GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The Gator Chomp was in full force at Florida's annual Friday Night Lights camp as numerous players from around the state in the classes of 2013, 2014 and 2015 descended upon Ben Hill Griffin Stadium for yet another trademark camp for the program. Coach Will Muschamp took a back seat during most of the festivities, preferring to spend time with a handful of prospects, and let his assistants and the recruits themselves get most of the spotlight on a humid night on the Florida campus.
"When I go back tomorrow, I'm going to tell them this is the place, this is where you want to be at," Columbus (Ga.) wide receiver and Gators commit Marqui Hawkins said. "Florida is where it's at."
|Head coach Will Muschamp (right) and defensive coordinator Dan Quinn used Friday Night Lights to evaluate.|
The camp, which doubled as an unofficial visit for Hawkins and several others who arrived early or stayed late on Friday, locked the 6-foot-2, 190-pounder back in as a solid verbal commitment after he previously considered taking official visits to other programs. He was one of several players who got to preview what their college careers would be like by running around the Swamp under the lights and talking extensively with the coaching staff on and off the field.
"Coach (Will) Muschamp was telling me how great of a player (he is), how I'm physical and he loves the way I can judge the ball," Hawkins said. "Academics, football, passing offense, off the ball, fast tempo offense (were selling points). He was just telling me how happy he was that I'm a Gator."
Muschamp wasn't just reaffirming the current commitments for the Gators, he was trying to add to the current classes the staff was working on. Lawrenceville (Ga.) defensive end Antonio Riles ended up being the only public commitment on Friday, committing to the program after calling one of the assistant coaches and making things official to give Florida some momentum heading into what has become the marquee late July school camp.
"I've been in contact with a lot of guys and hopefully we land a couple more this week," Brentwood (Tenn.) quarterback and commit Max Staver said. "I think (Saturday) we might pick up a really big guy. I don't want to say his name but we might get him. After that it might slow down a little bit as we fill in those last spots. Right now we have 18 commits and they allow us 25, so we'll see who the last seven guys are going to be. I have a really good feeling that we're going to go out with a bang. It's really exciting to be a part of it."
"When it first started, I thought I was a shoe-in for Georgia," Riles told 247Sports earlier in the day. "But when I went down to Florida, I saw how it was and how the coaches were. I liked it a lot."
The staff wasn't done after landing Riles, with just about everybody stopping to talk to Jacksonville (Fla.) defensive end Demarcus Walker, who didn't participate at Friday Night Lights but soaked up the atmosphere. At one point he spent several minutes with his arm wrapped around the head coach and discussed his possible future at the program were he to pull the trigger.
“He was trying to get me on the board,” Walker said of Muschamp. “He was just telling me, I'm close on board and he's trying to push me on board.”
|Demarcus Walker didn't get on the field for some action but was one of the main targets for the Gators at Friday Night Lights.|
Walker was one of the top targets for the Gators at the event and although he kept to himself quite a bit, seemed to enjoy the experience. The additional trip to Gainesville allowed the 6-foot-3, 275-pounder to see what the coaches were talking about when they sold the program and offered the opportunity to spend a little more time with Muschamp.
“When it comes to him, he don't really talk about football,” said Walker. “He talks about life after football. He started bringing up academics. Gators take care of Gators after football getting a job. I like that, and that brings a super positive.”
A possible strongside defensive end or defensive tackle in college, Walker listed Alabama, Auburn, Clemson, Florida and Tennessee as the programs in the running for his verbal commitment. The Crimson Tide are considered the team to beat and while he certainly has a good idea of where he wants to go, it remains to be seen if he ultimately ends up in Tuscaloosa after committing on television in late August.
“It's a great program, puts guys in the league,” he said. “They excel at every category when it comes to academics, a good program, community service. They won the Disney Spirit Award. The list goes on.”
Count current Florida commit and Tallahassee (Fla.) linebacker James Hearns as one of the players trying to make sure Walker keeps the Gators at the top of his list. Hearns, top wide receiver Ahmad Fulwood and several other players were on the sidelines at the stadium, stopping to talk with uncommitted players and making their pitch to join the class of 2013 that is currently ranked fourth overall.
"I was talking with Marcel Harris and Demarcus Walker," Hearns said. "I need a big body to play in front of me to keep guys off of me in the SEC."
Hearns wasn't the only big Florida pledge making the case for the class. Quarterback Max Staver threw during the nearly three hour session and couldn't have been happier after leaving the stadium.
"I wanted to show everybody that I'm a good player," Staver said. "I just wanted to have a little fun with some of the guys. I talked with some of the other guys, some receivers. I think I did a good job tonight and I'm really happy with where we are and the future with who we're going to get."
Staver got to spend with a fair amount of time with new offensive coordinator Brent Pease and enjoyed not only a few coaching tips he picked up but how the pair will fit in with the program going forward.
"He's going to be honest with you," said Staver. "His type of offense is perfect, it's pro style but they're going to get in multiple sets. He brings a lot of knowledge of the game and will be a great teacher and he's going to get you ready for the next level. That's all the qualities you look for in a coach."
With the Gators' upcoming recruiting class getting close to capacity, Friday Night Lights offered the staff a very good opportunity to evaluate many 2014 and 2015 prospects. While offers were not extended like some had hoped, the underclass recruit nevertheless enjoyed their time at the camp and with the staff.
"I had a lot of fun," Tarpon Springs (Fla.) 2015 athlete George Campbell said. "I just wanted to show up and do my best, have a good time and show the coaches that I had what it takes to be a Gator.
"I know a lot of the coaches, I've talked with coach (Brian) White, coach Aubrey Hill. They've all told me that I'm going to be a Gator and they want to see me in that Gator uniform."
There were plenty of players who will wind up donning the Florida uniform in the future in action at Friday Night Lights and for the coaching staff that had to put a smile on their face as they exited the Swamp late at night.