Pictured: Payton Kirkland; 1 credit
The Gators’ primary goal under head coach Billy Napier has been to build an impenetrable wall around talent-rich Florida State when recruiting potential high school applicants.
In the class of 2023, Central Florida is thriving with elite-level players such as offensive tackle prospects Payton Kirkland — for whom UF has pushed relentlessly since Gators offensive line coaches Rob Sale and Darnell Stapleton arrived in January.
They started behind the curve but are committed to making lasting impressions on one of the top talents on their big prospect board, regardless of position.
“Generally the consistency, love, communication and trust in Coach Napier,” Kirkland said in an exclusive interview with AllGators when asked what stood out to him most about Florida. “They know they came in a little later than a lot of schools because they’re new staff there. They’ve made great strides in Central Florida. I’m saying they could bring out almost everyone from central Florida.”
Set to commit July 23 alongside Jones linebacker Malik Bryant and Osceola defensive lineman Derrick LeBlancKirkland alluded to the fact that the three Orlando products have noticed the rise of Florida’s presence on the track, especially in their city.
“Me, Malik and Derrick are undecided at this time,” Kirkland said. “But, you know, we all consider them highly and their consistency when it comes to the three of us.”
An essential part of the early stages of Florida’s recruiting efforts under the new regime is the staff’s desire to build deep-rooted relationships with players as well as their loved ones. Those words continue to be backed up with action, especially in Kirkland’s case.
“They talk to mom every morning,” he said. “I already talked to Sale and Stapleton on FaceTime today [Wednesday] and it’s only 5 p.m. right now.”
Although he took part in a visit to Dr. Phillips’ training on Wednesday – “school of hard blocks,” Kirkland might call it – Kirkland showed his leadership traits in both team drills and individuals as the team prepared for a scrimmage period today.
The attention he showed to improving the players around him, explaining detailed blocking techniques and providing a voice at the line of scrimmage to call out defensive lineups, made his already imposing presence on the pitch even greater. Panthers training.
However, it’s not something that came naturally to the prospect of an attacking tackle.
“I had to learn to lead,” he said. “I had to learn the hard way too. Last season we had a dead year here, the first year in school history where we went below 0.500. I learned from that .
“What’s huge is being able to understand the people around you. A lot of coaches have noticed that I’m a very understanding leader because you have to walk the line between understanding and chewing on people.”
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This level of mental maturity from a player who already commands elite-level physical traits at 6-foot-6, 345 pounds holds promise for his potential to make an early impact in college. But, even if he doesn’t enter campus as a member of the first team, his behavior will remain.
“It helped me for the next level. Even if I’m in the second team, I’ll be up front,” Kirkland said. “It doesn’t matter where I am on the list.”
This additional dimension helps to explain the concerted interest in its services.
In mid-March, Kirkland whittled down his illustrious compiled offer sheet of more than 50 Division-I programs to five: Florida, Miami, Michigan State, Oklahoma and Alabama.
As his aforementioned engagement date approaches, Kirkland is still searching for the place he will call home for the next few years. Each of the five schools exhibits different strengths but are equally intriguing at this point.
Being involved in Kirkland’s long-term process as the most established staff – outside of ‘Bama – who sign the highly touted offensive lineman, the Spartans have been working to form a strong bond with Kirkland to position themselves favorably for his services. .
He credits Mel Tucker’s fatherly approach to coaching as a pull factor for the school.
Oklahoma is made up of a slew of coaches who have contacted him since eighth grade, although they have previously resided with different programs. This familiarity and Brett Venables’ outgoing nature regarding his faith gives Kirkland confidence in his culture worthy of a “man of God”.
Miami, despite a rocky start for new Coral Gables staff when it comes to Kirkland, recently bounced back after a redemptive unofficial second visit with Mario Cristobal in charge of the program.
The Crimson Tide lays claim to the resume of college football’s evergreen powerhouse, consistently developing and producing talent for the NFL while reigning as perennial national champions for more than a decade.
He sees himself well aligned within the flourishing dynasty of Bama.
“I love Coach Saban; I love his philosophies and the way he handles leadership and things like that. I feel like he fits my character,” Kirkland explained. “I like being coached hard, and being under a head coach on the same type of leadership contract as me is amazing.”
He plans to officially visit four of the five in June, with trips to Norman (June 2-5), Gainesville (June 10-12), Michigan State (June 17-19) and Miami (June 20-22) on the schedule. .
Alabama, which he will still unofficially visit on June 1, is the group’s odd schedule as far as officials go. He will keep an official visit in his back pocket for the season barring unforeseen circumstances.
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