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National signing day: Live updates on Florida Gators, FSU and USF

The nation’s top recruit, Travis Hunter, flipped from FSU to Jackson State.
Tampa's Tony Livingston, seen here at Carrollwood Day, is a Florida commit who can sign with the Gators today.
Tampa's Tony Livingston, seen here at Carrollwood Day, is a Florida commit who can sign with the Gators today. [ SCOTT PURKS | Special to the Times ]
Published Dec. 15, 2021|Updated Dec. 15, 2021

4:15 update: Florida picked up a five-star recruit in Kamari Wilson, a safety from Bradenton’s IMG Academy. He’ll be Billy Napier’s first five-star signee. His predecessor, Dan Mullen, signed only two of them from high schools in his four classes.

FSU officially added IMG quarterback AJ Duffy, the nation’s No. 120 overall prospect.

1:30 update: Florida State got some positive news when four-star Niceville athlete Azareyeh Thomas announced his commitment to the Seminoles.

The Gators have now signed six recruits in what’s expected to be a low-key day. One of them is Devin Moore, a four-star safety from Naples, who chose Florida over Notre Dame this morning. The best name? That belongs to kicker Trey Smack. Four-star defensive lineman Jamari Lyons has also reaffirmed his commitment by signing with the Gators.

12:30 update: The biggest news of the day is out: the nation’s top recruit, Travis Hunter, flipped from Florida State to Jackson State, where he’ll play for Seminoles legend Deion Sanders. It’s the biggest signing day shock in the modern recruiting era. We’ve got a separate story up on that here.

11:30 update: Florida State continues to wait on the nation’s top recruit, Travis Hunter. There is speculation, however, that the Seminoles commit could be wavering and might instead sign with Jackson State (coached by FSU legend Deion Sanders).

Again, it’s just speculation. But if he flips, it would be catastrophic for FSU and qualify as one of the biggest signing day shockers ever.

10:45 update: As Florida State awaits a signature from the No. 1 overall recruit, Travis Hunter, the Seminoles have added a few more pieces. Their most recent signees are three-star offensive lineman Daughtry Richardson from Miami Central and three-star defensive lineman Daniel Lyons from Homestead.

The Tampa Bay area’s top recruit, Amari Niblack, has signed with Alabama, as expected. The Lakewood High athlete is the nation’s No. 173 overall recruit, according to the 247Sports composite rankings.

USF’s class now includes three-star quarterback Gunnar Smith.

10 a.m. update: The Bulls announced the addition of three-star defensive lineman Eddie Kelly. He’s believed to be the first recruit to choose USF over Florida and Florida State since the Bulls’ Big East days. He has the potential to be their C.J. Spiller, as I wrote last month.

Related: Why three-star recruit Eddie Kelly can be USF’s C.J. Spiller

UF’s class has grown to three recruits. The latest two: three-star offensive lineman David Conner from Deerfield Beach and three-star offensive lineman Christian Williams (who had been committed to Billy Napier at Louisiana).

9:45 a.m. update: USF is up to 11 signees. The three most recent ones are locals. Clyde Pinder was a four-star recruit out of Armwood who originally signed with North Carolina but is transferring to USF. Javohn Thomas is a two-sport star at Sickles High and a three-star receiver. Ajou Ajou signed with Clemson two years ago out of Clearwater Academy International as the nation’s No. 401 prospect but is now joining the Bulls.

The latest of Florida State’s six signees are a pair of three-star recruits from Georgia: offensive lineman Kanaya Charlton and running back Rodney Hill. FSU missed out on four-star defensive lineman Tyre West, a former Georgia commit who is signing with Tennessee.

UCF’s class sits 43rd in the nation, which would be the highest rated class in program history. The Knights got a boost this morning when Xavier Townsend, a top-600 athlete from Berkeley Prep, signed with UCF after recently decommitting from Iowa State.

8:15 a.m. update: National signing day is here, and the signatures are starting to arrive.

King High’s Tony Livingston is the first Florida signee of the Billy Napier era. The Gators listed the four-star prospect as a tight end. UF has also got a commitment four-star defensive back Devin Moore from Naples High. Moore was uncommitted and chose the Gators over Notre Dame.

Florida State has already signed four recruits to a class that could finish in the top 10. The Seminoles have secured one of their five-star commitments, Lake Gibson safety Sam McCall, plus four-star lineman Qae’shon Sapp, three-star tight end Brian Courtney and three-star defensive end Aaron Hester.

Related: How FSU football saved a potential top-10 recruiting class after a 5-7 season

FSU, however, is set to lose offensive coordinator Kenny Dillingham to Oregon. Noles247 reported that FSU will promote offensive line coach Alex Atkins to coordinator; he previously filled that role at Charlotte before coming to Tallahassee.

USF’s early additions include defensive back Aamaris Brown (a Kansas State transfer from Armwood High), defensive lineman James Ash (a Wake Forest transfer from Chamberlain High), three-star North Carolina quarterback Byrum Brown and Mike Lofton (a UCF transfer from Calvary Christian).

One of UCF’s first signees was TJ Bullard, a three-star linebacker from Berkeley Prep. He’s the son of Thaddeus Bullard, the WWE superstar who performs as Titus O’Neil.

Our original story on what to expect follows:

Don’t expect much from the Florida Gators

New Florida coach Billy Napier will probably not sign many Gators recruits Wednesday.
New Florida coach Billy Napier will probably not sign many Gators recruits Wednesday. [ BRAD MCCLENNY | The Gainesville Sun via Associated Press ]

As of Tuesday afternoon, UF had the nation’s No. 79 class with only seven commits (including King High four-star offensive lineman Tony Livingston). That’s because the Gators are being deliberate under new coach Billy Napier, who took over a week and a half ago.

Transitional classes have high bust rates and lots of attrition. A slow approach might help mitigate those risks, giving Napier more time to evaluate the prospect as a player and person (and vice versa). It’s the same philosophy Napier had in his first class at Louisiana, where he signed zero prospects in December but added six future all-conference performers in February or later.

Related: Florida keeps losing recruits under Billy Napier. It might not be as bad as it seems.

“I think it’s really smart …” ESPN national recruiting director Tom Luginbill said. “Right now, this is such a mathematical mess from a scholarship standpoint. You’re better off probably not just signing bodies to sign bodies.”

Florida State will have the state’s best class

Florida State coach Mike Norvell will likely sign the state's best recruiting class this year.
Florida State coach Mike Norvell will likely sign the state's best recruiting class this year. [ JOHN RAOUX | AP ]

Despite a 5-7 season, FSU is on the verge of a top-10 class. The Seminoles have commitments from the nation’s top recruit (Georgia cornerback Travis Hunter) and one of the state’s top players (Lake Gibson safety Sam McCall). They’re also a finalist for five-star legacy Marvin Jones Jr., Plantation American Heritage teammate Earl Little (a four-star cornerback) and Azareyeh Thomas, a top-100 athlete from Niceville.

Related: How FSU football saved a potential top-10 recruiting class after a 5-7 season

USF has a great transfer class

Clyde Pinder originally signed with North Carolina out of Armwood High but plans to transfer to USF.
Clyde Pinder originally signed with North Carolina out of Armwood High but plans to transfer to USF. [ Times (2020) ]

The Bulls’ traditional recruiting class was No. 108 nationally Tuesday afternoon, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. USF has 10 commitments from transfers, giving the Bulls the top transfer class in the nation. The list includes former Minnesota linebacker James Gordon (Plant City High), North Carolina defensive lineman Clyde Pinder (a former four-star recruit from Armwood High) and two players from Clemson (running back Michel Dukes and safety Ray Thornton).

This approach is intentional. Transfers allow USF to gain experienced players with plenty of time remaining (thanks in part to the 2020 pandemic year that didn’t count toward players’ eligibility).

Related: Why three-star recruit Eddie Kelly can be USF’s C.J. Spiller

“That’s like a unique window in the history of college football that’s never existed,” coach Jeff Scott said last month.

The Tampa Bay area has some big-time players, as usual

Tampa Bay Tech receiver Greg Gaines has orally committed to Iowa State.
Tampa Bay Tech receiver Greg Gaines has orally committed to Iowa State. [ SCOTT PURKS | Special to the Times ]

Lakewood High athlete Amari Niblack is the top local recruit; he’s the nation’s No. 173 recruit and has orally committed to Alabama. Clearwater Academy International defensive lineman Isaiah Hastings is also a Crimson Tide commit.

Gaither High four-star edge rusher Mario Eugenio is a former Michigan commit who recently flipped to another College Football Playoff team, Cincinnati. The area’s other blue-chip prospects are Tampa Bay Tech receiver Greg Gaines (Iowa State commit) and Armwood athlete Kye Stokes (Ohio State).

This post will be updated.

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