The biggest issue facing Florida’s college football programs isn’t name, image and likeness, conference realignment or the transfer portal.
It’s the steady exodus of local recruits. Of the top 30 Florida natives in the 2023 class, only eight stayed.
Syracuse tight end Oronde Gadsden II
Three-star recruit (No. 1,016 overall), Plantation American Heritage
The son of former Dolphins receiver Oronde Gadsden left the state but not by choice.
“Obviously, being from Florida, you want to stay there …” Gadsden said. “I always wanted to go to Miami ever since I was growing up, but they never really gave me the chance or the opportunity to go.”
Gadsden remembers USF as his only in-state option, but that came with a catch. He said the Bulls sent him an offer for an official visit but rescinded it after another target committed.
Instead, he and his mom built a connection with the Syracuse staff through phone calls every other day, and he pictured himself thriving in the Orange’s offense. He has; his 61 catches for 969 yards last season were the most ever by a Syracuse tight end.
Georgia Tech defensive back LaMiles Brooks
Four-star recruit (No. 255 overall), Jacksonville Trinity Christian
Brooks models his game after former Florida State stars Jalen Ramsey and Derwin James and had a chance to be the Seminoles’ next great defensive back. FSU recruited him heavily, as did Miami and Florida. But he was simply ready to leave his home state.
“I grew up there,” said Brooks, one of the ACC’s top returning safeties. “It’s really nothing I haven’t seen already.”
Georgia Tech offered things Florida’s Big Three could not, starting with Atlanta, a culture-rich city loaded with major corporations. The school’s connections recently sent him to Ireland and Washington, D.C., and he said the degree from one of the top 50 schools in the country will create future career opportunities whenever football ends.
“It was a no-brainer for me,” Brooks said.
Alabama linebacker Dallas Turner
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Five-star recruit (No. 9 overall), Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas
Turner — who’s already being hyped as a future top-10 pick — didn’t feel the need to explain his choice much. The Crimson Tide’s six national titles since 2009 and sterling NFL reputation say enough.
“I mean, it’s Nick Saban,” Turner said. “Why not?”
Louisville defensive lineman Ashton Gillotte
Three-star recruit (No. 1,280 overall), Boca Raton High
The Ohio native moved around often as a child, including multiple spots in Palm Beach County. He respected the Cardinals’ south Florida history — like Teddy Bridgewater and Lamar Jackson — and embraced the city, even though his parents wanted him closer.
“I think leaving the state was in my best interest just to become a better man or grow as a person,” said Gillotte, who held offers from USF, UCF, Florida Atlantic and Florida International. “I like the challenge of being away from home.”
That challenge didn’t last too long; his mom followed him to Kentucky. But Gillotte — an honorable-mention all-ACC selection last year — said leaving home has allowed him to focus on developing himself and making connections in a new place.
Arkansas running back Raheim Sanders
Four-star recruit (No. 272 overall), Rockledge High
Like Gillotte, Sanders was ready to get away from his family. Not in a bad way, the one-time FSU target said, but in a way that would allow him to get lots of love from his mom when he returned to Brevard County.
“Other than that, just to experience something new and to experience life by myself to see how I adapt to it,” Sanders said.
Quite well, apparently. Sanders’ 1,443 rushing yards last season were the fourth-most in school history.
Clemson offensive lineman Will Putnam and defensive lineman Tyler Davis
Four-star recruits (Nos. 101 and 137 overall), Plant High and Apopka Wekiva
These are the ones that truly got away. The Gators, Hurricanes and Seminoles offered both prospects, and both considered FSU a finalist.
“I really loved them,” Putnam said.
Davis did, too, but the Tigers’ culture trumped the in-state pull.
“Something’s just different about Clemson …” said Davis, a three-time all-ACC honoree. “It’s everything I thought I expected and more.”
Putnam prioritized stability on signing day. The Tigers were set under Dabo Swinney, while FSU was a year removed from the rocky Jimbo Fisher-Willie Taggart transition.
“I think I came to Clemson for all the right reasons,” Putnam said Thursday. “I wanted to be able to have a great school experience. I wanted to be around guys that I wanted to be around. I wanted the chance to be able to win a championship — championships.”
Not that those things couldn’t have happened in Tallahassee, Putnam said. But they have happened with the Tigers, so much so that he feels like he has a new hometown.
“When people ask me where I’m from now — once I leave Clemson — I’ll probably say I’m from Clemson.”
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