GAINESVILLE, Fla. — As Florida opens fall camp next week, an eventful offseason draws to a close.
From this point forward, it’s about position battles, the clamoring for daily quarterback updates and the countdown to that highly anticipated season opener with Michigan on Sept. 2 in Arlington, Texas.
So let’s take one final moment to reflect on the stories, news and questions that shaped an impactful offseason for the program since the end of spring practice.
1. Gators ‘Corral’ their coveted QB of the future
The biggest news of the offseason came at the end as Florida secured a commitment from high-profile class of 2018 quarterback Matt Corral, ranked the No. 2 pro-style quarterback in the country according to the 247Sports composite.
The Gators sealed the deal after their “Friday Night Lights” recruiting showcase last week, landing the Long Beach (Calif.)Poly QB, who as of now would rate as the highest-ranking quarterback recruit in program history. Or at least since such data has been kept.
Im not taking anymore visits anywhere. My recruitment is 110% done with. I WILL be a Gator. 🐊
— M A T T Y I C E™ (@corral_matt) July 25, 2017
Corral, in turn, has turned into a recruiter himself, using social media to court other top prospects in the 2018 class.
Officially, the Gators received nine commitments (seven for 2018) in the last week with more expected in the near future.
Coach Jim McElwain and his staff silenced a lot of doubters with their biggest recruiting week yet, and maybe the Gators have their long-awaited quarterback of the future.
2. Malik Zaire lands in Gainesville
Meanwhile, the Gators added a significant piece to the competition to determine the program’s quarterback of the present.
As was long speculated through the spring and into the start of summer, former Notre Dame quarterback Malik Zaire officially enrolled in Florida last month as a graduate transfer with the expectation of giving the Gators’ offense a boost in 2017.
Zaire will have to beat out redshirt freshman Feleipe Franks in camp, and he has plenty to prove himself after starting only three games in his time at Notre Dame. However, the expectation is he claims the job and provides Florida’s slumping offense with a veteran presence and dual-threat weapon at QB.
While Corral claimed the recent spotlight, Zaire was an equally coveted addition at a position that has vexed the program for too long. His competition with Franks this preseason will reclaim the headlines and ultimately determine the course of the Gators’ 2017 season.
3. Tough break for Marcell Harris
One week, safety Marcell Harris was representing the Gators at SEC Media Days talking about becoming one of the faces of the team’s retooled defense, and the next his season was over with a torn right Achilles tendon.
It was a devastating blow for the fifth-year senior who expected to boost his draft stock while getting the opportunity to be a featured leader of the defense for a full season after coming on strong late last fall.
And it was a tough break for that defense, which is already thin on depth after losing three second-round NFL Draft picks. The Gators will now have to rely heavily on their six incoming freshmen defensive backs.
4. Awaiting word on Antonio Callaway
The Gators star wide receiver found himself in trouble yet again this offseason, this time receiving a citation for marijuana during a traffic stop in May.
He pled no contest to possession of paraphernalia and was fined $301, settling the matter legally.
The more alarming part was he was stopped in a vehicle with a man with a lengthy criminal history, exhibiting decision making that McElwain called “really disappointing.”
McElwain has so far handled the matter internally, saying only “so far he’s doing the things that have been set forth” while not addressing Callaway’s status for the season opener with Michigan.
That question will continue to be asked through the preseason.
5. Waiting on James Robinson
James Robinson’s addition to Florida’s 2017 recruiting class was complicated from the start after he, too, was cited for marijuana possession while on a recruiting trip to Ohio State.
There was speculation McElwain would not be permitted to sign the talented 4-star receiver from Lakeland, Fla., only to officially add Robinson to the class to the surprise of many on National Signing Day.
Yet, Robinson has yet to enroll at the university with McElwain deferring to the NCAA on the matter.