There are many incoming freshmen and transfers joining UF Athletics for the 2018-19 season. With the first sporting event of the 2018 fall sports season under one month away (soccer exhibition match at Florida Gulf Coast on Aug. 7), it’s time to get acquainted with some of the new faces of the Florida Gators. Sports writers Chris O’Brien, Andrew Huang and Mark Stine highlight newcomers to watch for the upcoming football, volleyball and soccer campaigns.
There were 12 University of Florida athletics teams that finished in the top five nationally…
Chris: Dan Mullen, in his first cycle in which he arrived late on the scene, pulled in a decent recruiting class for the Gators this year. Let’s take a look at some of the newcomers that are expected to have the biggest impact:
Wide receiver Jacob Copeland, a stocky six-foot, 192-pound receiver, has a chance to be the best recruit in the 2018 class. No writers have had a clear look at the Pensacola product since he stepped on campus in Summer B, but his high school tape speaks for itself. Over his prep career, he collected 85 receptions for 1,648 yards and 14 receiving touchdowns – all in the span of three years.
Coming in as a transfer from Ohio State, wide receiver Trevon Grimes has the potential to be the best player every time he steps on the field. He’s got crisp route-running, electric speed and a vertical jump that should help him high-point lots of balls his way. Expect to see Grimes be a focal point this year.
Another wide receiver transfer, this time out of the mess that Hugh Freeze caused at Ole Miss, Van Jefferson figures to have a big impact as well. He’s a little thin, only listed at 181 pounds, but has some of the sharpest route-running I’ve ever seen. Grimes’ routes are adequate, but Jefferson runs his on a tee. He has extremely quick feet and I foresee him lining up in the slot often this season.
Quarterback Emory Jones is intriguing. He’s one of the highest-rated QB recruits to come to UF, but he’s a little undersized and looked raw over spring. Look for him to have a 2006-Tebow-like role this year, mixing him in some run-pass options with either Feleipe Franks or Kyle Trask.
Running back Dameon Pierce is also an interesting case. He looked spry in the spring and has great cutting ability and speed, but his position is loaded with great players in front of him like Jordan Scarlett, Malik Davis and Lamical Perine. An injury or two would put him right in the mix and he has the ability to make an impact.
After Florida lost kicker Eddy Piñeiro to the NFL, it needed to land a kicker in the recruiting class. Evan McPherson is that kicker. He’s no Eddy Piñeiro, but he’s the real deal. The Gators should have a satisfactory special teams unit this season.
Defensive backs Trey Dean and Amari Burney could make an impact on a unit young and thin on players. Offensive tackles Richard Gouraige and Noah Banks should be featured on an offensive line that will be rotation-heavy. Finally, JUCO tight end Lucas Krull was a late addition to the class. He’s 6-foot-7, 255 pounds and was relatively unknown until he decided to switch from baseball back to football.
Andrew: The 2017 season marked the end of an era for Gators volleyball. After leading UF to the national championship match, star players Rhamat Alhassan, Carli Snyder, Shainah Joseph and Caroline “CK” Knop ended their college careers as Florida legends.
The Gators face the harsh reality of life without them in 2018 but can rest easy knowing that Thayer Hall has arrived, signaling the beginning of the next era of UF volleyball. Hall’s resume is impeccable: 2017-18 Gatorade National Player of the Year, 2017 MaxPreps Female Athlete of the Year and the No. 1 overall recruit from the class of 2018, according to Prepvolleyball.com. Hall was a three-time South Carolina High School Miss Volleyball (2015, 2016, 2017) and won a gold medal, along with MVP honors, as a member of the USA Volleyball Junior National Team at the 2017 Under-20 Pan-American Cup. We’ll also throw in her 2014, 2016 and 2017 AAU Academic All-American honors.
But Florida fans should be just as interested in what the Spartanburg, South Carolina, native will bring to the table as a freshman this fall.
Hall (6-foot-3) plays the same position, outside hitter, as the departed Snyder and Joseph (both 6-foot-1). Snyder led the Gators in points a year ago, capping off an illustrious four-year career in Gainesville. Joseph caught fire as a redshirt senior, earning herself a spot on the 2017 All-America Second Team next to Snyder. Needless to say Hall’s skill set, athleticism and competitive spirit should be on full display in 2018.
But the void in this team includes Alhassan and Knop, too – the 2017 SEC Player of the Year and a 2017 All-America Honorable Mention, respectively.
Florida needs another star to pair with middle blocker Rachael Kramer. The 6-foot-8 Kramer had a breakout 2017 campaign, earning herself All-America Third Team honors.
Hall is exactly the player UF needs in 2018.
Mark: The UF soccer team is integrating five newcomers as it prepares for an exhibition match with Florida Gulf Coast on Aug. 7.
The Gators’ best addition is perhaps defender Georgia Eaton-Collins. Eaton-Collins is from Ipswich, England, and has experience playing for the England’s Under-19 national team and the Arsenal youth system. She was voted the Arsenal women’s Under-20 Player of the Year.
Eaton-Collins’ addition is especially critical after the graduation of defenders Cassie Owens and two-time All-SEC talent Kristen Cardano left Florida with little depth in its central defense.
In February, the program announced the addition of junior-transfer Carina Baltrip-Reyes from Florida International and three national signees ‒ attackers Cassidy Lindley, Mary Peace and Samantha Tobar.
Baltrip-Reyes started eight games as a freshman at FIU but was injured for the entire 2017 season. However, she made an impact in UF’s spring game against Florida State on March 23. She assisted attacker Laís Araujo two minutes before halftime in the 1-1 tie.
Lindley hails from St. Theodore Guerin Catholic in Noblesville, Indiana. She led the Golden Eagles to the 3A Girls State Championship match in her senior season. Lindley also scored two goals and three assists at the 2017 High School All-American Game held in Orlando on Dec. 2.
Peace and Tobar are both in-state recruits.
Peace, daughter of former-Gators All-American quarterback Wayne Peace, created 25 goals and 21 assists for Lakeland Christian last season and earned Division 1A District 12 Player of the Year honors.
Tobar comes to Florida after playing three season at Marjory Stoneman Douglas in Parkland.