It might seem odd to most people that a Tuscaloosa, Ala., college football prospect would be making a commitment to the Florida Gators.
For Northridge High tight end C’yontai Lewis the scenario is simple. If you can’t get home-cookin’, the next best thing is to go out to eat.
Lewis, whose only Football Bowl Subdivision scholarship offers are from Florida and Mississippi State, committed to UF on Thursday night, becoming the eighth pledge to the Gators’ 2014 recruiting class.
The national champion Alabama Crimson Tide are based right in his backyard, but Lewis can’t have what’s not on the menu.
“They’ve been recruiting me, they just ain’t offered me … so how am I gonna go there anyway,” Lewis said in a phone conversation Friday night.
And even if they did offer him at this point, Lewis said it’s not exactly a simple switch.
“I’m still going to Florida … I want to go to Florida,” he said. “Alabama ... they called me and told me congratulations and all that. They might offer, I don’t know. But that don’t mean I’d go there.”
Lewis said there are plenty of people who would expect him to flip his commitment to the hometown Tide.
“Everybody says I should go there,” Lewis said. “They say I should go to Alabama because they win championships, they put people in the NFL. Well, they don’t offer me. So I’ll find my own way to the NFL. Florida gets me there. Coach DLew will get me there.”
DLew is Florida tight ends coach Derek Lewis, who has formed quite the bond with the 6-foot-5, 208-pound Lewis.
“I like all the coaches and I also want to go there because that’s where I can go play,” Lewis said.
The Gators are not necessarily lacking for tight ends in numbers, but they lost All-SEC selection Jordan Reed to the NFL Draft (third round, Washington Redskins). The early-departing Reed led the Gators in receptions, so UF could use a pass-catching tight end with some athleticism.
Three tight ends with experience do return in Clay Burton, Tevin Westbrook and Kent Taylor, but there were only four catches between them last season. Taylor has play-making potential and will likely get plenty of use this season. Lewis talked a bit about how head coach Will Muschamp said the Gators would use him if he does indeed land in Gainesville.
“[Muschamp] said he liked what I could do at tight end and that I have good ball skills,” Lewis said. “He said I’d be able to go out and catch some passes and that he’d move me out to the slot sometimes and let me get out wide.”
Lewis, who also plays basketball and holds an offer from Murray State after averaging 19 points and eight rebounds last season, said he will still be taking all five of his official visits this fall.
“I’m still going to go and see all of the colleges and make sure that Florida is where I want to go,” said Lewis, who has not been to Gainesville but plans a trip there next month.
“That’s where I wanna go … Florida, but it’s almost a whole year till I gotta sign those papers, so we’ll see what happens.”
Though he does have the Murray State hoops offer, he said football is what suits him for the future. He also said he will be transferring to Tuscaloosa County High School this fall.
“We’re gonna win state there, yes sir,” he said.
As for college, he’s not concerned about the possibility of moving away and leaving his family behind.
“They’re happy for me,” Lewis said. “They’re going to be with me and go watch me wherever I go. They just want me to make sure what’s the best college for me to go to and they are behind me all the way.”
As a junior, Lewis caught 4 touchdown passes last season and had 313 yards receiving.
Now he shifts his focus on another UF target. Lewis will try to work a little Gator magic on teammate and cousin, nationally ranked athlete Bo Scarbrough (6-2, 225), a running back at Northridge. Scarbrough, ranked No. 2 in the country by 247Sports as an athlete, is currently committed to Alabama.
“Oh yeah … you know I’m on that,” Lewis said, “but Florida, they gonna have to bring me some help on that.”
After recent decommits by Columbia (S.C.) LB Christian Miller and Fort Myers Dunbar WR Ryeshene Bronson, Lewis' pledge brings UF back to eight commitments for the 2014 class.
2014 Florida commitments
RB Dalvin Cook, 5-11, 192, Miami Central
DB Duke Dawson, 5-11, 195, Cross City Dixie County
OL Travaris Dorsey, 6-3, 314, Jacksonville Raines
QB Will Grier, 6-3, 171, Davidson (N.C.)
OL Benjamin Knox, 6-6, 259, DeLand
TE C’yontai Lewis, 6-5, 208, Tuscaloosa (Ala.) Northridge
DT Anthony Moten, 6-4, 265, Fort Lauderdale STA
OL Joseph Paul, 6-4, 340, New Orleans (La.)
Chris Hays is the Sentinel's recruiting coverage coordinator and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Twitter at @Os_Recruiting and Facebook at Orlando Sentinel Recruiting and now on Pinterest at Orlando Recruiting.