LAND O’LAKES — Land O’Lakes High School tight end Kent Taylor kept his verbal commitment to Florida quiet for almost a month.
So when the senior and country’s top tight end prospect prepared to make his college choice public Thursday in a ceremony at his high school, he had trouble letting the secret out of the bag.
“Once a Gator — hold on,” Taylor said as he tried to dislodge his UF hat out of a Phillies bag, “always a Gator.”
The four-star recruit announced that he chose Florida over Florida State, Georgia, Alabama, LSU and Penn State moments after he was selected to the U.S. Army All-American Bowl.
The 6-foot-5, 215-pound Taylor is regarded as the nation’s top tight end prospect by Rivals and Scout. Rivals calls him the country’s 55th best player overall; Scout ranks him No. 66. Coaches call him an excellent receiver with a frame that colleges can bulk up into a blocking threat.
Taylor said he picked the Gators because of how they use tight ends in the passing game. Tight ends have 13 of the team’s 98 catches in offensive coordinator Charlie Weis’ first season at UF.
“I like to catch balls,” Taylor said, “and I just thought that past history has shown, you know, that the offensive coordinator, Charlie Weis, is going to throw to the tight end.”
Taylor leads Land O’Lakes with 18 catches for 322 yards and three touchdowns, despite missing the first two games of the season with a broken hand. As a junior, he caught 35 passes for 571 yards and nine touchdowns and was named to the St. Petersburg Times’ all-North Suncoast team.
Taylor added another accolade Thursday: All-American.
U.S. Army All-American Bowl officials named Taylor as one of 90 seniors — including Jefferson DE Tyriq McCord — in the country selected for the January high school all-star game in San Antonio, Texas. Principal Ric Mellin called it one of the biggest announcements in school history.
“It’s a great honor,” Taylor said. “When you look at the first-round picks who have played in this game, there’s a lot of them.”
Shortly after slipping on the U.S. Army cap, he replaced it — eventually — with a brand new Florida hat with a sticker still on the bill.
It was a confirmation for what many already knew. Taylor called Florida coaches a few days before the Oct. 1 game against Alabama to commit to the Gators. He told his family and a few close friends but waited until the Army ceremony to announce his choice in a “public, like, pretty cool” way.
Thursday’s news conference in front of Army officials, a dozen reporters and a gym lobby cramped with friends, family and teammates fit the billing.
“Today I got goose bumps for him,” Land O’Lakes coach Brian Wachtel said.
Verbal commitments are non-binding until recruits sign national letters of intent, beginning in February. Taylor said the only visit he has planned is for next month’s Florida-Florida State game in Gainesville and that he’s already trying to recruit other players — including Lakewood defensive end Dante Fowler Jr. — to join him at Florida.
“Ready to be a Gator,” Taylor said.