Photo: Patrick Toney and Corey Raymond; Credit: Alex Shepherd
The recruiting environment is not for the faint of heart. Always expect the unexpected.
On Thursday, the No. 1 cornerback and No. 2 player in the nation, Corman McClainhe did the impossible and shocked the world when he announced his decision to commit.
Considered Florida’s lean man for the longevity of his recruiting dating back to the last coaching staff, McClain was considered as close to continuing his playing career with Billy Napier and Co. as you can get.
The team many believed to be the biggest threat was the ultimate blue blood of college football in Alabama.
Miami was considered a distant third until it wasn’t.
McClain despised the Gators and the Crimson Tide and decided to take his talents to Miami to play for Mario Cristobal. His decision sent shockwaves through the recruiting world, similar to the 2022 No. 1 CB Travis Hunter sent when he left FSU at the altar last December to head to Jackson State.
McClain’s announcement marks one of Florida’s worst losses in program history.
With that decision, the Gators lost their top-priority recruit — regardless of position — for the 2023 class, and the wave of momentum they were riding to become potentially the hottest program on the track came to a screeching halt.
That begs the following questions: Can Florida bounce back from the troubling loss? Where do the Gators turn after turning on the guy they pegged as the headliner of a talented 2023 class?
Those answers are multifaceted, considering the loss of a player of McClain’s caliber to another state institution.
However, Florida has direction to elevate its top ten.
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Let’s start by saying that the Gators’ defensive backfield is in good hands at this point. Ja’Keem Jackson, Dijon Johnson, Sharif Denson, Jordan Castell, Bryce Thornton and Aaron Gates is more than adequate for early game time.
McClain would add an elite element to a unit that is projected early in his career at Florida to fix an underperforming secondary, and there’s no way to ignore the magnitude of that loss. However, with the pieces the Gators have put together to this point, if there was a position that could lose out to a top recruit, it’s cornerback.
But that doesn’t mean the Gators will stop looking for talent in the background. IMG Academy defensive back Desmond Rickswho recently reclassified to 2023 from 2024, is now likely to rank among the top players on CB coach Corey Raymond’s wish list.
As for the rest of the defense as a whole, Florida’s attention now shifts to the trenches, where a host of their remaining top prospects remain. Defensive action Kayden McDonaldcommitted on Monday, is expected to receive considerable attention in the coming days.
Unbound Keon Keeleydefensive solution Jordan Halldefensive solution James Smith and offensive line Caden Jones Those are some of the names Florida will be hoping to turn off the heat with hopes of convincing their decisions, though they all have hurdles the Gators must jump.
The main task will be to ensure the landing of the cycle. With a wealth of talented prospects to serve as complementary attachments, Florida’s flurry of McClain has resulted in a lack of clear-cut leadership talent in the class.
Right now, the Carvere (Ala.) edge rusher Qua Russaw or an offensive solution Samson Okunlola serve as the best options for making it a reality.
Russaw has shown continued interest in the Gators program since the new staff took over and enjoyed an official visit to Gainesville on Oct. 14. Alabama and Georgia are the main contenders in addition to UF for his services.
Meanwhile, Okunlola has reportedly recently emerged as the position of need in Florida as Gators offensive line coaching tandem Rob Sale and Darnell Stapleton look for a way to find an offensive tackle.
Not only would it give Florida the services of the top-rated offensive tackle in the class, but it would also hit Miami after the losses the Hurricanes have suffered on the trail since the new regimes have suffered overall. Miami has long been a factor in Okunlola’s recruitment.
All in all, despite the bad taste in the mouths of those in and around Florida’s program, the path forward is not as bleak as initial reactions might suggest. There are still viable options to enter the mix as a clear No. 1 recruit to firmly establish Bump’s 2023 class in the nation’s top ten.
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