Recruiting: Takeaways from the 2022 football signing class
If the 2021 college football signing class will be most remembered for how it was impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, then the 2022 class will be remembered for how the coaching carousel shifted the landscape just weeks before the early signing period.
Changes at Florida, Miami, Oklahoma, USC, Notre Dame, LSU, Virginia Tech, Duke, TCU and others sent recruits scrambling.
Six of the top 20 players on the USA Today Florida Network top 100, including top-ranked Lakeland defensive lineman Gabriel Brownlow-Dindy, flipped their commitment within three weeks of the early signing period.
USA Today Florida Network asked its reporters to give their biggest takeaway from the 2022 signing class.
UCF establishes 'State of Orlando'
Gus Malzahn and his staff set their sights on keeping premium Central Florida talent home, declaring the surrounding area the "State of Orlando." On the whole, the strategy succeeded. UCF pulled in its highest-ranked high school recruiting class ever, per 247Sports, with a .8671 composite score — good enough for 52nd nationally, and third among Group of Five programs. The Knights outperformed Georgia Tech, Louisville, UCLA, N.C. State and USC among others. Apopka cornerback Nikai Martinez, Buchholz wide receiver Quan Lee, Lakeland defensive end Keahnist Thompson and Seminole twin defensive backs Ja'Cari and DeMari Henderson are among the many gems the Knights unearthed from within two hours of the university's East Orlando campus. And it should only improve from here. UCF is set to join the Big 12, as soon as the 2023 season, and the Power Five prestige will make the program even more appealing for a star-studded class of soon-to-be-seniors.
— Chris Boyle, The Daytona Beach News-Journal
Players taking alternate routes to accomplish dream
With the numbers the way they are for recruiting given the COVID year and the transfer portal, the Treasure Coast seemed to be impacted more so than in previous years with just the sheer numbers of players signing to play at the next level being much smaller. I think some players may look for more unconventional routes to, in a sense, buy them time by going to junior colleges or prep schools.
A great example of this is former Jensen Beach standout Da’Quan Gonzales opting to go to Loomis Chaffee, one of the top prep schools in the Northeast, after not getting the chance he coveted in 2021
out of high school and after a great season there turned into an opportunity to play at Yale, obviously a tremendous institution on and off the field. Without any junior colleges or prep schools in state, going that route for kids and families is a risk. Perhaps with the state of recruiting statewide with these current times, A push for those types of schools might be something that needs to be discussed in order to give more players opportunities closer to home to continue playing the sport they love.
— Bryan Cooney, TCPalm
Florida, FSU facing heavy competition in Northeast Florida
For Northeast Florida, the pattern is clear — Florida and Florida State are no longer the kings, while schools outside the Southeast are making serious inroads. Cincinnati and Michigan landed two area signees apiece, while Florida (Bolles LB Jack Pyburn) and Florida State (Fletcher DE Aaron Hester) each added only one. And roughly half the Times-Union's Super 24 elected to sign outside the region entirely, with destinations ranging from Iowa State to Washington State to Minnesota. Will Billy Napier and Mike Norvell reverse the trend?
— Clayton Freeman, Florida Times-Union
Gators load up on out-of-state talent
For all the discussion surrounding the talent-rich state of Florida, Billy Napier’s transition class was another reminder college football is ultimately a relationship business. The Gators dropped all the way to No. 77 in the rankings following Napier's arrival before finishing inside the top 20 in 247Sports’ team rankings, though UF did it with just five prospects from the prospect-rich Sunshine State. Take newly signed defensive lineman/tight end Andrew Savaiinaea, who will soon travel 2,985 miles to Gainesville, from his hometown of Graham, Washington.
— Graham Hall, Gainesville Sun
Florida not recruiting its backyard
Despite being in The Swamp's backyard, Florida's previous coaching staff often overlooked the football talent in the Gainesville area. Sure, Mullen and Co. plucked guys such as Eastside's Anthony Richardson and Buchholz's Trent Whittemore from the Gainesville city limits, but there were plenty of others who could've (and very well might've) opted to play for their hometown university if given the opportunity. This year, we saw guys like Buchholz receiver Quan Lee sign over to Gus Malzahn and the UCF Knights and Columbia receiver Marcus Peterson opt for
ink his NLI to play for Luke Fickell and the Cincinnati Bearcats. Together, Lee and Peterson had 10 SEC offers on the table — but none of those came from the "school up the road." It will be interesting to see whether Billy Napier and his host of assistants make a push to reprioritize the student-athletes just outside of their offices and reconstruct the pipeline from Gainesville-area schools to The Swamp.
— Ainslie Lee, The Gainesville Sun
Transfer portal hurting high school recruiting
The transfer portal effect is real. Several top prospects from Southwest Florida were still not yet signed as of last Wednesday’s Signing Day. Some coaches have pointed to the overflowing college transfer portal as a complication to college recruiting with schools more willing to bring in more experienced players than take a chance on developing young talent.
— Dustin Levy, The News-Press
The NCAA transfer portal is more like NFL free agency these days, and with that, high schoolers across the country are seeing their stock take a hit. With college teams reserving many of their scholarships for already proven collegiate players, high school seniors are left with nothing. This was apparent in the Panhandle, as a pair of Division I talents had to bet on themselves with some smaller-scale programs. Defensive linemen Rasheed Lovelace, of Class 6A state runner-up Pine Forest, and running back Waymond Jordan, of Escambia, signed with schools that will be very happy to bring aboard their caliber of talent. For Lovelace, he signed with FCS Nicholls State in Thibodeaux, La. However, the 6-foot-1, 325-pound defensive lineman was fielding offers from the likes of Power 5 schools in Nebraska and Vanderbilt following his sophomore season. As time went on, the schools began to wean off of their communication with him and focus on transfer players. Thanks to a late offer from the Colonels, he was able to sign with a Division I program where he felt comfortable. As for Jordan, he opted to take the JUCO route. On National Signing Day, he put pen to paper with Hutchinson Community College. Yet he held a Division I offer from Stetson University and interest from FAMU and Tennessee Tech. But again, the transfer portal prevailed as coaches were more interested in established college talent.
— Lucas Semb, Pensacola News Journal
Power 5 programs continue to recruit Space Coast
The connection between Brevard County players and major colleges seems to have strengthened, rather than having been a short-term arrangement. Florida, Florida State, Syracuse and West Virginia, among others, all signed players from here, most prominently Jamari Lyons, the Viera defender who signed with the Gators.
— Brian McCallum, Florida Today
Florida making inroads at IMG
There are a few big-time programs in Florida where it behooves college coaches to have good relationships. IMG sits at or near the top of that list. Under Dan Mullen, Florida generally wasn’t a consideration for elite prospects there. One of Billy Napier’s first tasks after being hired was to work on fixing the fractures that existed between UF and IMG. Soon after, five-star safety Kamari Wilson was a Gator. If Napier can make this a trend, and not just a one-off, it could go a long way into turning UF back into a national powerhouse.
— John Patton, Ocala Star-Banner
Historically great cycle for HBCU's
It was a historically great cycle for historically black colleges and universities. The biggest news of the 2022 cycle was Jackson State coach Deion Sanders landing two of the top 50 players in the nation — Travis Hunter and Kevin Coleman. Treasure Coast running back Eden James, son of NFL Hall of Famer Edgerrin James, stuck with Howard despite a 2,000-yard season in 2021. Raines standout wide receiver Kareem Burke was part of Florida A&M's outstanding signing class. Wide receiver/defensive back Dion Villiers, who helped Lake Gibson reach the Class 7A state semifinals, signed with Tennessee State and coach Eddie George. Four-star defensive end Christen Miller, who signed with Georgia, took an official visit to Florida A&M. Overall, it's great to see HBCUs competing for and signing these players and should open the door for more top players to consider these programs
in the future.
— Jon Santucci, USA Today Florida Network
Mario Cristobal making early impact at Miami
Considering the “Cristobal effect,” it seems that many were surprised that National Signing Day was a bit slower for Miami, signing only four players. However, the surprise of flipping Lake Charles Prep four-star running back TreVonte’ Citizen from Florida, also adding Cardinal Gibbons’ defensive lineman Ahmad Moten, and offensive tackles Matthew McCoy of Creekside and Anez Cooper of Pleasant Grove, Ala., the U’s 2022 recruiting class jumped from 38th to 15th in the nation. It’s a pretty impressive jump with all factors considered — a new head coach without a full coaching staff, taking over a program that was ranked in the 70s under Manny Diaz just one week before the early signing period. Sure, some recruits in the 14-member class can be attributed to Diaz, but eight of them put pen to paper thanks to Cristobal’s arrival.
— Emilee Smarr, The Palm Beach Post
Kentucky, Missouri outdo Florida's 'Big 3'
It was not surprising to see the "Big 3" of Miami, Florida and Florida State finish outside the top 10 in the final Class of 2022 recruiting rankings. Nonetheless, this old-school SEC fan can't help but be surprised to see these former powerhouses finish behind the likes of Kentucky and Missouri. While the Florida schools may well have overachieved in recruiting given the coaching turmoil, keep these classes in mind when talks of competing with Alabama and Georgia arise over the next few years.
— Eric Wallace, The Palm Beach Post