Crowder hears footsteps to UF

Looking for the next North Carolina prospect to play college football for Florida?

Tyrone Crowder is worth more than a passing glance -- for several reasons.

First, the ESPN 150 prospect from Rockingham (N.C.) Richmond County seems to have interest in the Gators. Florida and Alabama are the only two schools he has visited outside of the Carolinas.

Second, it would follow a recent trend in which prospects from the Tar Heel state have ended up in Gainesville. In February, the Gators nabbed North Carolina's top prospect -- offensive tackle D.J. Humphries from Charlotte (N.C.) Mallard Creek -- as well as defensive end Jonathan Bullard and safety Rhaheim Ledbetter from Shelby (N.C.) Crest and defensive end Alex McCalister from Clemmons (N.C.) West Forsyth.

Lastly, there's a strong connection between Crowder and the Gators. Florida's head strength and conditioning coach Jeff Dillman played at Richmond County.

Don't, however, paint Crowder in orange and blue just yet. He still has that Alabama offer in hand, which is among his 15 scholarship offers. That list should be pared down soon.

"I'm getting close," Crowder said of narrowing his list. "It will probably be the next couple of weeks, I'll name a top five."

Crowder said, as of now, every school is equal, that even he doesn't know which teams could end up being finalists.

What Crowder does know is that he'll play on the interior offensive line in college. Guard, where he played in the ninth grade, is the likely position. Center is also a possibility if the 6-foot-1, 325-pound junior can prove he can handle the ball. After this season, all agree, his days at tackle are over.

"I think he's an inside guy," Richmond County head coach Paul Hoggard said with a grin. "His last play at tackle will be the last play at tackle for us."

Somewhat surprisingly, Crowder is fine with that. While most top-flight offensive line prospects prefer to play tackle, Crowder likes the inside game.

It seems to fit his style.

"He's a mauler," Hoggard said. "He can mash people. Very explosive. He has really good feet. Tremendous flexibility. He's probably one of the most flexible big guys I've ever been around. He picks up things. He's pretty sharp. He has a good football I.Q."

Hoggard still remembers when Crowder transferred to Richmond County. In a school bereft of big guys, Crowder was quickly noticed.

"I was sitting at this desk and he walked in and said, 'I want to play football.' I said, 'Have a seat,' " Hoggard said.

Crowder lived in Greer, S.C. and still has family there, but he said those ties won't affect his decision.

Crowder has visited several nearby schools, such as Duke, North Carolina, North Carolina State, South Carolina and Clemson. He said he'll take more trips but is unsure where or when.

His latest offers have come from Miami, Wake Forest and North Carolina State. He said he's fond of Miami's program from afar but doesn't know much about them, likes Wake Forest campus and, as for N.C. State, said, "They're a great school, a great team. I got to tour around the campus and the facilities. It was pretty nice."

Alabama is also well in the race.

"It's a great school," said Crowder, who visited Tuscaloosa in February. "I got to talk to the players. The campus was nice, even after the tornadoes. It was great. I had a lot of fun."

Crowder said he'd like to take another trip to Tuscaloosa if he can work it out, perhaps this summer.

"I want to go back," he said, "but it's a long way."

Crowder may well choose to sign with Alabama or stay close to home, but given the recent trend of North Carolina prospects and his thoughts on Gainesville, it's easy to see Florida as a major player for his services.

"It's great down there," he said. "I liked the campus lifestyle. It's good. I talked to a couple of coaches. They really know what they're talking about."

Certainly worth keeping an eye on.