Capping off a week of offers, the Texas Longhorns entered the race to land the signature of Lake Wales (Fla.) quarterback Xavier Gaines on Friday:
Hook'em Horns!— Real Deal Xa¥! (@BabyHuey4444) February 14, 2015
Gaines is a 6'2, 210-pounder ranked as a consensus four-star prospect, the No. 254 prospect overall, the No. 8 dual-threat quarterback, and No. 24 player in the state of Florida. Since he's a borderline four-star prospect but still among the top 10 dual-threat quarterbacks nationally, this isn't a particularly deep class in terms of dynamic runners and passers.
So there's already a lot of competition for players like Gaines, who currently holds around 25 offers, including invitations to play at Alabama, Auburn, Baylor, Clemson, FIU, Florida, Florida Atlantic, Florida State, Iowa State, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Miami, Mississippi State, Nebraska, Notre Dame, Penn State, South Alabama, South Florida, Tennessee, UCF, Virginia Tech, and Wisconsin.
Though the offer list for Gaines will make his recruitment a difficult one to win, the Longhorns are already receiving some help from an ace recruiter -- 2015 linebacker signee Cecil Cherry, who is a cousin of Gaines. None of it is happening publicly on Twitter, but Cherry is definitely working behind the scenes to make sure that Texas has a shot with the talented quarterback.
Based on Cherry's success recruiting other prospects out of Florida for Texas, his relationship with Gaines should at least help secure a visit, most likely during the summer.
Right now, however, the home-state Seminoles are considered the favorite, even though head coach Jimbo Fisher already holds a commitment from Malik Henry, the No. 2 pro-style passer in the class:
In other words, landing Gaines would be a major upset and, therefore, a difficult accomplishment.
ESPN has Gaines at 6'3 and 210 pounds, the weight he measured in at during the Orlando NFTC in March of 2013 -- unless he's lost weight over the last two years, he may be bigger than that now. He's probably faster and more athletic than the 4.87 40-yard dash, 4.47 shuttle, and 28.6-inch vertical leap he posted there, too.
It's probably safe to say based on his film that he's behind quarterbacks from the state of Texas, who receive better coaching and more reps overall than most quarterback prospects from the state of Florida. They tend to lag behind their Lone Star State peers and even passers from California in their development.
With the ball in his hands as a sophomore, Gaines was at his best coming downhill behind a lead blocker or running the Power read. Once he got going, he showed solid feet for his size and the ability to lower his shoulder at times to run over defenders. Since he has the frame to eventually play at 220 to 225 pounds, he could continue to improve upon those skills in college as he gains weight.
Laterally, Gaines didn't look like the type of player who will make a living taking the edge on defenses, putting his skill set in that area somewhere between current Texas quarterbacks Jerrod Heard and Tyrone Swoopes. Still, he doid have enough quickness with his first steps and change of direction ability to remain effective in the traditional zone read, if not exceptionally explosive.
As a passer, Gaines looked like a developmental project as a sophomore. There was adequate to good arm strength there, but his arm slot drops at times and he often didn't keep his feet alive in the pocket or tied to his eyes. When forced to move, he had a habit of throwing across his body or off his back foot, both traits he will have to wean out of his game when he makes the move to the next level.
The positive is that he did remain effective with defenders in his face and around his feet and he's not ranked as an athlete by any of the services.
In leaving the pocket, Gaines seemed more comfortable making plays with his feet rather than extending them with his eyes downfield to create big passing plays.
Overall, the sophomore film for Gaines didn't set up a trajectory favorable for contributing early, but the hope for Texas is that doing so won't be necessary by 2016 with more experienced quarterbacks on campus and comfortable with the offensive system.
As a junior, Gaines made the move from Frostproof to Lake Wales, one that resulted in a major change in his offensive system -- instead of operating in a pure shotgun spread option attack, it appears that Gaines spent most of his time under center and ran some speed option/triple option.
He looked a little bit faster with the ball in his hands, learned how to take drops, and was able to make a few more plays in the passing game when pressured into leaving the pocket. He also demonstrated that he has some natural feel for running the speed option, a trait that few quarterbacks truly possess.
So the evident upside and strong raw tools of the Florida prospect are what make him a four-star recruit with offers from around the country -- if schools like Baylor, Florida State, and Ohio State think that they can turn him into a contributor, then there's no reason to believe that it's not possible.
An in-state prospect like Arlington Lamar's Shane Buechele would be more appealing in the short term because of his greater degree of polish, but the upside is more limited there because Buechele is shorter and perhaps not quite as athletic as Gaines.