May 28, 2017

Florida Gators
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  Florida closes strong, lands talented '17 class

GAINESVILLE There was concern about Florida's 2017 recruiting class in the weeks leading up to National Signing Day.

But true to form under third-year coach Jim McElwain, the Gators finished strong with a class that ranked in the top ten based on some national recruiting websites.

Overall, the class features 24 players, which includes five early enrollees, 16 defensive players and eight offensive players. Among the surprises on Signing Day included landing four-star offensive/defensive lineman Tedarrell Slaton and four-star wide receiver James Robinson.

"One of the key areas we needed to do was to make sure we took care of areas that we felt were always big to the Gators," McElwain said. "We started those inroads in that Tampa area. We spread throughout the state. We focused on the fact that we got a number of guys that were highly rated in the state of Florida, and those numbers will continue to rise as we move forward. That's something that's exciting."

McElwain said he was looking to add more size (height and weight) to the roster as well to handle the weekly grind of SEC competition.

"Part of the needs, some bigger bodies," McElwain said. "Obviously the secondary is big. As we looked at it, we tried to stay balanced throughout each position group so we don't get that big turnover in certain spots. Moving forward, I know these guys are excited about the direction we're headed, the direction the university has allowed us to go."

McElwain said Florida's recent improvements in football facilities (new indoor practice facility built in 2015, upgrades to dorms, etc.) has helped give the Gators something to sell to high school prospects. In addition, Florida is in the process for raising funds for a stand-alone football facility that will provide an expanded weight room and more locker room space to student-athletes.

"There's a lot of things that need to be fixed, yet you can't do it all at once," McElwain said. "Those are things that happen over time. Here is a good thing: we got a commitment towards it."

NAMES TO KNOW

DT Tedarrell Slaton (Plantation, Fla.) A four-star recruit and U.S. Army All-American, the 6-foot-5, 353-pound Slaton has the ability to play on both sides of the ball, but said he wants to try defense first. Slaton has the talent to fill in immediately at defensive tackle due to the departure of underclassman DL Caleb Brantley to the NFL Draft.

WR James Robinson (Lakeland, Fla.) A four-star recruit, the 6-foot-4, 200-pound Robinson could add the dimension of a big-target pass catcher that's been lacking in recent seasons in UF's offense. Robinson is a character risk (he was cited for marijuana possession on a recent recruiting trip to Ohio State), but Florida coach Jim McElwain said he intends to be involved in his life to make sure he's focused on making the right choices.

DB Brad Stewart (New Orleans, La.) A four-star recruit, the 6-foot-1, 195 pound Stewart is capable of playing either cornerback or safety. Stewart's combination of intelligence and athleticism could get him on the field right away to help fill holes in UF's depleted secondary.

RB Adarius Lemons (Clearwater, Fla.) A borderline three/four-star recruit, Lemons is considered one of the top running back prospects in the state of Florida. The 6-foot-1, 194 pound Lemons needs to add a more bulk to handle carries against SEC competition, but could help the Gators down the road.

SPRING SCENE: Practice begins Feb. 28; spring game is on April 7.

Florida is looking to build off positive momentum after knocking off Iowa 30-3 in the Capital One Bowl on Jan. 2. The Gators need to replace seven starters on defense, including underclassman cornerbacks Teez Tabor and Quincy Wilson, who both declared for the NFL draft. Offensively, rising junior QB Luke Del Rio, who started six games last season, will sit out spring drills after undergoing shoulder surgery. That will give the Florida coaching staff extended time to evaluate redshirt freshman QBs Kyle Trask and Feleipe Franks. Trask or Franks could have the leg up on the starting QB competition going into the fall if either demonstrate they can provide a spark to an offense that finished 116th in the nation among FBS teams last season.