RECRUITING: Friday Night Lights, Volume I

It was "Friday Night Lights" at The Swamp and it was done unlike prior camps as in the past when it comes to recruiting at Florida. Coach Urban Meyer and his staff welcomed some of the nation's best high school football players for a one evening combine/mini-camp for rising seniors. Players from all over the state and one from as far away as Ohio spent this steamy night running through the paces, trying to learn a few new skills, and also hoping to make a lasting impression on the UF coaches.

Registration started at 6:30 as the day campers slowly filed in to The Swamp. Once registered, the campers were timed in the 40-yard dash and then in the shuttle. There was some coaching about technique, but once this was done, everyone moved inside to the weight room where players were evaluated for strength and some other tests. By the time they returned to the stadium, the lights were on and the show was about to begin.

With the players standing in a semi-circle in the south end zone facing north, the quiet of the stadium was broken when the jumbotron came alive with the pregame video of the real alligators in the real swamp followed by the traditional "Heeeeeeeere Come the Gators!" The rest of the evening, the loudspeakers alternated blaring hip hop rap music with sounds of Gator crowds going berserk. All the while Florida's 20-13 victory over FSU at Bobby Bowden Field last November was shown on the jumbotron.

The players went through about 45 minutes of position drills with instruction by individual members of the Florida coaching staff. After that, the skill players were sorted into one-on-one and then seven-on-seven drills.

With so many recruits (estimated 70-80) on the field it was hard to keep up with all of them because things moved quickly. There were also quite a few big name kids who already have their Florida offer that didn't work out. So, there are a few gaps in the coverage, but here's a rundown of what we did observe.

The three top quarterbacks that were expected --- Tim Tebow of St. Augustine Nease, Jarred Fayson of Hillsborough, and John Brantley of Ocala Trinity Catholic --- all showed up and all three showed why they are on everybody's recruiting lists. Tebow showed no rust from a month spent in Asia on a Christian mission. He strong armed the deep ball with touch while throwing some darts on slants. He also ran a few pass routes. Fayson threw well although he was inconsistent. He also showed his killer speed running routes for the other quarterbacks. Brantley held his own despite the fact he's a year younger than everyone who was there. He's got a gun for an arm and has no problem making any of the throws. The guy that stole the show was a gunner named Chris Paul Etienne from Miami Edison. He threw very well, catching the attention of a couple of pretty fair quarterbacks in their own right, Shane Matthews and Kerwin Bell. Paul has a rifle of an arm and hit all the throws from sideline shots to deep balls.

Caleb King

Caleb King of Lilburn (GA) Parkview, who is the number one junior tailback in the state of Georgia, was here and was the best of the bunch that participated. C.J. Spiller of Lake Butler Union County was in attendance, but did not work out.

Wide receiver was as deep as any position I can remember for a Gator camp. Jamar Hornsby of Jacksonville Sandalwood, Tony Wilson of Daytona Beach Mainland, Ricky Dixon of Reserve (LA) East St John, Latarrius Thomas of New Smyrna Beach, Johnny Patrick of DeLand, Brandon Caleb of Fork Union (VA), and junior sensation Dion LeCorn of Ocala, Trinity Catholic all participated. Tim Hawthorne of Homewood (AL) was in attendance but did not participate. I watched Johnny Patrick in earnest and he burned several defensive backs deep. He also lined up with the first group although I don't know if that meant anything. I really like Patrick. Hornsby is a great long strider, and LeCorn, quick as a cat, burned the number one cornerback in the country Jai Eugene on his first chance at one-on-one. Kasey Nobles of Union County played solid at tight end.

Lee Tilley of Springfield, Ohio and Cruz Barrett of Daytona Beach Mainland were the only big time offensive lineman that participated that I recognized. The massive Tilley stood out among the offensive linemen and was noticeably tired. He's been hitting one school after another on a ten-day tour with his coach. Barrett looked good, too, but the linemen couldn't do much. Sam Young and Marcus Gilbert of Ft. Lauderdale, St. Thomas Aquinas attended but did not participate.

Tim Tebow threw well at the camp

Notable on offense was how fun it was to watch a Tim Tebow thow to a Jamar Hornsby or a Jarred Fayson, or a John Brantley or Jarred Fayson throw to a Tim Tebow. That usually got people talking. It's easy for people to speculate all of the above being on the same team one day.

There were several defensive linemen but unfortunately it was very hard to recognize them. Rodney Gnat of Jacksonville Wolfson was there and physically looked the part. Kevin Alexander of Union County was among the defensive end prospects. Kiante Tripp really looked like a legitimate defensive end prospect and not the offensive lineman I have seen projected. The Atlanta (GA) Westlake lineman looked good and fluid during defensive line drills. Fellow Westlake star Morrice Richardson watched the linemen, but did not participate. These were all I recognized, but undoubtedly there were more names there. One notable that I didn't see was Reggie Odom of DeLand. I expected him to show up and perform.

Tampa Middleton linebacker A.J. Jones was the surprise linebacker in attendance. The ultra-smooth, fast and deadly hitting Jones was on at least his third trip to Gainesville since the spring. He looked as good as ever. Colin McCarthy of Clearwater Central Catholic played well, but not necessarilly great. I still like the kid a lot. Gator commitment Dustin Doe of Live Oak Suwanee participated and showed his presence on the field. Doe has good size and instincts for the position. I can't put a name on any other linebackers that participated. The only linebacker I saw in attendance that didn't participate was Toryan Smith of Rome, Georgia.

Defensive back also had its share of good players. The number one corner in America participated in workouts. Jai Eugene of Destrehan (LA) was very quick and great when working in space. Darin Baldwin of Homestead, South Dade showed his strength and speed during the drills. Asher Allen of Tucker (GA) showed tremendous quickness. There were other notables there but the tape with names on a lot of these players came off so recognizing them on the spot was very difficult.

On defense, seeing Doe and A.J Jones on the field at the same time was fun to watch. Like the offensive players listed before, it is easy to picture those guys on the field at the same time in college.

After squaring off in the seven-on-seven, the players huddled in the middle of the field and eventually made their way over to a tent where they served hamburgers and hot dogs that were cooked over a grill. With the end of the Florida-FSU game on the jumbotron (yes, the Gators won!) the video switched to highlight plays from the 2004 season with more loud music. Most everyone in attendance seemed to have a great time.

Saturday the Florida staff will turn its focus on hosting several of the big name recruits for a day of fun and leisure. We will certainly bring you much more from this big weekend when we can get it.

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