Photo: Malik Bryant; Credit: Zach Goodall
A flurry of college assistants could be found across the street from Camping World Stadium in Orlando, Fla. on Wednesday afternoon, attending Jones High School's spring football practice to get their eyes on a handful of Division 1 recruits.
One of which was Florida Gators inside linebackers coach Jay Bateman, who was in town to observe linebacker/edge rusher Malik Bryant, an elite prospect and one of UF's top targets in the class of 2023.
"Oh, I enjoy Florida. They made me definitely feel at home," Bryant told AllGators after practice. "Because, you know, it's been a lot of changes since coach [Dan] Mullen. So, just getting experience, getting around the new staff and being able to enjoy them. I felt at home since I went there."
The changes, as Bryant alluded to, included a full-on coaching staff change upon Mullen's 2021 firing. He was replaced by Billy Napier at the head coaching position, and with Napier came a staff of assistants who have collaborated to change the culture within the Gators' football program.
"You can feel the team all kind of on one page, one accord," Bryant noted. "From when I've seen at practices, they're moving as one unit. So, that's definitely the next step on the uprise of Florida and the program."
Bryant, who the Gators have long pursued, has connected with just about every member of the coaching staff, including Bateman, co-defensive coordinator Patrick Toney, analyst Jamar Chaney, and most specifically outside linebackers coach Mike Peterson as well as, of course, Napier.
Bryant has been impressed by the plan Napier and his crew has put together in order to turn things around at UF.
"Long-term vision, I give him about five to six years, he'll definitely have one or two national championships under his belt, just with the way he's carrying the program and the way they're going," Bryant said. "They came in with a plan and ever since they came in, they really been executing that plan. They know what they want going into the season and I think if they move as one they can get it done, for sure.
Additionally, Bryant continues to be recruited to UF by players he's grown close with, such as safety Kamari Wilson — a former teammate of his at IMG Academy (Fla.) — quarterback Anthony Richardson, defensive tackle Gervon Dexter and safety Trey Dean III.
"Most of those guys, they really tell just enjoy the process. Just enjoy the moment," Bryant recalled of his conversations with UF players. "But, when decision time actually comes and you get here, you got to be ready. But they definitely emphasize the ways that Florida is on the uprise.
Florida sees Bryant as a versatile talent who could align at numerous positions within Toney's defense at the next level. He primary rushes off the edge now and UF covets his ability to do so, but given his 6-foot-2, 234-pound frame and athleticism, Bryant is capable of playing in space at off-ball linebacker as well.
"They kind of like me all around because they don't want my talent off the edge to go to waste," Bryant shared. "So they definitely want to rush me off the edge and use me in the box as well."
On May 1, Bryant released an updated list of top schools, trimmed down to include Florida, Alabama, Miami, Southern California and UCF.
He intends to unofficially visit Alabama from June 3-4, followed by officials to Florida (June 10), USC (June 17) and Miami (June 27). Bryant plans to save two official visits for the upcoming season in case they are needed.
Bryant made note that four of the five schools, all not named Alabama, have newer coaching staffs (UCF's being the second-longest tenured as head coach Gus Malzahn enters his second season in charge), and each one has a plan in place to take their program to the next level on and off the field.
But what will Bryant want to see from each team when he visits the schools in the coming months?
"Really, that consistency within them five programs. Seeing where I fit at again, having them refresh it all in my mind," Bryant said. "Just being around the players a little more and being around the coaches. Just gravitating toward that family is really what I'll be looking for."
Bryant, alongside fellow Orlando-area recruits in Osceola (Fla.) defensive lineman Derrick LeBlanc and Dr. Phillips (Fla.) offensive tackle Payton Kirkland, will make their college commitments known together in a "red carpet event" this summer on July 23.
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