University of Florida

Florida Gators land one of the most coveted defensive players from South Florida

American Heritage HS football player Andrew Chatfield commits to the University of Florida at the National Signing Day ceremony at American Heritage HS, Feb. 7, 2018.
American Heritage HS football player Andrew Chatfield commits to the University of Florida at the National Signing Day ceremony at American Heritage HS, Feb. 7, 2018.

Andrew Chatfield pulled a Chucky doll from beneath the table at American Heritage High School on Wednesday morning.

The doll is a reference to a horror film, but it’s also a reference to the Florida Gators. Former UF defensive lineman Dominique Easley started the tradition of carrying the doll with him before games, and some Florida players have carried on the tradition since. Chatfield, a 6-2, 226-pound defensive end, hopes to continue that tradition after signing with the Gators.

He was the first non-committed player to choose the Gators on Wednesday’s National Signing Day. He joined a group of six new signees, which brought Florida’s class of 2018 total to 19 members. As of coach Dan Mullen’s press conference on Wednesday afternoon, Florida’s class ranked 14th nationally.

“I’m excited about the guys that are coming to join our family,” Mullen said. “I think our coaches did a really good job of identifying guys that are gonna fit what the Gator standard is and what our expectations are.”

Chatfield is rated as the nation’s 213th-best player and its 13th-best weak side defensive end, and he was the only UF signee from south Florida on Wednesday.

Florida’s biggest signing of the day, meanwhile, was Jacob Copeland, a four-star receiver who picked UF over Alabama and Tennessee. The Pensacola native is rated 69th in the nation while also holding the title of top receiver in the state of Florida and top player in Florida’s class.

Chatfield talks about his two interceptions in the Patriots' win over Booker T. Washington on Friday.

Picking between three three hats at Escambia High School in Pensacola, Copeland chose Florida live on ESPN2. His mother, who was seated next to him wearing an Alabama sweatshirt and a Tennessee beanie, got up and walked away when he did.

Her reason for doing so is unknown, but she did come back and hug Copeland moments after his announcement.

“He’s had a lot of stress. Lots of people trying to pull him in different directions,” Mullen said of Copeland. “He knew in his heart this is where he belonged.”

Earlier in the day, Justin Watkins, ranked No. 89 overall and No. 16 at receiver, followed through on his pledge to the Gators and signed with Florida. He’s listed on Florida’s roster as an athlete, which is what Mullen likes about him.

“He’s electric,” Mullen said. “Florida’s won lot of championships with athletes like Justin.”

Along the offensive line, the Gators added four-star Richard Gouraige, who entered Wednesday committed to Florida and stuck with his pledge. He’s rated No. 81 nationally and No. 7 at offensive tackle.

Florida also signed three-star center Griffin McDowell, who had been committed to Mississippi State and flipped to UF on Jan. 30.

The final addition of the day was four-star defensive end Malik Langham, who’s rated 315th nationally and 14th among strong side defensive ends.

As for misses, the biggest one was five-star offensive tackle Nicholas Petit-Frere out of Berkeley Prep. in Tampa, who was billed as the nation’s top offensive tackle.

The Gators also lunged and missed on four-star defensive end Caleb Tannor out of Lithonia, Georgia; three-star defensive end Caleb Johnson from Columbus, Georgia; four-star corner Noah Boykin from Washington, D.C.; and four-star defensive tackle Nesta Silvera from American Heritage.

But Mullen, who seemed jolly when addressing reporters, tried not to focus on what his team didn’t get. He also left the door open for more signings in the coming days.

“There’s guys we didn’t get today,” he said. “I’m more concerned about the ones we got.”

UF recruits

DE Andrew Chatfield, 6-2, 226, American Heritage Plantation

WR Jacob Copeland, 6-0, 192, Escambia

OT Richard Gouraige, 6-5, 271, Cambridge Christian

DE Malik Langham, 6-5, 269, Lee (AL)

C Griffin McDowell, 6-4, 267, Lee County (GA)

WR Justin Watkins, 5-11, 172, East Ridge

OT Noah Banks, 6-7, 305, Iowa Western (JUCO)

OT Chris Bleich, 6-6, 313, Wyoming Valley West (PA)

ATH Amari Burney, 6-1, 219, Calvary Christian

RB Iverson Clement, 5-11, 199, Rancocas Valley Regional (NJ)

DB Trey Dean, 6-2, 180, Dutchtown (GA)

DB John Huggins, 6-0, 200, Mainland

QB Emory Jones, 6-2, 195, Heard County (GA)

TE Dante Lang, 6-5, 222, Boca Raton

K Evan McPherson, 6-0, 165, Fort Payne (AL)

RB Dameon Pierce, 5-11, 208, Bainbridge (GA)

TE Kyle Pitts, 6-6, 239, Archbishop Wood (PA)

LB David Reese, 6-1, 213, Vero Beach

WR Van Jefferson, 6-2, 195, Ole Miss

WR Trevon Grimes, 6-4, 205, Ohio State

Related stories from Miami Herald