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

FSU lost a five-star recruit, and Largo High’s Adarius Hayes flipped from Florida to Miami.
 
Jeremiah Smith is the nation's No. 1 recruit and has been pursued by the Florida Gators, Florida State and Miami. He's an Ohio State commit.
Jeremiah Smith is the nation's No. 1 recruit and has been pursued by the Florida Gators, Florida State and Miami. He's an Ohio State commit. [ SCOTT PURKS | Special to the Times ]
Published Dec. 20, 2023|Updated Dec. 21, 2023

UPDATE (8:38 p.m.): The day, is, we think, over. Some recaps:

Billy Napier’s Gators recruiting class spent much of the fall in the top three. It finished Wednesday 16th.

Florida State signed a bittersweet class as Miami and UCF had some of their best hauls ever. USF had the No. 1 recruiting class in the American Athletic Conference and what looks like the Bulls’ best group in a decade.

Here is a comprehensive list of players who signed letters of intent or arrived via the transfer portal for the Gators, ‘Noles, ‘Canes, Knights and Bulls.

UPDATE (6:52 p.m.): The news of the day should be over. The last two announcements of note were five-star Miami Central defensive lineman Armondo Blount flipping from Florida State to Miami and FSU replacing him with three-star prospect D’Nas White.

The final class rankings, as of now: Miami is third (first in the ACC). Florida State sits ninth (second in the ACC). The Gators are 16th with UCF at No. 32 and USF at 49th.

UPDATE (5:53 p.m.): The Gators’ last expected signee is in. Florida held on to keep five-star defensive lineman LJ McCray, despite interest from Florida State and Auburn.

“I don’t know why you all thought I was flipping,” McCray said during his announcement on Instagram.

UPDATE (5:08 p.m.): Things are slowing down, so don’t expect many more updates. Gators coach Billy Napier is expected to speak with reporters soon. His news conference is the last of the day.

Here’s our story on USF’s best class in about a decade. We’ll post more links here as we finish writing and reporting today.

UPDATE (4:53 p.m.): The Gators have lost their eighth recruit since the start of November, and it’s one of the better prospects in the Tampa Bay area. Carrollwood Day’s Izaiah Williams flipped to Texas A&M. Williams is a four-star receiver and the nation’s No. 327 prospect.

UPDATE (4:36 p.m.): Five-star quarterback DJ Lagway is now officially Florida Gators quarterback DJ Lagway. UF announced his addition moments ago. Lagway is the nation’s No. 10 overall signee and the Gators’ biggest recruit since Tim Tebow.

UPDATE (4:21 p.m.): Five-star quarterback DJ Lagway affirmed his oral commitment to the Florida Gators during an interview on ESPN2. Lagway was asked why he believes Florida coach Billy Napier can turn the program around.

His answer: “I just believe in him. He’s a really good dude. I just see it. I can see it there. I can see him doing amazing things. I feel like I’m the piece of the puzzle to complete it.”

UPDATE (2:48 p.m.): Florida picked up a late recruit when three-star safety Gregory Smith III signed with the Gators. Smith is from Riverview’s Sumner High and had Mississippi, USF and Vanderbilt among his other options.

Smith’s addition helps move Florida back to No. 13 nationally. Florida State sits fifth, and Miami is seventh.

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UPDATE (1:48 p.m.): The Gators’ class took another hit when top-100 national recruit Amaris Williams flipped to Auburn. The four-star defensive lineman from North Carolina announced his commitment on Rivals by saying he “would not be signing to the University of Florida,” and slipping on an Auburn cap.

His defection dropped the Gators’ class to No. 15 nationally. They were fifth at the start of the week and third for much of the cycle.

Florida also failed to flip Tampa Catholic’s four-star athlete, Jameer Grimsley. The top-200 national recruit stuck with Alabama.

UPDATE (1:33 p.m.): One of the Tampa Bay area’s top prospects, Largo High linebacker Adarius Hayes, has flipped from Florida to Miami. Hayes, a top-100 national recruit, committed to the Gators in January but took a late visit to the Hurricanes.

He announced his flip during his ceremony with Miami graphics popping up at the end of his highlight reel. Hayes became the sixth blue-chip recruit to decommit from Florida since Nov. 1.

UPDATE (1:24 p.m.): Florida State is, again, on the wrong side of one of the biggest flips of the season. The Seminoles lost five-star safety KJ Bolden to Georgia. Bolden, a Georgia native, is the nation’s No. 14 overall recruit. His defection comes two years after FSU watched another elite athlete, Travis Hunter, flip on signing day to Jackson State.

UPDATE (1:15 p.m.): USF has announced five more signees, bringing the Bulls’ total for the day to 22.

Among them: Gaither offensive tackle Tyreek Major, who becomes the third Cowboys offensive lineman to sign with USF since 2018, joining Donovan Jennings and Andrew Kilfoyl.

The Bulls also confirmed four of their signees (and early enrollees) are practicing with the team in preparation for Thursday night’s Boca Raton Bowl: tight end Jonathan Echols, quarterback Marcelis Tate and receivers Joshua Porter and Brandon Winton. None are permitted to play Thursday, but can practice.

Coach Alex Golesh is expected to meet with reporters to discuss today’s signees shortly after 2 p.m.

UPDATE (1:05 p.m.): The Gators just earned their biggest win of the day. That’s because four-star Georgia athlete Jadan Baugh committed to Florida. He decommitted from Arkansas this week and was also pursued heavily by Alabama. Florida lists him as a running back at 225 pounds and just under 6-1.

UPDATE (12:30 p.m.): The state missed out on the nation’s No. 1 overall recruit. Receiver Jeremiah Smith from Chaminade-Madonna Prep in Hollywood stuck with his oral commitment to Ohio State. Florida, Florida State and Miami were among the programs that tried to flip and were unsuccessful. No state program has signed the nation’s top recruit since the Gators landed Ronald Powell in 2010.

UPDATE (noon): Florida State is up to 16 signees announced so far. Two of the latest are quarterback Luke Kromenhoek, a top-60 national recruit, and top-150 offensive lineman Jonathan Daniels from Pensacola. FSU’s class is up to No. 3 nationally behind only Georgia and Alabama.

UPDATE (11:15 a.m.): After a late-morning lull, USF announced its 18th signee of the day, Daytona Beach Mainland two-way standout Rodney Hill.

The Buccaneers’ top tackler (97) who also totaled seven sacks, Hill projects as a linebacker for the Bulls. In the recent Class 3S state final, a 21-19 victory against St. Augustine, the three-star prospect totaled six tackles and a sack, and ran for a 4-yard touchdown.

UPDATE (9:55 a.m.): Here’s a potential curveball for Florida and Florida State: Five-star Daytona Beach defensive lineman LJ McCray told On3 there’s a “high possibility” he doesn’t sign today. McCray is a Gators commit who has remained a flip target for Auburn and the Seminoles. Players don’t have to sign today; this is merely the start of a three-day window.

UPDATE (9:30 a.m.): There have been few, if any, notable surprises so far. No major announcements are expected until 10, so let’s take a step back and look at where the programs are.

Florida State’s class remains No. 4 nationally and tops in the ACC and state. Miami is next (sixth in the country) and, crucially, has already signed its lone five-star commit, Chicago defensive lineman Justin Scott.

The Gators are 10th and still waiting on make-or-break signatures from five-star recruits DJ Lagway and LJ McCray.

UCF is 29th overall and second in the Big 12 (behind Texas Tech). USF sits just outside the top 50 but has the best class in the American Athletic Conference.

The Bulls have already signed 17 players. Among the latest to be confirmed is Iowa Western Community College defensive end Jaylen Pettus, who helped lead the Reivers to consecutive junior college national titles. A first-team juco All-American this past season, he logged 40 tackles, 17.5 tackles for loss (including nine sacks), a forced fumble, fumble recovery and two blocked kicks in 12 games.

UPDATE (9 a.m.): Florida State has secured its second top-100 national recruit with the addition of Cai Bates. He’s a four-star athlete from Orlando Edgewater.

The Gators have landed another top-100 prospect, too: four-star Maryland linebacker Aaron Chiles. UF will find out about another blue-chip linebacker later at 1 p.m. today when Largo High’s Adarius Hayes makes his announcement. He has been committed to Florida since January but said he’s choosing between the Gators and Miami.

UPDATE (8:40 a.m.): Our latest batch of signees includes more from the Tampa Bay area. Three-star running back Stacy Gage affirmed his commitment to UCF. Gage is a Tampa native who finished his high school career at Fort Lauderdale powerhouse St. Thomas Aquinas.

Four-star edge rusher Booker Pickett Jr. from Wharton High is one of the newest additions for Miami, which already has announced 22 newcomers in this class. The elder Booker Pickett, who starred at Zephyrhills, played for the Hurricanes from 1993-96.

The younger Pickett’s uncle, Ryan, starred at Zephyrhills and Ohio State, and spent 14 seasons as a nose tackle in the NFL.

Meantime, USF formally announced the addition of Robinson three-star receiver Arkese Parks. Parks just wrapped up a signing ceremony at his school. Another Bulls pledge, Gaither offensive tackle Tyreek Major, will have a ceremony at 1 p.m.

The Gators have formally added their first transfer: Brandon Crenshaw-Dickson, an offensive tackle from San Diego State. He’s a 6-foot-7, 312-pound athlete who started 37 games for the Aztecs and adds much-needed experience and potential to the unit.

UPDATE (8:15 a.m.): USF formally has announced 14 signees, including behemoth twin brothers Dinellson and Chenellson Exume of Miami Edison. The three-star prospects, both defensive linemen, go roughly 6-foot-4, 250 pounds. They are believed to be the second set of twins to play for the Bulls, joining linemen Keith and Kevin McCaskill of Tallahassee, who played from 2008-11).

UPDATE (8:00 a.m.): Florida State has officially added one of its top-50 national recruits: four-star Venice defensive back Charles Lester III.

Top-100 national recruit TJ Moore of Tampa Catholic finalized his commitment to Clemson, becoming the latest blue-chip recruit from the area to head to the Tigers.

The Gators’ class added some international flavor with three-star offensive lineman Noel Portnjagin of Germany. “Don’t worry Gator Nation, I’m here to DOMINATE,” Portnjagin said (according to Google Translate, at least).

UPDATE (7:45 a.m.): Several of the Tampa Bay area’s top prospects are officially off the board. Four-star receiver Bredell Richardson from Carrollwood Day inked with UCF. Offensive lineman Jason Zandamela, a top-100 national recruit at Clearwater Academy International, has signed with USC. One of his teammates, defensive back Isaiah Thomas, is going to Miami.

Some of Miami’s other official additions include one of its top commits, top-100 national prospect Zaquan Patterson, and the class’ quarterback, Judd Anderson.

Florida’s latest newcomers are a pair of four-star prospects: junior college defensive lineman Brien Taylor and Georgia tight end Amir Jackson.

Florida State has also added two new four-star recruits: running back Micahi Danzy and receiver Elijah Moore.

UPDATE (7:15 a.m.): The first signatures on national signing day have started to trickle in.

USF announced its first four additions very quickly: four-star tight end Jonathan Echols from Bradenton’s IMG Academy, three-star quarterback Marcelis Tate from Neptune Beach and a pair of three-star receivers in Joshua Porter and Brandon Winton. Echols is the nation’s No. 176 overall recruit in the 247Sports composite and the Bulls’ seventh-best signee of the modern recruiting era.

Others already announced for the Bulls include three-star safety Fred Gaskin and Cambridge Christian kicker Nico Gramatica, the son of former bucs kicker Martin Gramatica.

The Gators’ first signee also has a familiar last name. He’s Gainesville linebacker Myles Graham, a top-100 national recruit. His dad is Earnest Graham, the former Florida and Bucs running back.

Florida State’s first signee is Jayden Todd, a three-star offensive tackle from Georgia.

UCF has signed two of its eight blue-chip commitments: four-star Georgia receiver Kylan Fox and four-star Georgia linebacker Qua Birdsong.

DEVELOPING: National signing day has arrived, kicking off college football’s early signing period. We’ll update this post throughout the day with notable announcements, flips and signings. In the meantime, a few stories I’ll be monitoring:

Does the Florida Gators’ class stick together?

Largo High's Adarius Hayes is a longtime Gators commit.
Largo High's Adarius Hayes is a longtime Gators commit. [ SCOTT PURKS | Scott Purks, Special to the Times ]

Billy Napier’s class was 10th nationally in the 247Sports composite as of Tuesday afternoon. That’s down five spots from where it was at the start of the week and down seven from where it was for much of the year.

The key remains five-star quarterback DJ Lagway, who was named MaxPreps’ national high school player of the year Tuesday. If he sticks with his non-binding oral commitment, Napier has a major win to sell this offseason. If not, the scrutiny will intensify.

Others to watch include Largo High four-star linebacker Adarius Hayes, who has been committed since January but took a late visit to Miami.

Where does Florida State finish?

The Seminoles had the nation’s No. 4 class as of Tuesday afternoon with five-star commitments from Georgia athlete KJ Bolden and Miami Central defensive lineman Armondo Blount. Auburn and Georgia are among Bolden’s other options, and it wouldn’t surprise anyone if Blount flipped to Miami. It also wouldn’t be a major shock if the Seminoles flipped five-star defensive lineman LJ McCray from the Gators. This looks like FSU’s best class since 2016.

Can anyone flip Jeremiah Smith?

Jeremiah Smith is the nation's No. 1 recruit and a major target for Florida, Florida State and Miami (even though he's an Ohio State commit).
Jeremiah Smith is the nation's No. 1 recruit and a major target for Florida, Florida State and Miami (even though he's an Ohio State commit). [ AL DIAW | Orlando Sentinel ]

The receiver from Chaminade-Madonna Prep in Hollywood is the nation’s No. 1 recruit and a longtime Ohio State commit. Florida, Florida State and Miami are among the schools who have continued to pursue him. We’ll see whether one of the Big Three gets a monumental recruiting win or if Smith becomes the latest elite recruit to leave the state.

Does USF stay atop the American Athletic Conference?

The answer, almost certainly, is yes. The Bulls have the league’s best haul by a good amount over East Carolina, thanks in part to four-star tight end Jonathan Echols — on track to be one of USF’s top 10 signees of the modern recruiting era. USF is also a finalist for Gregory Smith, a three-star recruit at Riverview’s Sumner High. The Gators are one of his other options. UCF is also on pace to have its best class ever (a boon from joining the Big 12).

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