GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Richard Gouraige, a 4-star offensive tackle from Tampa, admittedly wasn’t all that interested in the Florida Gators as recently as last fall, but Brad Davis changed that in a hurry.
Davis, hired as the Gators’ new offensive line coach in January, built an almost immediate connection with the highly-coveted lineman and quickly had him reconsidering his college preferences.
Gouraige’s interest in Florida was only strengthened even further Friday during the Gators “Friday Night Lights” recruiting showcase as he got to work with Davis in person for the first time.
“He’s a real cool dude. I can talk to him anytime I want. We can talk more than football. That’s a great thing,” he said inside The Swamp after the event. “He can help my game even more, get me to the next level where I want to go and just help me spiritually. That’s it, really. He can help me on the field and off the field.”
Gouraige, who attends Cambridge Christian School, is ranked the No. 10 offensive tackle nationally in the Class of 2018, according to the 247Sports composite.
And he wasn’t the only marquee offensive line recruit singing Davis’ praises Friday night.
Apopka prospect William Barnes, the No. 4 offensive tackle in the 2018 class on that 247Sports ranking, was also in attendance at the Florida showcase and touted his connection with Davis as a driving force behind his interest in the Gators as well.
This after Davis and Florida landed a commitment from 4-star prospect Curtis Dunlap, the No. 6-ranked offensive guard in the country out of IMG Academy, earlier this week, and then picked up a commitment from Class of 2019 offensive lineman Wardrick Wilson on Friday evening.
Davis already looks to be an inspired hire for McElwain, who plucked him out of Conference USA and into the SEC after former offensive line coach Mike Summers left for Louisville this offseason.
Davis made an immediate impression during his introductory news conference, seeming equally qualified to be a touring motivational speaker as much as a football coach. And the captivating personality that was on display that day has clearly resonated with top recruits.
“We’ve been texting like every day basically ever since he got there,” Gouraige said Friday night. “I had to start over. I was like, ‘Dang, Florida just came out of nowhere.’ Because Coach Summers was here … and then Coach Davis gave me a different impression. I was like, he’s a real cool dude.”
Gouraige said he and Summers didn’t have the same rapport and he thus wasn’t really considering the Gators prior to Davis’ arrival.
“We didn’t really connect that much, but when Coach Davis came it was like, flip a switch,” he said.
Gouraige, who has offers from the likes of Alabama, LSU, Auburn, Clemson, etc., said he could make a decision and commitment at any point. “I’ll know when I know,” he said.
But there’s no question that the Gators are very much in the mix.
“They rank very high right now,” he said.
Barnes, meanwhile, has North Carolina, Ohio State, Florida State and Georgia among his other top considerations.
But he too ranks the Gators high on that list.
“Definitely one of my top schools. I’m still looking at other schools, but Florida’s definitely up there,” he said Friday night.
Barnes is from Apopka High School, the same school that produced Gators left tackle Martez Ivey when he was the No. 1 ranked offensive tackle in the Class of 2015 (and recruited to Gainesville by Summers). Ivey was one of the Florida players helping run the recruits through drills Friday night inside the program’s indoor practice facility.
Barnes spoke highly of the experience overall.
“It was a great spot out here. I really enjoyed competing against some great guys,” he said. “… It’s definitely a great place to be. The coaching staff is amazing out here. I talked to all the coaches, they’re all great people to talk to.”
Like Gouraige, Barnes highlighted the connection he’s built with Davis and reiterated that he could easily see himself playing for him.
“He’s definitely a coach that I talk to back and forth. We’re real tight so I really appreciate him taking the time out of his day to talk to me,” he said.
Barnes, who plays right tackle for his high school team, says he is in no rush to make a decision on his college choice. He was pondering a potential return visit to North Carolina before the end of the summer, but he said he fully expects to be back in Gainesville for an official visit this fall.
“All these colleges are just fantastic places to be so it goes back and forth,” he said of his thought process. “… (I want to) get the most out of the process and take these official visits for my family since they’re doing so much for me. I definitely (want) to enjoy this process.”