By: Robert Craft
TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services
A year ago, Florida fans were questioning the program’s coaching decision (Dan Mullen), but Florida football was fresh off an SEC title game and the program seemed to be trending in the right direction.
As you can see, things change. Quickly.
Florida finished the 2021 season with a 6-7 record. As a result, Mullen was let go. The Gators rebounded with one of the hottest names on the market- Billy Napier. The move was a home run in the coaching world and it showed that Florida is serious about winning.
With spring ball starting up, it’s time to take a glance at our new-looking Gators. What storylines should I be following? Easy, it all starts with recruiting!
During Napier’s Signing Day press conference, he made it clear: there’s plenty of work to be done. For example, the Gators signed only six players from their talent-rich home state.
While the Gators shifted their focus to the upcoming class paired with Napier’s first full season UF’s head coach — the coaching staff made it clear: Florida plans to scour the talent from the Sunshine State.
“That’s the approach that we will take and certainly with the ’23 group, which we’ve already started on,” Napier said. “That will be the mentality, for sure.”
It’s not as if Napier underestimated what Florida has to offer in the first place. Rather, he’s looking to forge new relationships in the final two months of a player’s recruitment; historically, the Gators relied on previously established connections.
Evidenced by his previous team’s (University of Louisiana Lafayette) improvement from year one to year two, there’s tangible reason to believe the Gators will make a massive leap in the recruiting rankings next season under Napier.
The University of Louisiana Lafayette improved 28 places in the team rankings from Napier’s first season to his second. After finishing fourth in the Sun Belt conference his first year, the Ragin’ Cajuns would rank atop the conference in recruiting for each of the next three seasons.
The blueprint looks to already be in place.
“I think you build your schedule based off of the ’22s. And then maybe the ’23 players in that area. You try to do the best job you can,” Napier said. “And certainly, each assistant coach kind of is taking the same philosophy.”
Katie Turner, Florida’s newly hired assistant athletic director of recruiting strategy, may not technically be a coach, but she’s a vital part of the team’s talent acquisition efforts.
Napier and his coaching staff know they’ll have to maintain the intensity on the recruiting trail if they hope to have a stress-free National Signing Day in 2023.
“We’re hopeful that we won’t be doing this much business in February next year, and we’ll be able to be a little bit more strategic about our time on the road relative to the next group,” Napier said. “But I think we made the most of it, for sure.”
Florida can be a pressure cooker, but that may be said of every high-level Division I football program. The expectations across the country have risen, along with budgets and coaches’ salaries. You’re expected to win fast or die young.
The 2023 recruiting cycle is well underway, and the Florida Gators have several goals in mind as l Billy Napier puts together his first full class of signees after a transitional 2022 haul.
One of those goals, simply put, is to recruit more effectively than the Gators’ past, which consistently missed opportunities and underwhelmed year after year on the trail.
The second goal is to put a fence around the state of Florida, being able to keep elite talent home rather than allowing non-locals to tap into Florida’s top talent and prospects as they please.
Florida has the most blue-chips of any other state (and the most 5-stars) by leaps in 2023. We’ll see if new head coaches in Florida’s Billy Napier can make some progress getting in-state prospects to stay closer to home.
In my review, Napier will be evaluated by this first class. He needs a top 5 class or this may be another short tenure for Coach Napier.