Florida head football coach Billy Napier is a fan of playing ball in the backyard.
For years, the nutrient-dense area of Alachua County and its surrounding areas have been largely overlooked by the Gators’ football staff when it came down to recruiting. But like most recruiting philosophies, that’s changed under Napier and his staff.
“I think Coach Napier takes more time to see the backyard talent that he has sitting here,” said Buchholz junior Kendall Jackson. “Dan Mullen only offered Creed Whittemore, who is a great and phenomenal player, but there was a lot of talent he was missing out on.”
Now, Whittemore, who committed to play for the Gators back on May 7, is just one of four players on Buchholz’s football team to have committable offers from Florida.
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Jackson and senior Gavin Hill both hauled in offers from Napier and the Gators after performing well at Florida’s one-day camp on June 15. Meanwhile, the pair of defensive linemen also share a roster with senior wide receiver Jaren Hamilton, who recently transferred to Buchholz after playing at PK Yonge last season.
If all four members of Buchholz’s current roster were to commit to Florida, they could join three current UF players who were also former Bobcats in Trent Whittemore, Noah Keeter and Mark Pitts. Florida punter Jacob Watkins also hails from Buchholz, but will graduate before any current Buchholz standouts could join him.
And with the Buchholz-to-UF pipeline already built, guys like Jackson and Hill, who have offers but haven’t committed, hear about it from those already committed or playing for the Orange and Blue.
“Creed is definitely in my ear,” Hill said. “He’s like, ‘You’re about to commit. You might as well come on and commit. We’re going to live together.’.”
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‘Florida is definitely a top school’
While neither Hill nor Jackson are ready to pull the trigger and commit to a program, both comfortably named Florida as a school on their short list.
Hill, who is deeper into his recruitment as he enters his senior season, is also weighing offers from Miami, Auburn, Kentucky and UCF, among others. But an opportunity to play for the Gators is something he’s dreamed about.
“Florida is definitely a top school,” the four-star prospect said. “It’s always been my dream school since growing up.”
Meanwhile, Jackson’s message was much of the same when asked what it meant to haul in the offer from Florida. After all, Jackson’s family ties to the program are strong as his late uncle Aubrey Hill played for the Gators in the early 1990s and his mother also graduated from UF.
“Florida is definitely a top school right now on my board,” Jackson said.
While the recruiting process continues to gain momentum for the pair, Jackson and Hill are having to balance it with their preparation for the high school football season, which gets underway in August.
After a wildly successful campaign in 2021, the Bobcats saw their season end in the Final Four, where they fell to Florida powerhouse St. Thomas Aquinas. However, with the FHSAA’s new classifications, Buchholz won’t have to worry about running into the 13-time state champions.
“The goal is always to win,” Hill said. “And we’re going to get that state championship.”