Florida hosted a handful of recruits in Gainesville on Saturday for its first spring practice in full pads.

Bates earned the second highest SPARQ rating (109.05) at the Nike Combine in Atlanta on March 2. (Photo by The St. Augustine Record)

The top visitor on campus was Ponte Verda outside linebacker Dillon Bates, a consensus four-star prospect who is ranked No. 58 overall and third at his position in the Rivals100.

Bates was impressed with the coaching style he saw from the UF staff, particularly new defensive coordinator and linebacker coach D.J. Durkin.

“Being able to the see the coaches on the field is what I’ve been looking forward to with Florida,” Bates said. “Coach Durkin stood out to me. He’s a really great coach and brings a lot of intensity to practice. He knows what he’s talking about and he’s a really great teacher of the game.”

Afterward, Bates spent time with Durkin and UF coach Will Muschamp. The 6-foot-3, 225-pounder said he still wants to building a better relationship with both coaches, and Saturday was a positive step in that direction.

“It went really good,” Bates said of the meeting. “They were talking about how I fit into their team and when they’re trying to come watch my spring practice. They’re recruiting me pretty hard, but they’re not pressuring me or anything. They’re telling me how much they want me, but they’re also letting me take my time so I’ll be 100 percent with wherever I go.”

Bates is still in the early stages of his recruiting process. He has 35 offers at this time, with the most recent coming from Alabama. He’s going to narrow down his suitors to five finalists after some more spring trips and then officially visit those schools in the fall.

One of them will be Florida.

“I’ve been to Florida three times in the past few months and they’re definitely going to be in the top few (finalists) along with schools like Alabama and Tennessee,” said Bates, who plans to make his decision toward the end of his senior season or at the Under Armour All-America Game.

He is considered by most to be favoring Tennessee because his father played for the Vols. But the Gators also have a couple things working in their favor.

“Florida is really close to home,” Bates said. “It’s only about an hour and a half away. Distance isn’t that much of an issue for me, but it’s always nice for my friends and my family to be able to come and see me play. Pretty much everybody around me and at my school are Florida fans and they always tell me ‘Go Gators’ when they walk by me. So there’s definitely a lot of enthuisuam behind Florida and people trying to get me to go there. But I still need to take my time and go on visits so I can make my own decision.”

UF takes lead for Ward, others

Ward worked out at the Orlando Nike Football Training Camp on Saturday. (Photo by 247Sports)

Three prospects named Florida their leader on Saturday, including Bradenton IMG Academy offensive tackle Denzel Ward.

The 6-foot-8, 307-pounder has been a high priority for Muschamp and Co. since his decommitment from Michigan on Jan. 29.

“They’ve been recruiting me more than other schools lately,” Ward said. “I talk to three of their coaches every week and I speak with coach Muschamp at least twice a week. I feel like they really have a great vision and a great chance of winning multiple national championships soon. I think I can really make an impact early with their depth at the O-line position.”

Ward has scheduled his official visit to UF for the regular season finale against Florida State. He will also take trips to Oklahoma and Ohio State, among others.

“I’m going to take my officials and not rush my decision like I did the first time, but Florida is my top school and everybody else has to really work to beat them out,” Ward said.

The Gators also took the lead for two instate recruits — receiver Travis Rudolph (West Palm Beach Cardinal Newman) and defensive end Trent Harris (Winter Park). Rudolph decommitted from Miami on Friday and named UF his new favorite, while Harris, who plans to make his decision in the next two months, called Florida his frontrunner Saturday.


Cross City Dixie County cornerback Duke Dawson, a UF pledge, was invited to The Opening following his performance at Orlando Nike Football Training Camp on Saturday. … Florida quarterback commit Will Grier of Davidson (N.C.) Day competed in Sunday’s VTO Sports Prep 100 camp in Charlotte. Click HERE to watch his highlights from the event.