Florida’s search for help on the defensive line just got harder.

Forest City, N.C., defensive tackle Carlos Watkins informed The Sun on Friday afternoon that he committed to Clemson over UF.

He announced the decision hours later on Senior Night at Chase High School.

Watkins attended Friday Night Lights back in July and took an official visit for the Alabama game. The Gators made a strong impression on both of his trips, and he told Rivals.com on Oct. 11 that UF held a “slight edge” over the Tigers.

In the end, however, Gainesville was just too far away.

“Both programs are great,” Watkins’ head coach Daniel Bailey said Friday, “but I think it came down to distance.”

The Rivals100 prospect had previously given Florida the lead because of the NFL experience on its coaching staff. But the Clemson coaches began pursuing Watkins early in his recruiting process and were able to build a strong relationship with him.

“One of the key things for any kid is how you feel around the coaching staff,” Bailey said, “and he’s really comfortable with their coaches and the guys who will be his teammates next year.”

With Watkins now out of the picture, the Gators will have a difficult time finding another defensive tackle to join Jafar Mann and Omari Phillips in their 2012 class.

Although Monrovia, Calif., DT Ellis McCarthy lists UF in his top five, the five-star will likely stay on the west coast. The other top candidate, Edwardsville, Ill., DT Vincent Valentine, is a heavy Nebraska lean.
Another possibility is four-star Dalvin Tomlinson of McDonough, Ga., Henry County. There is mutual interest between he and UF, and at 6-2, 270, he offers the necessary size in the middle.