Florida Gators Rebuild
By: Robert Craft
TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services
With Florida’s season over and the early signees on board for 2023, Florida Gators’ coach Billy Napier has officially turned the page on his first year with the Gators.
Following Florida’s regular season finale at Florida State, a recruiting drought went into effect on Nov. 28. A flood of transfers and bowl opt-outs soon followed.
Sixteen of UF’s 22 outgoing transfers announced they were leaving after the FSU game, although a handful of players stayed with the team through the bowl. The Gators also had four key starters skip the Las Vegas Bowl after declaring for the NFL Draft.
To complicate matters more for Napier and his assistant coaches, Florida’s selection for the Dec. 17 bowl meant the trip would take away from their in-home visits before signing day. Two days after the contact period opened on Dec. 2, UF was matched up with Oregon State.
With the team flying out on Dec. 13, Napier managed to make 30 different stops on the recruiting trail over a five-day stretch. The contact period ended on the day Florida returned from the bowl game, so he had to fit in enough in-home visits and trips to high schools before traveling to Las Vegas.
During the first week of the contact period, Napier likely made more recruiting stops than any coach in the country.
The juggling act of bowl practices, portal exits and recruiting visits created a challenging and hectic month for Napier and his staff to close out 2022.
The Gators ended the year on a low note, dropping their third straight game with a depleted roster. Despite the lopsided loss to Oregon State and UF’s 6-7 record, Napier still expressed that his team made progress over the course of the season.
Despite the losses on the field and the portal, Napier and his staff scored some big wins on the recruiting trail. UF inked a top 10 class on signing day, with 15 blue chips.
Quarterback signee Jaden Rashada has not enrolled at the University of Florida for the spring semester. Rumors are he has requested to be released from his National Letter of Intent.
With 80 percent of the class holding a four-star rating or higher, it marked Florida’s best blue-chip ratio since Urban Meyer’s No. 1-ranked recruiting class in 2010.
Prospects from Florida also comprised 70 percent of the Gators’ class for the fourth time since 2000. Most importantly, Napier and his staff got a feel for the recruiting landscape along with a better understanding of how to navigate the new and ever-evolving NIL market.
The Gators not only flipped some of their top signees such as Rashada (Miami), Dijon Johnson (Ohio State) and Roderick Kearney (Florida State), but down the stretch they also prevented Alabama, FSU and Michigan from poaching pledges Kelby Collins, Andy Jean and Aaron Gates respectively.
As Florida prepares to welcome 20 mid-year enrollees to campus and begin Phase 1 of the offseason program, Napier reflects on his first year at UF and what the future holds for 2023.
It created the silly narrative of questioning whether Napier is the savior that many of these same fans made him out to be when he was introduced as the head coach in December.
So, consider this a recommendation not just to UF supporters, but all those irrational college football fans with knee-jerk reactions to many recruiting developments involving their program: relax and take a deep breath. Rome was not built in a day, and neither were your delusions.
Napier and the rest of the program needs time to get there. Who knows if he’s going to be a transformative coach? Time will tell if Billy Napier will be the SEC’s next big thing, or if he will end up a small flash in a big pan. He clearly inherited a so-so roster from Mullen, so this recruiting bounce back is a good sign.
An uphill summit is never climbed immediately. The same goes for consistently recruiting top-10 national classes.
While UGA repeats as national champions, Napier has challenged UF’s players and staff to stay focused on what winning looks like to improve the team’s long-term trajectory.
Gator fans, let’s not kick sanity to the curb or kill the Billy Napier honeymoon after his first year. Quit the mental gymnastics, and enjoy the ride