GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Xavier Thomas visited Florida for the first time last weekend, but he’s very familiar with the Gators and the city of Gainesville.
The 5-star defensive end for 2018 is from Florence, S.C., but the entire side of his mother’s family is from Gainesville and still lives in town.
“They’ve been die-hard Gator fans since before (Tim) Tebow,” Thomas said. “My whole family came with me (to the Florida-South Carolina game).”
Thomas admits that it benefits the Gators, who are in his top 5 along with Alabama, Clemson, Georgia and South Carolina. The 6-foot-3, 250-pound pass rusher is ranked the nation’s No. 1 defensive end and No. 2 overall prospect.
His primary recruiter for UF is defensive line coach Chris Rumph, who was born and raised in South Carolina. That Palmetto State connection helped Rumph build a relationship with Thomas, he said.
So did someone else.
“His sister-in-law teaches at my school,” Thomas revealed. “He’s a great D-line coach. The D-line stunts they do create one-on-one matchups with the O-linemen where you can get the quarterback easier. That stands out to me.”
Thomas plans to return to Florida for additional visits, and it appears the Gators will be a major player in his recruitment moving forward.
“I’ll definitely be coming back here,” Thomas said. “It was a great environment. Crowd was loud and the defense looked really good out there.
“This is just a special place. They’re building a whole new facility, but it’s just not that. It’s about life after football.”
Gators in top 2 for elite 2018 WR
Jacob Copeland has two early leaders and a decision date in mind.
The 4-star prospect from Pensacola, Fla., plans to commit on his birthday, July 19, and his top schools right now are Florida and Clemson.
“I like the way their offenses are set up. They pass the ball around a lot,” said Copeland, who is ranked the nation’s No. 8 wide receiver and No. 68 overall recruit for 2018.
Copeland made a two-day trip to Florida last week and attended the South Carolina game, his first time seeing the Gators this season.
“They threw the ball a lot to (Antonio) Callaway and all the young guys,” Copeland said. “They showed me a lot because they play true freshman. They always say, the best are going to play and see the field.
“Everything was good just like always. Every time I come, it feels like home. They want me down here badly. … I spent time on campus and the coaches showed love like they always do. Nothing ever changes.”
The 6-foot-1, 188-pound prospect admitted he has kept himself from pulling the trigger on UF because he wants to go through his recruiting process and consider other options.
“It was a dream school for me coming up,” Copeland said. “When I was kid I was like, ‘What do I have to do to get a scholarship to go to Florida?’
“Florida was all I was brought up around. That’s how I was raised and born. So that’s why mainly Florida is always going to be at the top for me.”
Unless otherwise indicated, ratings and rankings come from the 247Sports Composite.