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FSU at head of class // Gators land Blue Chip linebacker Travis

Florida football got off its recruiting treadmill in time to run down a few of the state's top prospects. But there were still many questions on Wednesday about how the Gators fared with players other national powers pursued. Lateef Travis, a 6-foot-4, 225-pound Parade All-American linebacker, was the most prestigious player to sign a national letter of intent with the Gators on Wednesday, helping new coach Steve Spurrier land the third highest-rated recruiting class in the Southeastern Conference, according to national recruiting guru Max Emfinger.

Travis was the most coveted player on the St. Petersburg Times Blue Chip list and selected the Gators over Miami after visiting the Hurricanes' campus in Coral Gables last weekend. But the Pensacola Pine Forest senior has struggled in the classroom and may not be of any use to the Gators for awhile.

"Obviously, he's a tremendous athlete," Spurrier said of Travis. "Shoot, he's one of those linebackers everybody in the country was after. We're happy he chose Florida.

"He's got to really work on his academics. Everybody knows that.

But if he gets after it, he can make it. He's going to night class now because there are a couple subjects he needed to improve on. Lateef is a smart kid. But he comes from a background that's not real solid.

We've been in the hunt with him all along."

According to Spurrier, Travis may have trouble qualifying under Proposition 48 standards. But the Gators are permitted by state guidelines to sign up to three partial qualifiers this year.

Emfinger said Travis has no peers at linebacker. "He's a dominant player. When he wants to be a great player, he can be a great player.

He can be a little lazy sometimes, but when he wants to play, he's as good as there is in the country. None better."

"I just thought I could make more of an impact at Florida," Travis said. "I loved Miami. I was going to go there. Then my mom talked to me. She didn't want me to go to a big city. And my family wanted me to be closer to home."

However, Spurrier received some bad news when Lake Wales linebacker James Roberson, who had verbally committed to Florida, confounded the Gators by signing with rival Florida State. Roberson was the fourth-rated outside linebacker in the South, according to one national recruiting service.

Entering Wednesday, the first day high school players could sign national letters of intent for football, Florida had received 21 verbal commitments.

"I feel like possibly a fullback, or defensive back could be positions where someone could come in and play early," Spurrier said. "There may be also a few players at skilled positions who could help.

"It's up to the sports writers and experts to say how we did, but I think it's a solid recruiting year. We've got a lot of fine young players coming and we're excited. It could've been better. It could've been worse. But we're right there. It's basically what I'll say every year. In two or three years we'll find out if these players are really good ones."

FLORIDA SIGNEES Pete Archie DB 6-0 185 Houston

Jay Austin QB 6-3 185 St. Petersburg

Chris Bilkie FB 6-2 218 Holmes Beach

Craig Carey L 6-3 275 Houston

Kendall Cook K 5-9 170 Lakeland

Zach Crockett FB 6-2 215 Pompano Beach

Terry Dean QB 6-3 195 Naples

Kevin Freeman RB 6-0 200 Palmetto

Mike Gilmore RB 6-1 180 Chipley

Greg Gingeleski OL 6-9 270 Sarasota

Dean Golden L 6-5 230 Plantation

Aubrey Hill WR 6-1 175 Miami

Harrison Houston WR 5-9 170 Pensacola

Eddie Lake DB 5-11 175 Tarpon Springs

Kedra Malone RB 5-9 175 Niceville

George Rushing TE 6-4 225 Miami

David Swain DL 6-4 240 Altamonte Spgs

Lateef Travis LB 6-3 215 Pensacola

Scott Travis OL 6-5 260 N.Rochelle, NY