Florida, UCLA, Clemson or Maryland?
One gifted young athlete — four intriguing choices — one life-shaping decision to make.
For Ray-Ray McCloud III, right now, life is good, and as for the future, it looks especially bright. The coveted 4-star RB from Sickles High School in Tampa, Florida has spent the last year being wooed by dozens of prominent college football programs from around the county—all who tried to sell him on the idea that they had the most to offer him.
McCloud has now finally reached a point in the process where he’s sifted through all the persuasive propaganda and become comfortable enough with one of those schools that bombarded him with affection for months on end. He’s made his final decision. On Monday, the First-Team All-County performer will reveal to the world where he plans on taking the next step in his football career.
So on Monday night, which fan base will be the one celebrating and rejoicing the pledge of one of the top running back prospects in the 2015 recruiting class?
Unfortunately, clear clues and distinct hints are not something that McCloud has offered much of throughout his recruitment. At this point, the revelation of his final four choices is the most tantalizing taste he’s given fans.
The Gators, the Bruins, the Tigers, and the Terrapins all have plenty to offer the 5’9’’, 176-pound playmaker (Yes, even the Terrapins). This offseason, the RB has paid a visit to Clemson, College Park and Gainesville, either for a camp or just an unofficial visit. He ended his whirlwind tour this weekend with a visit to Florida for its “Friday Night Lights” camp.
Ray-Ray McCloud with Keiwan Ratliff pic.twitter.com/NNgjJD2x8b
— Andrew Spivey (@AndrewSpiveyGC) July 26, 2014
While all four schools are technically in the race at this point, ultimately, barring any major surprises, the revered rusher’s decision will likely come down to either Clemson or Florida.
This certainly isn’t the first time the schools have battled for a blue-chip running back recruit from Florida. In recent years, the Tigers and the Gators have gone toe-to-toe for highly touted rushers from the Sunshine State such as C.J. Spiller, Mike Bellamy, and Jamie Harper.
Clemson won all of those fights. This time around, though, Florida feels like the favorite in this latest heated recruiting battle.
The Gators’ new offensive coordinator Kurt Roper, who had stops as an assistant at SEC schools such as Ole Miss, Tennessee and Kentucky before becoming the coordinator at Duke in 2008, would love to be able to utilize the unique blend of skills that McCloud has to offer. The speedy big-play weapon proved to be a true home-run threat as a junior in 2013, when he rushed for over 2,300 yards, averaged 7.7 yards per carry and scored 27 total touchdowns.
McCloud is exactly the type of smaller speed back that SB Nation’s Andy Hutchins talks about the team needing in his analysis of the Gators’ running back recruit targets. He would be a perfect complement to Florida’s stronger and sturdier backs Kelvin Taylor and Matt Jones. Roper, who relied on smaller, quicker skill-position players such as Jamison Crowder, Josh Snead and Desmond Scott during his last few years with the Blue Devils, would certainly be able to find a role for McCloud in his offense.
The chance to stay close to home, play for a prestigious powerhouse program and play in an offensive system that would allow his skills to shine definitely has to be enticing to the Tampa native. But there are at least a few factors that keep Clemson alive in the conversation.
Following a dreadful 4-8 campaign in 2013, there are plenty of whispers around Gainesville that this will be a make-or-break season for head coach Will Muschamp. Any time you have that type of uncertainty surrounding a head coach’s future, it can make high-profile recruits a bit weary about signing over the next four years of their lives to him. With three straight double-digit wins under his belt, including a huge statement victory over Ohio State in the Orange Bowl to close out the 2013 season, obviously, there are no such concerns surrounding Clemson’s Dabo Swinney.
McCloud’s close relationship with Tigers running back coach Tony Elliott also could play a role in his decision. McCloud’ father recently talked to TigerNet.com about his son’s appreciation for both Elliot and the program.
“Coach Elliott really got him going on Clemson. He’s been recruiting him hard. He knows he would be happy. The atmosphere of the place. It’s a great school. The love of the city and the school.”
The Tigers are also a program that has a rich recent history of molding talented young rushers such as C.J. Spiller, Andre Ellington, James Davis and Jamie Harper into NFL draft picks. That certainly has to be appealing to any young running back recruit who has pro aspirations.
If McCloud’s decision ultimately does in fact come down to either Florida or Clemson, there are plenty of positives and benefits to like about both schools. However, since the 4-star back has opted to commit before his high school season starts, at this point in the process, the most logical choice is to commit to the Gators and watch and see how Muschamp, Roper and the rest of the coaching staff performs this fall.
Since National Signing Day is still over six months away, there’s plenty of time for McCloud to change his mind if Florida fails to perform up to expectations in 2014. Right now, though, the Gators are the right choice for the dynamic young rusher.