Since Jules Montinar and Wesley “Crime Dog” McGriff burst onto the scene in Gainesville as part of the new-look secondary staff, the Florida Gators recruiting efforts with defensive backs have seen an uptick in mutual interest from the nation’s top talent.
Earning a commitment from Texas-based corner Julian Humphrey in the closing stages of the dead period, Florida entered June on a substantial-high.
Looking for traits of speed, length and positional versatility when targeting defensive backs, Florida hosted a number of big-time prospects for official visits last weekend.
One of the priority defensive back targets to visit Gainesville this weekend was Niceville (Fla.) High School corner Azareyeh Thomas, who shared what he looks for in a school and his impressions of what the program provides on and off the field.
“To be honest just a place that I feel comfortable that I feel like will benefit me not only being an athlete but like the student side. I feel like a school that has great schooling and great football,” Thomas said when asked his list of musts for a school.
“Florida fits all those. Right now, Florida is the standard.”
Getting his first taste of the Gators campus, Thomas left having enjoyed the time he spent with players and coaches.
“It was great. I enjoyed it. Coaches had great energy and they spoke really to me. I enjoyed the time with the recruits as well, we all combined, joined and connected and just talked football. I really enjoyed getting to learn more about the school.”
Excited to be back to an in-person setting for the first time since COVID-19 ran roughshod on the world, Thomas highlighted face-to-face interaction as the part he enjoyed the most.
“Probably just going to the dinners and connecting with the coaches and the players cause I don’t like to leave a place without talking to somebody or really getting to know somebody,” Thomas said.
Being the versatile piece that he is, Thomas could assume a number of roles within the Florida defense if he is to choose to take his talents to UF.
However, the primary focus of the Gators recruiting efforts has lied within cornerbacks coach Montinar’s hands with the hopes of making Thomas a lockdown man-to-man corner at the next level.
“It’s been a long process. It’s very different from Zoom. That’s why I was looking forward during this whole COVID phase [to] getting on campus and really meeting coach Jules. He’s high energy and he keeps it real, so that’s one thing that stands out with coach Jules.”
Breaking down the role in which he would assume in the Gators defense come time for his collegiate career to begin, Thomas was impressed with the amount of detail by the Gators staff.
“We watched film on press-man technique and he had a slideshow which really stood out to me. He had a slideshow of my film and he had another play of a Florida player in the exact same situation and we talked technique about what I could’ve done better. Just critiquing me. So that’s how I know that he was really about me cause he’s not a lazy recruiter.”
In fact — albeit still being early in his official visit process— Thomas noted that it was the most effort he’s seen anyone put into his recruitment. Set to attend Georgia Tech and LSU for the weekends of June 11 and June 18 — respectively — Thomas will look to narrow down his schools to one before his senior season begins in August.
The last thing on the schedule for his visit included Thomas meeting with Gators head coach Dan Mullen, who has shown significant interest during the short period of open recruiting to connect with priority recruits one-on-one.
As a tactic that looks to be paying off, Thomas was candid when speaking on the Gators standing in his recruitment at the moment, saying “right now, Florida is up there.”
While it will still take some selling to land the versatile 6-foot-2, 180-pound playmaker, their concerted push to keep the in-state talent at home for his collegiate career left a lasting impression on Thomas, putting the Gators in a favorable spot going forward.