Under a clear summer night sky in front of UF coaches and with several current Florida players watching on from the stands, some of the state’s top talent took the field for Friday Night Lights in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on Friday.
Before the camp even got started, though, Friday was already a big day for Florida’s football team. Four-star Dover, Del., offensive lineman Trip Thurman committed to the Gators early Friday followed by a commitment from Pensacola Pine Forest defensive back Loucheiz Purifoy, who ran a 4.38 40-yard dash at a camp at UAB.
The two recruits upped Florida’s total to 12 for the 2011 class.
But that was just the beginning of a busy Friday for the Gators.
At the sixth annual Friday Night Lights, some of the state’s top recruits – including a handful of UF commits such as four-star athlete De’Ante “Pop” Saunders, fullback Hunter Joyer, tight end A.C. Leonard and defensive lineman Jeoffrey Pagan – and other recruits from around the nation took part in position drills, one-on-one drills and spent time getting coached up by Florida coaches and former players.
Although many big names were in attendance, one was noticeably absent: five-star athlete James Wilder Jr., of Plant in Tampa.
Wilder, who has UF among his top choices, was visiting FSU on Friday and was still expected to make it to Friday Night Lights, but never showed.
Of the recruits who were there, many impressed, including four-star running backs Mike Blakely (Manatee) and Mike Bellamy (Charlotte).
While Bellamy, a Clemson commit, said he is “100 percent Clemson,” Blakely put Florida at the top of his list of schools.
“If they run the ball and win games … I’m here,” Blakely said. “As long as the running back gets the ball, (the offense) doesn’t matter.”
On the defensive side of the ball, Saunders, who worked as a defensive back, and South Lake four-star cornerback Nick Waisome stood out, showing good speed and form in position drills as well as one-on-one drills.
Waisome said he built good relationships with Florida’s coaches during his visit, but that he will wait to make his decision until sometime in August.
“I know where I’m leaning, but I’m probably going to sit down with my parents and talk things over,” Waisome said.
He added that his top-five schools are UF, FSU, South Carolina, Georgia and LSU – in no particular order.
Linebacker A.J. Johnson, of Gainesville, Ga., also looked good during one-on-one drills showing good speed while covering the running backs. Afterward, he said UF was in his top three, along with Tennessee and Clemson, but that UF was his leading choice.
Two recruits that garnered some extra attention from coach Urban Meyer throughout the night were tight ends A.C. Leonard and Nick O’Leary, a four-star recruit from Dwyer, who Rivals.com ranks as the No. 2 tight end in the nation.
Meyer paid close attention to the two during position and one-on-one drills, and both displayed their athleticism and skills while running routes and pulling down catches -- though O'Leary did drop a few throughout the night.
UCLA commit Junior Pome’e, a three-star wide receiver/tight end from Rancho Verde (Calif.) was all over the field, doing work with running backs during position drills, and then at wide receiver and tight end later in the night. Even though he is committed to the Bruins, he spoke highly of Florida and his relationship with current Gators defensive lineman Ronald Powell.
PAGAN REAFFIRMS COMMITMENT
Although it seemed four-star defensive lineman Jeoffrey Pagan was wavering on his verbal commitment to Florida last month when he told the Asheville Citizen-Times he was close to 50 percent committed to the Gators, he solidified his verbal to UF after Friday Night Lights.
Pagan said he spoke to Meyer during his visit and ultimately decided that he would not be taking any official visits once the season starts because of the respect he and Meyer have for each other.