect them to be in the top five that Hardy will release next month, and the Gators should be right in the thick of his recruitment until the very end.

Honorable mention

  • Kelby Collins, Gardendale (Ala.)
  • Keldric Faulk, Highland Home (Ala.)
  • AJ Hoffler, Woodward Academy (Ga.)
  • TJ Searcy, Upson-Lee (Ga.)
  • Rico Walker, Hickory (N.C.)
  • Damon Wilson, Venice (Fla.)

Stay tuned to AllGators for continuous coverage of Florida Gators football, basketball and recruiting. Follow along on social media at @SI_AllGators on Twitter and Florida Gators on Sports Illustrated on Facebook.