NCF On The Trail: Florida Gators

Five-star Byron Cowart changes visit plans 

November, 4, 2014
SEFFNER, Fla. -- Five-star defensive end Byron Cowart has made some changes to his visit plans. The No. 2-ranked player in the country was scheduled to go to Florida for its game against South Carolina on Nov. 15, but Cowart will instead visit Alabama for its SEC West showdown against Mississippi State.

Cowart, who was presented with his Under Armour All-America replica jersey on Tuesday, has not rescheduled a visit to Florida.

"I go to Florida all the time," Cowart said. "I don't know. I know they want to treat me and all that stuff but I've been there a bunch, they really don't have to do all that."

UA jersey tour: Byron Cowart

November, 4, 2014
SEFFNER, Fla. -- Five-star defensive end Byron Cowart was presented with his Under Armour All-America Game jersey Tuesday afternoon. The ceremony took place in front of family, friends and teammates at the Armwood's principal's conference room in Seffner, Florida.

The No. 2-ranked player in the ESPN 300 and the third Armwood player to make the Under Armour roster in the last three years said he felt honored to be selected to one of the top All-American games in the country.

“It means a lot," Cowart said. “I watched it on TV growing up as a kid, to actually be in it this year is going to mean a lot to me.

"It's big. Leon did everything the right way," he said of 2013 USC signee Leon McQuay III. "He told me he was going to be stressful and all that stuff but it was worth it in the end to play in the Under Armour game and commit on TV and just doing things the right way. It means a lot to keep the tradition going with our school."

With recruiting Cowart has rearranged some of his official visits. The talented defender was planning to take an official visit to Florida on Nov. 15 but now plans to visit Alabama for the Mississippi State game that weekend.

An official visit to Florida is still in question.

"I go to Florida all the time," Cowart said. "I don't know. I know they want to treat me and all that stuff but I've been there a bunch, they really don't have to do all that."

Seven questions with Byron Cowart

Who was the best player you ever saw play in the Under Armour game?

Cowart: It was Robert Nkemdiche. Just seeing his swag and seing him in all the gear they gave him in that All-Star game. I just think of him in that game making plays.

If you could start a team with any other player in your class who would it be?

Cowart: My fellow teammate from Team Tampa (Cowarts 7-on-7 team) George Campbell. I think he'd bring a lot to my team. He's a great leader, he can set the tone and he's really fast. I'm not that fast.

Did you grow up wanting to be like any professional athletes?

Cowart: I like Julius Peppers and Jason Pierre-Paul. At my position, defensive end, Julius Peppers, he's elusive and he can get down the line and is a big hitter. Jason Pierre-Paul, he's your stand up guy but can put his hand in the dirt. He's a great pass-rusher.

What's your earliest football memory?

Cowart: Little league in Lakeland (Florida). I used to play for the Lakeland Lumberjacks. My first hit was against this big fullback. So yeah that was my first memory

What number do you wear and why?

Cowart: I wear 99. A lot of great players that have played here at Armwood wore that number and now I wear it. So that's why. In college it will change.

What do you look to improve on the most before you get to the next level?

Cowart: Conditioning. That's the only thing. I'm big on technique and that's just natural. I love to study guys and see how they move and tendencies. My biggest thing is right after my high school football season. Wherever I commit to will send me my workout packet and I have a personal trainer and I just want to run run run.

What's something that most people don't know about you?

Cowart: I was in a homeless shelter when I first moved here. I was in eighth grade so like 13 years old. I went from Lakeland to Georgia back to Tampa. So we just up and left Georgia to come here and we didn't have a place to stay.

SEC's top recruiting visits 

September, 19, 2014

There are once again some big games around the SEC this weekend. The Florida at Alabama game should draw many top recruits, as will the LSU-Mississippi State game. There will be many recruits taking unofficial visits and even a few taking official visits. Here is a closer look at some top expected visitors.

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Weekend recruiting wrap: SEC 

September, 16, 2014

As always, there was a ton of recruiting news from around the SEC this past weekend. Ole Miss picked up a commitment, while the Rebels, Gators and Gamecocks all had big visitors for their games Saturday. Here’s a closer look at the top recruiting news from around the conference.

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UA jersey tour: Roquan Smith

September, 10, 2014
MONTEZUMA, Ga — ESPN 300 outside linebacker Roquan Smith was presented with his Under Armour All-America jersey on Wednesday in a ceremony sponsored by American Family Insurance and held at the Macon County (Georgia) High School gymnasium. A large crowd consisting of family members, students, teammates and faculty members cheered loudly as the jersey was given to the No. 2-ranked outside linebacker in the country.

Macon County head coach Larry Harold said his star linebacker is deserving of the honor.

“He’s a great kid. He’s really humble, down to earth and fun to be around — kind of silly once you get to know him,” Harold said. "He’s grown tremendously from a kid that was shy, wouldn’t say two words to you, to now he’s our team spokesman. Very well spoken and represents his community and school very very well.

"On the field he brings tenacity. He’s a kid that never leaves the field — offense, defense and special teams. In this game of spread football where every body is trying to go fast-paced, he’s the one linebacker that can play outside of the box, he can play in the box. He can cover in space. That’s what makes him so unique. That’s why he’s rated so highly. He has safety skills, but he’s filled out to have a linebacker's body. Everybody wants that, especially on the collegiate level.”

Though not a final list, Smith said there are seven schools -- Georgia, Florida, UCLA, Miami, LSU, USC and Ole Miss -- starting to stand out to him right now. He is planning to officially visit Georgia, Florida and UCLA and has not decided on his other two visits.


Eight questions with Roquan Smith

Who is one player you are looking forward to competing against?
Smith: I want to see what Kyler Murray has to offer. With him scrambling around, I want to chase him down and things like that.

If you were to start a team with any other player in your class, who would it be?
Smith: I’d go with Trent [Thompson] to keep some of those big linemen off of me.

Who is the best player to ever play in the Under Armour game that you know of?
Smith: I would say [Jadeveon] Clowney. The first one I remember seeing was Julio [Jones] when I was like 10, but I’d have to say Clowney. He was so disruptive. He looked like a grown man out there playing against kids.

What is your earliest football memory?
Smith: I remember the first day when the coach asked my mother if I could play. That was when I was 5. My older brother had played and the pee-wee coach came to my mom and asked if I could play. She said she didn’t mind as long as I didn’t get hurt.

Which football player did you idolize or be like when you were a kid?
Smith: I’m a big Patrick Willis and Ray Lewis fan. They just play the game with relentless effort. They give everything they have on every possession. You just want to look up to someone like that.

If you could take on any pro player in their sport, who would it be?
Smith: I’d like to see how I’d do against DeSean Jackson, just to see how I’d do. I play linebacker, but I’d like to see how I’d cover him, like as a safety.

What number do you wear?
Smith: I wear No. 1. It’s kind of embarrassing, but my freshman year I wore No. 68. Then my sophomore year I got No. 1 because my new head coach came in and he always gives that to his best linebacker, so now it’s a tradition.

What is the one thing people would be surprised to know about you?
Smith: I’m not all that big on attention. I’d rather just sit back, chill and hang out with my boys.

CeCe Jefferson set to visit Georgia 

August, 23, 2014
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The Jacksonville area has been very kind to the Georgia Bulldogs in recruiting over the past several years. Players such as offensive lineman Brent Benedict, cornerback Bryan Evans and current offensive tackle John Theus have all come from the First Coast area. The Bulldogs are now hoping to reach into Northeast Florida this year and grab one of the top defenders in the nation.

Five-star defensive end CeCe Jefferson still has yet to list his favorite schools but will take an unofficial visit to Athens to watch Georgia take on Clemson next Saturday.

“I’m going to Georgia-Clemson next weekend,” Jefferson said. “That will actually be my first game at Georgia. I heard between the hedges is pretty wild, so I’m just looking to go get a good experience -- have a good time, see some good football.”

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ESPN 300: 5 things to know in the SEC 

July, 29, 2014

The SEC has 77 committed prospects in the updated ESPN 300 rankings. The league continues to dominate on the recruiting front and there are no signs of the momentum slowing down. Here’s a closer look at five things to know in the SEC from the new recruiting rankings.

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The Florida Gators received a commitment from three-star offensive tackle George Brown Jr. on Friday afternoon -- but it was how he made that commitment that has made waves nationally.

Brown announced his decision by pulling out what everyone -- including almost all of Twitter -- thought was a baby gator.

Only one small problem: It is illegal to possess a gator in Brown's home state of Ohio. So what was thought to have been a baby gator was actually a dwarf caiman.

The small caiman is possessed by a company called, which is an outreach program that displays wild animals to children for various events.

Getting to know: CeCe Jefferson 

June, 2, 2014
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — CeCe Jefferson is one of the top defensive ends in the country, ranked No. 9 in the ESPN 300. Yet the 6-foot-3, 248-pound, five-star prospect found himself playing middle linebacker, defensive end and even fullback in his team's spring football game.

That’s exactly how Jefferson likes it.

"I like moving around because it shows the coaches at the next level that I’m versatile enough to do it,” Jefferson said. "I don’t mind playing multiple positions in college. Linebacker is probably what I’m going to be because I’m not really that big to play defensive end against 300-pounders all night. So moving around is definitely not a problem to me. I feel like I’m versatile enough to do it, so if a coach asks me to do it, I’m going to do it.”

It’s Jefferson’s versatility and ability to cause so much disruption for opposing offenses that has college coaches from across the country flocking to Glen St. Mary, Florida, to try to land the talented defender from Baker County High School.

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Getting to know Jeffery Holland 

April, 1, 2014
video Throughout this recruiting cycle, RecruitingNation will profile a number of ESPN 300 prospects in the 2015 class, including an inside look at the prospect, his recruitment, a scouting report and what college program could benefit when he ultimately makes his decision.

BRADENTON, Fla. -- On a team loaded with talented prospects, do-it-all athlete Jeffery Holland takes a back seat to no one. The 6-foot-2, 226-pound outside linebacker plays multiple positions for Jacksonville (Fla.) Trinity Christian, including running back, tight end, wide receiver and, of course, linebacker -- the position most schools recruiting him want him to play. Holland even lined up at cornerback for a game during the IMG 7v7 Southeast Regional championships in Bradenton, Fla., over the weekend.

The No. 8 player in the country, his athleticism is something that comes naturally, but it doesn’t hurt that he has pretty good bloodlines too. Holland’s uncle, Carey Holland, won an SEC basketball title at Auburn in 1985.

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South Florida is arguably the most fertile area in the country for recruiting, and college football coaches annually flock to the talent-rich area to try to land a small piece of a very large pie. The large area located south of Lake Okeechobee that includes the football hotbeds of Broward, Palm Beach and Dade counties has produced 45 ESPN 300 members in the last two recruiting cycles and almost half (22) signed with out-of-state schools.

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MARIETTA, Ga. -- The Nike SPARQ combines have grown with each passing year, and on Saturday there was a record turnout. If the 1,993 prospects who attended weren't impressive enough, the performances by several top prospects who came to compete certainly left spectators turning heads.

Here is a rundown of some of the event's top performers.
  • ESPN Junior 300 running back Taj Griffin posted one of the top SPARQ scores of the day. Griffin checked in at 5-foot-10, 174-pounds, ran a 4.41 40-yard dash and a 4.35 shuttle, had a 46-inch vertical leap and a 36-foot power ball toss for a combined score of 124.29. On the recruiting front, Oregon, Clemson, Florida State, Ohio State and Tennessee continue to stand out the most.

  • No. 3 junior offensive tackle Chuma Edoga posted an impressive score of 94.65. After measuring at 6-4 and weighing 276 pounds, Edoga ripped off a 5.01 40-yard dash, a terrific 4.69 shuttle and had a 33.8-inch vertical jump and 37-foot power ball throw. Following his impressive effort, he said his top four schools in order are Tennessee, Southern California, Georgia and Stanford with a decision likely on May 25, his birthday. The big news might have been that he currently prefers the Volunteers, but his mother is in the corner of the Bulldogs and Cardinal.
  • No. 252 prospect C.J. Sanders made the trip and did not disappoint. He checked in at 5-9 and 176 pounds, ran a 4.57 40-yard dash, had a blazing 4.09 shuttle run, leaped 36.5 inches and tossed the power ball 41 feet. On the recruiting front, USC, Notre Dame and Georgia are the latest to offer, joining Duke, Northwestern, Stanford, Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Mississippi State and Ole Miss. He visited USC last week, and lists Reggie Bush as his childhood idol. Sanders is the son of former Ohio State and NFL wide receiver Chris Sanders. His mom played basketball at Michigan. He reports his family favors Duke and USC early on with a decision slated for the summer.
  • Class of 2016 prospect Ben Cleveland is already considered one of the top offensive line prospects in the country, and the 6-7, 317-pounder showed why Saturday. He clocked a very impressive 5.22 40-yard dash and 4.87 shuttle, and had a 25.8-inch vertical leap and 41.5-foot power ball throw for a score of 99.78. He has offers from Georgia, Clemson, Florida, South Carolina and Texas with Alabama expected in the near future. He made an unofficial visit to Clemson two weeks ago.
  • Class of 2015 running back Jaylen Burgess posted a 118.44. The 5-10, 214-pounder ran a 4.66 40-yard dash and a 4.38 shuttle, and had a 36.7-inch vertical leap and 42.5 power ball throw. He is receiving interest from Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Clemson, Duke and a number of other ACC schools. Duke and Tennessee are the coaching staffs Burgess talks to the most. He posted more than 1,500 all-purpose yards as a junior.
  • Class of 2016 linebacker and defensive end Charles Wiley checked in at 6-3, 203 pounds. He clocked a 4.68 40-yard dash and 4.45 shuttle, and also leaped 35 inches and threw the power ball 34.5 feet. He has an early offer from Virginia Tech.
  • Class of 2015 athlete Jeremiah Mercer is flying completely under the recruiting radar. While he had to sit out the 2013 season due to transfer rules, he made his mark Saturday posting a score of 97.47. The 5-11, 163-pound running back and wide receiver ripped off a 4.48 40-yard dash and 4.18 shuttle, and added a 36.2-vertical leap and 31-foot power ball toss. He is receiving interest from Vanderbilt and Mississippi State and lists Florida State as his dream school.
  • Class of 2016 inside linebacker Tyler Reed posted a very impressive score of 104.91. After measuring 6-2, 234 pounds, Reed ran a 4.96 40-yard dash and 4.59 shuttle, and had a 35.5-inch vertical leap and 41-foot power ball throw. He recorded 130 tackles as a sophomore.
  • Class of 2015 running back Eric Montgomery posted a 115.47, one of the day’s top scores. The tailback checked in at 5-11, 185 pounds, ran a 4.46 40-yard dash and a 4.19 shuttle, and jumped 36 inches and threw the power ball 38 feet. On the recruiting front, Kentucky, Cincinnati, Ole Miss and Mississippi State, among others, are showing interest.

Gators add ESPN 300 RB Brandon Powell

January, 10, 2014
Florida was able to get its second commitment in as many days as four-star athlete Brandon Powell (Deerfield Beach, Fla./Deerfield Beach) switched his commitment from Miami to Florida on Friday morning.

The news was first reported by Zach Abolverdi of the Gainesville Sun, and Deerfield Beach head coach Allen Jackson later confirmed via text message. The 5-foot-9, 171-pound athlete, who is being recruited by Florida to play running back, is expected to enroll in classes at Florida sometime on Friday.

The Powell addition is important for the Gators. After Dalvin Cook (Miami/Central), the No. 4 running back in the country, flipped his commitment from Florida to Florida State, the Gators were left with a void at running back. Powell has speed and playmaking ability that has been missing from the Florida backfield in the last two seasons.

"Powell is reminiscent of Miami's Duke Johnson, but shorter and leaner,” his Recruiting Nation scouting report reads. "On pure skill-set alone, Powell would be considered one of the elite backs in this class, but he just isn't blessed with the measurables coveted by coaches. High-risk, high-reward player who could be a feature return specialist. Durability is always going to be a concern.”

With Powell on board, the Gators now have 21 verbal commitments including 12 ranked in the ESPN 300.

As for Miami, Powell was the second South Florida prospect to change his commitment in the last two days. The other, cornerback Nigel Bethel II (Miami/Booker T. Washington) flipped his commitment from Miami to Texas Tech on Thursday evening. The Hurricanes still have 26 commits including 11 ranked in the ESPN 300.

Gators land juco OT Drew Sarvary

December, 18, 2013
Just six days after landing the No. 2 offensive tackle in the country, David Sharpe (Jacksonville, Fla./Providence School), the Florida Gators added more depth to their depleted offensive line by adding junior college offensive tackle Drew Sarvary (Tallahassee, Fla./Tyler JC) on Wednesday.

Sarvary announced his intentions to sign with Florida via Twitter.

The 6-foot-6, 310 pound tackle had been committed to Texas Tech since October before making a switch on the first day junior college prospects can sign their national letter of intent.

Sarvary will have three years to play two at Florida -- meaning a redshirt year is still possible.

Florida lost three offensive tackles to season-ending injuries this past season and depth became a major issue toward the end of the season. The Gators now have five offensive line commits, including two tackles, and Sarvary and Sharpe will likely compete for playing time early on in their careers.

Florida, which currently has the No. 8 recruiting class in the country, now has 19 commitments, including 11 ranked in the ESPN 300.

Best SEC classes by position 

September, 10, 2013

Top to bottom, the Southeastern Conference is recruiting better than any conference in the country. Thirteen of 14 SEC schools are ranked in the top 40 of the recruiting rankings, including six schools ranked in the top 10. Here's a closer look at which SEC school has the top recruiting classes at each position.

Strongest class: Alabama
This is the hardest position to determine who has the strongest class. Four of the top-five quarterbacks in the final Elite 11 rankings -- Sean White (Auburn), Kyle Allen (Texas A&M), Will Grier (Florida) and Jacob Park (Georgia) -- are committed to SEC schools. Alabama, however has the top-ranked quarterback, David Cornwell (Norman, Okla./Norman North) in the ESPN 300. The Under Armour All-American is the 32nd-ranked player in the nation. At 6-foot-5, 241-pounds, Cornwell has a big-time arm and ideal size for the position.

Running back

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