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North Central Florida has become a hot spot for college football recruiting

The Bartram Trail football team looks on during the first quarter of the game Thursday, Oct. 19, 2023. (Austin Stirling/WUFT News)
The Bartram Trail football team looks on during the first quarter of the game Thursday, Oct. 19, 2023. (Austin Stirling/WUFT News)

The state of Florida is a mecca of high school football recruiting.

High school football players across the country try to show off their game to colleges every year, but the competition in Florida is on another level. There is no shortage of talent in the Sunshine State.

“At the end of the day, your film is your resumé,” said Chuck Bell, Buchholz High School football head coach. “Not a whole lot of people worry about stats.”

In North Central Florida, the opportunity to put together great films against great opponents abound. A film is a string of videos a player can put together based on the great plays in games he makes. There are a multitude of talented football programs in the area and the stiff competition has led to many players being recruited to play at the next level.

Local schools like Buchholz and Williston both rank within the top 10 among high school football teams in the state, according to the Florida High School Athletic Association. Hawthorne, another school located in North Central Florida, ranks at No. 23. With all the talent in the region, Bell said playing as much as possible against top competitors is important to improve the chance of being recruited.

“We’ve scheduled tough for a reason,” he said. “The more times our kids can get out on the field against somebody in a different color jersey, it only helps.”

Because Buchholz has experienced a lot of success over the past several seasons, scheduling games against mediocre teams is no longer an option for his program Bell said. This has allowed Buchholz to compete at a high level constantly, which has ultimately led to more success for the program on the field, as well as in recruiting. Over the last three seasons, Buchholz has helped 15 students get recruited to Division I universities, Bell said.

Indeed, the visibility seems to help local athletes.

Former Buchholz quarterback Creed Whittemore committed to Mississippi State in 2022 and is currently on their roster. Wide receiver Jaren Hamilton committed to play at the University of Alabama, and defensive end Gavin Hill landed at the University of Florida.

Being on a successful team that is typically in the high school football playoffs is also extremely important for players to be looked at by colleges. Players feel the importance of these extra games as well. Buchholz quarterback Trace Johnson, 15, said that there is a different feel and mentality heading into playoff games. He explained that heading into big games against strong opponents helps him lock into what he needs to do more.

“It’s good to be able to play some competition the next couple of games getting into playoffs,” Johnson said. “It’s definitely going to help practice and help some guys get recruited.”

Bell stressed the importance of playing those extra games, and it matters when coaches ask for that film. The more opportunities a player gets in these games, the better it is during the recruitment process, he said.

“We’ll have played 11 playoff games in the past three seasons,” Bell said. “That’s an extra season worth of film that you get.”

Buchholz running back Quinton Cutler, 17, shared Johnson’s sentiment. He explained that he feels the extra games against tough competition is good for the team. He also stressed the importance of staying healthy and hydrated to perform at the highest level.

“It’s a great opportunity for everyone,” Cutler said. “I’m just trying to help everybody, help myself, help them and just help the team win.”

In addition to the concentration of talent in North Central Florida, another advantage many players in the region have is being near the University of Florida. As one of the largest universities in Florida, UF draws athletes, coaches and scouts to the area.

Buchholz outside linebacker Myles Graham is the No. 1 ranked outside linebacker in the country, according to rankings. Graham is committed to playing at UF and moved to Gainesville to attend Buchholz High School for his senior season.

Ian Scott, Gainesville High School football head coach, said that a big factor when he was looking at schools to coach was the competition that exists near the university.

“When you know an area and you know the teams that they’re playing, it looks different on film when you’re talking about recruiting,” Scott said.

He also spoke about the recruiting opportunities he tries to provide his players aside from what they can show in the games. He explained how he encourages his players to participate in seven-on-seven tournaments and lineman camps over the spring. Scott is a former Gator football player and uses his connections as best he can to set up unofficial visits and other events for his players.

“During the season, we’ve gotten guys being able to see some teams play,” he said. “Being able to meet with some coaches.”

Scott also mentioned that he still had some planning to do for recruiting because this is his first year as coach, but he understands the importance of providing his players with those opportunities.

Tom Coyne, 47, is the parent of a sophomore on the Gainesville football team. He said that he brought his son out to position player camps throughout his freshman year, and he intends to do it in the coming years as well.

“There are so many other showcase camps that you go to where you’re going to demonstrate your skill and your position to your college,” Coyne said. “I think it is important for you to go out there and play your position well.”

He also said that he recognizes that there is value in playing against top-ranked schools, even if the result ends up lopsided. Gainesville High School has played against talented opponents all season and has suffered a losing record because of it. Gainesville’s record sits at 1-8, with one game remaining to be played in the regular season. Despite missing out on the playoffs and the poor record, Coyne said he still feels that playing at this level is great in terms of recruiting.

“Scouts coming out to a game to see the other team, and you do well, they’re obviously going to look at you as well,” he said. “It’s helpful.”

Between the competition, camps, showcases and reputation, it’s no surprise that North Central Florida remains one of the best areas for colleges to recruit. In a state with as much football talent as Florida, colleges continue to make visits to this area to scout talent and watch high school football be played at the highest level.

“It feels good to go and play competition,” Cutler said.

Austin is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing