The University of Florida will have a distinct local flair soon.
The Gators' football team, ranked 18th in the nation, has received commitments from four local standout high school players: Pasco defensive lineman Joey Ivie, Hillsborough defensive lineman Jordan Sherit, Wharton cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III and Armwood quarterback/receiver Alvin Bailey .
"We are definitely going to bring some Tampa swag to Gainesville," said Hargreaves III, smiling.
Generally, one, perhaps two, local top recruits head to Gainesville in hopes of adding another national title to the Gators' trophy case. However, this year's class going to Gainesville is particularly strong, and it could be even stronger, as Armwood's Leon McQuay III, East Lake's Artavis Scott and Tampa Bay Tech's Richard Benjamin also have Florida offers.
"I like that more local players are staying in Florida to play here," Ivie said. "I'm a Florida boy — we're all Florida boys — so why not play for Florida? Why not play in your state and win a national title? It's been great to see so many good players from the area go to Florida this year."
Sherit, Hargreaves and Bailey are not just rivals, they are also teammates, playing for Team Tampa, a 7-on-7 all-star squad. In addition to those three, the team includes McQuay, Johnson, Benjamin, East Lake's Pete DiNovo (committed to UCF), Jesuit's Travis Johnson (Miami), Wharton's Rocky Enos and Tampa Catholic's Zach Benjamin.
Team Tampa beat Detroit Max Exposure twice in convincing fashion to win the IMG Madden 7-on-7 national championship in Bradenton in early July, a summer experience that helped create a bond between some of the players.
"Everyone likes a school for their own reasons," Hargreaves said. "Us being together every day over the summer, grinding it out and working out, it brings you close and you want to stay around guys like that. I'm excited to see us all together."
The Gators already have more than 10 local players on the roster, including tight end Kent Taylor (Land O' Lakes) and former Armwood running back Matt Jones (Armwood). For Bailey, he partly wanted to be reunited with Jones, but also keep a core of Team Tampa together.
"Being able to keep playing with guys like Vernon and Jordan will be good," Bailey said. "I felt like (going to Florida) was where I should be going, but with us three moving on to Florida, I think we can make a difference there with our Tampa swag."
Ivie was the first to commit on June 16, while Hargreaves came next on July 26. His close friend Sherit committed two days later, while Bailey announced his decision Sept. 1.
"Alvin, Vernon and I have a strong relationship," Sherit said. "Our big thing was, why wait? The school has got everything from locker rooms to weight rooms to great people and awesome uniforms. Once we knew what we were doing, we could go out and recruit other guys that are there for the right reason and committed to being the best at Florida."
"My recruiting process was crazy — I had to cut my phone off some nights it was so crazy," Hargreaves said. "I was distracted and wasn't focusing on my senior year or grades, and after talking to my parents, I had to pull the trigger. … Jordan and I talked the whole recruiting process. When I committed, that made it a little easier for him, but we're like brothers so he trusted me, and going together has (made it) easier."
Hargreaves said he will do some recruiting of his own, too, but he still thinks a player has to choose the school that is right for him. As each recruit weighs the factors, many have chosen because of location. Sherit likes that his family can come see every home game. Add to that the coaching staff and playing in the SEC and it became a no-brainer.
"It was all about comfort level," Sherit said. "I just felt so comfortable when I was there."
And no matter what, each one of these guys will be in good company.
"It's going to be a great class, no matter what," Ivie said. "Plenty of local guys, and other talent from all over the state and country. I'm sure we're all as excited as I am."