(Photo via Adarius Hayes, Twitter)
The Gators’ 2023 recruiting class ended on a sour note with the Jaden Rashada fiasco, but Billy Napier & Co. have quickly regained some momentum on the recruiting trail with a landmark recruiting win that might go a long way toward shaping a very strong 2024 class.
Adarius Hayes, a consensus four-star defensive playmaker from Largo, FL, announced his commitment to Florida yesterday afternoon during the Gators’ Junior Day. That “consensus four-star” ranking, mind you, doesn’t do him justice. Quite a few big-time Power Five schools wanted Adarius Hayes: Georgia, Alabama, Ohio State, Michigan, Notre Dame, Tennessee, Miami, FSU, Michigan State, and Ole Miss were just some of the major programs to offer him.
But he chose Florida over them all, and thus, gave Gator fans a lot of different things to feel good about.
You can watch his highlight tape here.
First, the versatility. He has solid coverage skills for a linebacker, which is where he plays in high school, although he might project even better as an edge player at the next level because of his explosive quick burst and strength. (For what it’s worth, 247Sports lists him as an edge, while On3 lists him as a linebacker.)
Speaking of: his speed and power are very impressive, especially for a high school junior who still has another year before coming to college. He’s listed as 6’4, 210 and he has a way of making opponents feel every ounce of it after her jumps out of his stance. There’s a reason his nickname is “Hitman,” and there are plenty of examples of him doing that on his tape.
Where he’s likely to ultimately lay at Florida is pending a variety of factors, not the least of which is who else Florida lands in this 2024 recruiting class. But whether coaches place him at linebacker or edge, he figures to be a factor very, very quickly.
That in itself is worth feeling good about for Gator fans. Between the high school tape, the offer list, and the fact that three of the four major recruiting services have him ranked as one of the top 60 prospects in the class of 2024, it’s pretty clear that Adarius Hayes can play. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg of what this commitment means.
One of the first things Billy Napier did after taking the Florida job- as in five days after first landing on Gainesville soil- was offer Hayes a scholarship for the Class of 2024. This was back on December 3, 2021, when Hayes was a freshman in high school. Napier knew he wanted Hayes from the get-go, and he trusted his own evaluation so much that he pulled the trigger and made the offer. Since that time, Hayes has only improved his craft, and shot up into one of the highest-rated players at his position. Great evaluation by Napier, and great job getting him to campus multiple times since then to win him over.
We’ve seen Napier player evaluations age well throughout his short tenure at Florida; with the exception of Ventrell Miller, possibly Justin Shorter, and I guess Anthony Richardson by default, most of the best players on Florida’s 2022 team were either true freshmen or transfers that Napier recruited. We’ve even seen his evaluation prowess at work as recently as earlier this month, when several Gator commits improved their stock at the Under Armor Next All-America game and climbed up in the national player rankings (most notably Ja’Keem Jackson and Kelby Collins).
The commitment is also a big deal because of the depth it gives Florida at linebacker, a need Florida attempted but failed to fill in the 2023 Class (although I do like Jaden Robinson’s upside). Even if Adarius Hayes winds up playing on the edge in college, because of his experience at linebacker in high school, he’s another legitimate piece to turn to at linebacker if disaster strikes the Gator linebacker room.
That makes two legitimate pieces in the 2024 Class with Atlanta area LB Myles Graham already committed. It’s hard to think Florida is going to ease off the focus of linebacker the rest of this cycle because the situation is so precarious there, but Napier is now well on his way to checking that box this class. And it takes some of the pressure off of landing thee other top-tier linebacker prospects the Gators have their sights on this class.
On the whole, Florida’s 2024 Class now ranks 7th in the country per the 247Sports Composite ranking system with just four commits: Graham, Hayes, QB DJ Lagway and RB Chauncey Bowens. All four of them are consensus four-star recruits, meaning that at least three of the four major ranking systems rate them as four-star prospects.