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Can UCF, FL, FSU and Miami Keep Top Florida HS Football Recruits at Home?

There’s a huge battle between in-state and out-of-state programs for the top Florida prep football prospects. Come December, which side wins the war of signatures on National Signing Day?

(Profile Photograph: WR Raymond Cottrell, a Georgia commitment)

FORT LAUDERDALE - While hitting several Florida high school spring practices, a scout sees and hears many things that will not (and should not) be stated publicly. It’s still often the crux of what a scout writes about from a broad perspective. Today’s story exemplifies that knowledge.

Based on numerous off the record conversations, there’s good reason to believe that many top 2023 Florida prep prospects will once again head out-of-state to play their college football. It’s not that there are not many battles being waged, mind you, but that’s the information that’s being passed along. This information stems from high school and college coaches, and it’s the same with many conversations with multiple elite recruits. This recruiting trend is not something new.

The state of Florida is losing over half of its top players each year (been going on for roughly a decade, if not longer). Many of these young men simply want to experience something different, which is fine. If a person grows up in a particular area, lives there for 17, perhaps 18 years, maybe seeing something different is good for that young person. Still, it’s not helping the in-state programs like Florida State, Miami, UCF, and Florida improve their college football programs.

Can the Situation be Remedied?

Maybe. At least it can be changed somewhat, but the trend of top Floridians heading to out-of-state programs is well past getting started.

For one, Florida teams need to actually win big games on national television, where recruits can see it for themselves, and have a good chance of reaching the College Football Playoffs (CFP) because of those wins.

Fact: The CFP’s have only had one team from Florida participate. That was FSU in 2014, the inaugural year for the CFP, and they were stomped by Oregon 59-20 in the Rose Bowl. Since then, seven seasons passed without a Florida team reaching the CFP. That’s not helping in-state recruiting efforts.

For the most part, Florida teams have not been relevant on the national scene since Florida State’s dominant 2013 National Championship team and the 2014 squad, and then UCF’s undefeated 2017 team that was overlooked by the Playoff Committee. In the past few seasons, one can also point to UF’s 2020 campaign as being really good, nearly missing the CFP. Beyond those examples, there’s not much for in-state prospects to look at for examples of elite college football in Florida.

There have been some other good squads, but probably not worthy of placing the word elite next to their name. So, why shouldn’t top Florida high school recruits leave and play elsewhere? Under-achieving Florida college football programs are a major part of why the following is taking place.

Whenever a scout walks into a high school with top players, it’s all but a lock that a handful of schools are discussed by prospects more than others. It’s the usual suspects being talked about during recruiting conversations: Ohio State, Alabama, Clemson, and Georgia. 

Bryson Rodgers & Dijon Johnson - Ohio State

WR Bryson Rodgers (Left) and CB/S Dijon Johnson (Right) both committed to Ohio State during a recent official visit to the Buckeyes.

The next group includes Oklahoma, Michigan, Penn State, Notre Dame, Texas A&M, Texas and Southern California. Then there’s the occasional mention of schools like Michigan State, Iowa State, Utah, Tennessee, South Carolina, Auburn, Indiana and Colorado, among others. What do all three of the groups have in common?

At least one of, if not some combination of, recent on-field success, huge football budgets (tremendous facilities plus all but unlimited recruiting budgets), tradition, and coaches that are truly involved with recruiting the state of Florida (many having direct ties in Florida, too).

It’s not that the college programs in Florida are doing a bad job of recruiting, mind you, but the out-of-state competition is steadfast on signing Florida’s best prep players. Here are a few examples of top 2023 players that already committed to college football’s traditional powers from outside of Florida, with each of these recruits likely being top 100 Florida prospects, and many also deserving of being considered top 100 national prospects:

Ohio State

Mark Fletcher, RB, Fort Lauderdale (Fla.) American Heritage

Cedrick Hawkins, S, Cocoa (Fla.) High School

Dijon Johnson, WR, Tampa (Fla.) Wharton

Bryson Rodgers, WR, Zephyrhills (Fla.) Wiregrass Ranch

Alabama

Elliot Washington, CB/S, Venice (Fla.) High School

Elliot Washington Cornerback Venice (Fla.) High School - 2023

CB/S Elliot Washington already committed to Alabama, but he's still mulling his options.

Clemson

Nathaniel “Ray Ray” Joseph, WR, Miami (Fla.) Edison

Georgia

Raymond Cottrell, WR, Milton (Fla.) High School

Pearce Spurlin, TE, Santa Rosa Beach (Fla.) South Walton

Notre Dame

Keon Keeley, DE/OLB, Tampa (Fla.) Berkeley Prep

Keon Keeley - Notre Dame - Berkeley Prep

Elite edge rusher Keon Keeley plans on sticking with his Notre Dame commitment.

Sedrick Irvin, Jr., RB, Miami (Fla.) Columbus

Penn State

Marcus Stokes, QB, Ponte Vedra Beach (Fla.) Nease

Conrad Hussey, S/CB, Fort Lauderdale (Fla.) Saint Thomas Aquinas

Michigan

Raylen Wilson, LB, Tallahassee (Fla.) Lincoln

Michigan State

Eddie Pleasant, CB, Tampa (Fla.) Carrollwood Day School

There are other programs hitting Florida as well, like Auburn, Tennessee, South Carolina, Colorado and Indiana. All of them will likely sign one or more Florida prep prospects. Most of the FBS programs recruit the state of Florida. Now, Florida programs need to fight back to keep top prospects home.

In-State Commitments for Florida College Football Programs

There has definitely been some 2023 recruiting success, albeit with more work to be done. Here are the in-state commitments thus far for each school, many of which are capable of playing for any college football program:

Florida

Tyreek Patterson, WR, Eustis (Fla.) High school

UCF

Dylan Rizk, QB, Fort Lauderdale (Fla.) Cardinal Gibbons

Kaven Call, DE/OLB, Apopka (Fla.) High School

Kaven Call Defensive End Apopka (Fla.) High School - UCF Commitment 2023

DE/OLB Kaven Call gives UCF an Apopka player in two consecutive classes.

Isaiah Nixon, DE/OLB, St. Petersburg (Fla.) Lakewood

Florida State

Lamont Green, DE, Miami (Fla.) Gulliver Prep

Randy Pittman, TE, Panama City (Fla.) Mosley

Darren “Goldie” Lawrence, WR, Sanford (Fla.) Seminole

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Miami

Robby Washington, WR, Miami (Fla.) Killian

Bobby Washington, LB, Miami (Fla.) Killian

Lamar Seymore, WR, Miami (Fla.) Northwestern

Frankie Tinilau, OL, Miami (Fla.) La Salle

What’s Been Heard About Florida Programs Along the Recruiting Trail

*Miami has really hammered South Florida by having top 2023, 2024, and even 2025 prospects come to Coral Gables to see spring practices. Further, some of the top players in Central Florida and even the northern section of the Sunshine State have trekked to Coral Gables to check out the ‘Canes.

One source stated, “We had 150 high school players at a spring practice.” That’s an incredible number for a game, let alone a practice. Hats off to the Miami staff and their recruiting analysts in the back office for being organized and getting after it on the recruiting trail. UCF, Florida State and Florida are also putting in the work.

Jalen Brown Wide Receiver Miami (Fla.) Gulliver Prep Immortals 7v7 - 2023

Miami's coaching staff is hot on the trail of top Gulliver Prep WR Jalen Brown

*UCF, much like Miami, has seen a plethora of unofficial visits for spring practices and the annual spring game. That’s vital for the Knights. UCF coaches have hit Central Florida the hardest, but there’s been UCF coaches hitting all areas of the Sunshine State since Florida prep spring practices began.

The Knights even have two defensive end commitments that hold Georgia offers. It does not get much better than that.

*The Seminoles are much like the Knights and Hurricanes in that they are trying to scour the entire state for talent. For FSU, however, it starts in the Florida Panhandle. The ‘Noles need to do better from Jacksonville to Pensacola. The results have been so-so during the first couple of campaigns along Interstate 10, and that needs to change post haste.

Further, this is year three for the current FSU staff. Based on the relationships the FSU staff already established, there should be better results for signing some of Florida’s best prospects on National Signing Day this year.

*Florida has been busy across the state, as expected. What is interesting is how the Gators are trying to build inroads into Miami. That’s going to bring about some interesting recruiting battles between the ‘Canes and Gators, plus many other programs. Overall, Florida is being quite deliberate with offers, but the Florida coaches have been seen at multiple prime high schools in the past two weeks.

Tyree Patterson Wide Receiver Eustis (Fla.) High School 2023

From Eustis, Fla. and committed to the Gators, Tyree Patterson is a wide receiver with a tremendous upside.

Florida’s plan, overall, is to complete its own evaluations. That includes checking closely on character off the gridiron. A far cry from what many other programs do, Florida’s recruiting efforts can include a longer vetting process. That’s been Head Coach Billy Napier’s style and it does not appear to be changing. Now, can that lead to a national top 10 recruiting class? Time will tell. Much more information is needed before projecting too much at this point and time regarding the Gators. That’s probably the case for all four of the Florida programs, truth be told.

What’s Next and Winning on National Signing Day

All of the Florida programs are going to have to try and “flip” some top recruits currently committed to programs residing outside of Florida, as well as change the direction of some prominent Florida prep recruits and where they are currently leaning for a college destination. Can it be done? Sure, but it’s not easy.

The battle continues with communication for now. More specifically, the primary four programs in Florida – Florida State, Miami, UCF, and Florida – are all doing well with communicating with recruits, their families and high school coaches. That’s honestly not even in question at this point, which is a great sign. That must continue. The second point is the one everyone waits for.

Which program(s), from the aforementioned four Florida schools, has a big season in the fall? That probably means a 10-plus win regular season that includes a signature win, i.e. defeating a prominent team on the road and/or winning the conference championship game. Winning a bowl game, of course, also matters for those recruits that wait until the second National Signing Day, which is the first Wednesday in February each year.

Damon Wilson Defensive End Venice (Fla.) High School - 2023

Winning the recruitment of a top prospect like Venice (Fla.) defensive end Damon Wilson includes many factors, and winning on the field certainly helps.

If Florida teams do not meet the on-field expectations of recruits, there’s still a pretty high percentage chance that over half the elite 2023 Florida high school football prospects will be heading to the same out-of-state programs once again.

In-person visits, phone calls, texts and Twitter direct messages are important, but kicking butt on the field is often the determining factor for which school a Florida prep football recruit will sign a letter of intent with. This recruiting war is far from over.

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