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July 24, 2011

What we learned: Friday Night Lights

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. - The University of Florida hosted its annual Friday Night Lights camp on Friday and it was loaded with talented prospects from the 2012 and 2013 classes. Here are five thoughts from Rivals.com analyst Chris Nee following the event:

1. Gators are still an attractive program nationally

Much of the talk amongst Florida fans heading into Friday Night Lights was about some big-time names that would be absent from the Swamp for the event. While some major targets were absent, Will Muschamp and company still had a deep and talented bunch on campus for their premier recruiting event.

On the field, top prospects such as Olney (Md.) Our Lady of Good Counsel five-star wide receiver Stefon Diggs, St. Petersburg (Fla.) Lakewood five-star defensive end Dante Fowler Jr., and Land O'Lakes four-star tight end Kent Taylor were all participating. Onlookers at the event included the likes of Rivals100 four-star defensive tackle Carlos Watkins from Forest City (N.C.) Chase and Rivals100 four-star defensive end Jordan Jenkins from Hamilton (Ga.) Harris County.

Out of the 200-plus campers at the event and dozens of non-participating onlookers, Florida had a vast collection of talent at numerous positions. Despite a turbulent 2010 campaign and a coaching change, the Orange and Blue is appealing as ever to in-state and out-of-state prospects.

2. Diggs is electric

Olney (Md.) Our Lady of Good Counsel wide receiver Stefon Diggs walked into The Swamp on Friday night with a five-star billing and a lot of expectations. Wearing neon green shorts and bright cleats, the electric wideout proved his value and more than exceeded expectations.

Diggs will never be accused on being shy about his talent on the football field and he was quick to let everyone, especially the defensive backs, know what he was going to do when his opportunity came. He backed up the talk though turning in numerous highlight plays that combined great moves, speed, and ultimately catches. Simply put, he was the top performer at the event.

When Diggs is able to get a defender to chop their feet or turn their body, that is where he shows his greatest strength - another gear. He quickly separates from defenders down the field. Diggs set those in attendance into a tizzy when he did the Gator chomp after one touchdown reception. Will Muschamp hopes for many more celebratory moments from Diggs in that stadium.

3. Fowler says he is firm to FSU

In-state rivalries are only played once a season on the field, but they persist day-in and day-out off of the field. One area where that spills over is in recruiting and between the Gators and one of their rivals, the Florida State Seminoles, this year that rivalry can best be seen in the battle for the services of five-star defensive end Dante Fowler. Fowler, who is a commitment to Florida State, attended Friday Night Lights and participated.

Showing up, and even moreso participating, led to immediate speculation that the St. Petersburg-area prospect was showing a lot of interest in the Gators and possibly even considering a switch. Following the event, when Fowler was stalked by hordes of media, he quickly dismissed the thought of a switch being imminent.

"I'm decidedly committed to Florida State," he said.

While Fowler put out the immediate flames surrounding his commitment status, it will be just a matter of time before the rumors re-circulate and speculation runs rampant that the Gators have a real shot at landing the long-time Seminole commitment.

4. The kids are alright

Year-in and year-out the Sunshine State produces hundreds of Division I prospects. On Friday night, the future was on display. Some rising juniors who made an impression included Miami (Fla.) Booker T. Washington offensive tackle Denver Kirkland, Jacksonville (Fla.) Sandalwood defensive end Demarcus Walker, Tampa (Fla.) Hillsborough linebacker Nigel Harris, Groveland (Fla.) South Lake defensive back Marcell Harris and others.

It wasn't just in-state youngsters that made a statement. A pair of out-of-state signal callers also stood out amongst their peers - Kingsland (Ga.) Camden County's Brice Ramsey - a Georgia commitment - and Virginia Beach (Va.) Salem's Bucky Hodges.

Others such as Yulee (Fla.) running back Derrick Henry and Tallahassee (Fla.) Lincoln linebacker James Hearns, who are both considered top-tier 2013 prospects, were present but did not participate.

5. Running backs galore

No position may have possessed more talent at Friday Night Lights than the running back spot. While current Gator running back commitment Matt Jones was just an onlooker, numerous standout backs turned in solid efforts in action - largely from the 2013 class.

Representing the next wave of backs was Delray Beach (Fla.) American Heritage School's Greg Bryant, Belle Glade (Fla.) Glades Day's Kelvin Taylor, and Cocoa's (Fla.) Tarean Folston. All three backs are amongst those who will be discusses for the top back in the Sunshine State in 2013.

As previously mentioned, Yulee (Fla.) running back Derrick Henry, also a member of the 2013 class, was also present but did not participate.



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