One of the nation's top offensive tackles in the class of 2023 hails not far from the Florida Gators' backyard.
Payton Kirkland, of Dr. Phillips (Orlando, Fla.) High School, has obtained nearly 50 scholarships offers since the conclusion of his true freshman season. The 6-foot-5, 330-pound offensive lineman primarily speaks with coaches from Ohio State, Alabama, Georgia, Oklahoma, Clemson, and Missouri at this point, being pursued by college football powerhouses across the nation.
However, Kirkland admits, Florida is a team that could enter the thick of his recruitment moving forward. UF's previous coaching staff originally sent Kirkland a scholarship offer in June 2020, but didn't gain much ground on his list of contenders.
Now, Florida has a new staff in place, led by head coach Billy Napier. Napier sent the Gators' outside linebackers coach, former UF First-Team All-American and NFL All-Pro Mike Peterson, down to Orlando to meet with Kirkland on Wednesday, where Peterson extended Kirkland an offer on behalf of the current coaching crew.
Kirkland immediately felt a different vibe, compared to how Florida previously handled his recruitment.
"I really do, actually. You know, I feel that before it was more of, 'Okay, we're in-state and now you have to like us,'" Kirkland explained to AllGators.
"[Peterson's] message to me is that it'll be a huge culture change up there," he continued. "They have their own culture and way they go about things, especially when it comes down to recruiting and what they expect from their players. It'll be intriguing to a lot of recruits and I'm very impressed from the early introduction."
There is plenty of work left for Florida to do in order to stand out in Kirkland's recruitment, but things are back on the right track after Peterson stopped by Dr. Phillips.
"Coach Peterson is a great coach and I really do appreciate him for coming down to see me," Kirkland added.
Now, Kirkland looks forward to speaking with Napier and UF's new offensive line coach Rob Sale. After time spent at Louisiana, Georgia, Alabama and Arizona State among other schools, Sale most recently worked at the NFL level with the New York Giants, which piques Kirkland's interest.
"That's an amazing resume, you know?" Kirkland ponded about Sale. "I'm pretty sure a lot of guys would love being coached by an NFL offensive line coach.
"I really look forward to getting to know the new staff."
As things stand, Kirkland is currently focused on his offseason training and preparing for his senior season of high school. He is set to visit the University of Miami this upcoming weekend and is sure to take further visits once recruiting efforts for the class of 2023 are in full swing.
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