Is Florida finding its footing under Billy Napier? We’ll discover

  • Alex Scarborough, ESPN

    • Staff WriterOct 25, 2023, 12:00 PM ET Close Covers the SEC.Joined ESPN
    • in 2012.
    • Graduate of Auburn University.DURING A group conference this

summer season, Florida center Kingsley Eguakun viewed as a clip from last season’s opening game against Utah popped onto the screen. That game– beating the seventh-ranked Utes– had actually seemed to signify first-year Florida coach Billy Napier might get the program reversed in a hurry.Florida ended up 6-7 last season, however, and the clip showed one possible reason that. Eguakun, who didn’t wish to out a player by name, stated the screen showed a huge play for Florida, after which a seemingly teamwide event broke out. Other than, Eguakun stated, “There was one player who didn’t celebrate. “He included ruefully, “He simply left.””This is what selfishness appears like, “Eguakun recalled the presenter saying.Eguakun concurred, and not even if of the loss to Kentucky the next week or the seven losses in general in 2022, including to seasonal cellar-dweller Vanderbilt, which an opposing coach called”unforgivable.” Beating Utah– a solitary win– reproduced complacency, Eguakun stated, and when things went sideways later, the group didn’t have the essential management to hold the locker room together.Buy-in was lacking, Eguakun discussed, as if players weren’t sure whether they wished to stick it out through the training modification and then got stuck.”If you’re one foot in, one foot out, that’s not going to work,”he stated.” It sort of had a trickle-down result on some of the more youthful guys.

“Editor’s Picks 2 Related Group sources affirmed Kinglsey’s assessment of the Year 1 lineup. Fights in practice, sources said, were prevalent, as well as players missing out on group meetings.Cornerback Jason Marshall

Jr. was frustrated due to the fact that veterans were setting a bad example. Napier “altered the perspective “by concentrating on discipline, Marshall stated, noting that “a great deal of players were still secured

on the past. “Marshall and Eguakun said cleaning out” selfish” previous colleagues had introduced a” various energy, a various vibe. “Eguakun said,”The guys being bought in is the game-changer for this Florida Gators team. “Eguakun made it clear that losing the method they did in 2015 was no longer acceptable– viewing teammates “continuing”in the locker room while he was all set to”

go drop a tear or more.” “Changing this instructions that we have actually been on might be No. 1 on my list because I wish to win,” he said.This season, the wins haven’t always been simple to come by, but the state of mind

around the program has changed according to players and coaches. Rather of folding after a season-opening loss at Utah, they recovered and beat competing and then-No. 11 Tennessee. After a loss to Kentucky(again) and a return win at South Carolina, the Gators sit at 5-2– second in the SEC East.If Napier’s procedure is truly working we’ll soon discover. The most tough stretch of the season techniques, beginning Saturday with No. 1 Georgia. The Gators then close the season with No. 15 LSU, No. 16 Missouri and No. 4 Florida State. “Florida’s a momentum job, if that makes good sense,”Billy Napier stated.”I believe if you get it developed, it’ll be difficult to slow down.” Jordan Prather/USA TODAY Sports THE PHYSICAL pointer of the pressure awaiting Napier at Florida was right there, strolling toward the 25-yard line inside the University of Louisiana football arena on Dec. 4, 2021. Minutes after beating Appalachian State to win the Sun Belt West Division– Napier’s last act as

head coach before leaving for Gainesville– fans rushed the field. The vast majority were wearing the Cajuns’ red and black.But a pair of fans, who drove nearly 7 hours from Panama City, wove their way through the crowd towards Napier, one wearing brilliant orange, the other using royal blue. Napier laughed when the male in orange lifted his short-sleeve t-shirt to expose a gator tattoo on his shoulder. Napier obliged their request for

a selfie and told the both of them,” I’ll see you soon.”Napier tried his best to remain in the minute that night, letting the fond memories wash over him. He remembered his initial news conference and press reporters telling him simply how bad the Louisiana program was. And he said they weren’t incorrect. They had not had a winning record in 3 years.But Napier thoroughly restored both the roster and group facilities, adding lots of positions to develop what was affectionately called, “Bama on a budget plan. “Together, they turned the program around in a hurry, entrusting a record of 40-12. Napier got one of the game balls as a going-away present, carrying it everywhere he went, eventually onto the departing plane. When he accidentally dropped the ball during a postgame news conference, he sent a team member back to retrieve it. “I’m not letting this one go, “he said.He didn’t understand it at the time, however he would pertain to miss the program he had actually formed. The concepts would be the same at Florida– structure, attention to detail, discipline, an eye toward efficiency– but the game had actually altered in the SEC considering that he left as an assistant at Alabama, making this reconstruct far more hard. Get your preferred live sports, stories and originals with ESPN+, Disney+and Hulu. Update to a Disney Package plan and begin streaming something for everyone today! “The huge takeaway for me was I leave a place [Louisiana] where I most likely had as excellent of a relationship with my team– I would

put it up against throughout the nation, simply the team dynamic,”he stated. “And after that you inherit a long list of difficulties in an unmatched time, relative to

the portal and NIL. There’s no handbook for that. I don’t care what you say. “And I’m, to be very transparent, 5 years eliminated from the SEC and no experience with Power 5 recruiting in the early signing period era. That was a huge adjustment. Not that we can’t examine and we can’t recruit, just the reality that our recognized workflow and the method we operated at Louisiana did not use in the SEC.”Napier stated they effectively changed. They signed a top-15 class, he included,” But it was a scramble.”That very first year required a dizzying quantity of work, whether it was getting up to speed in recruiting, getting their arms around an NIL operation that wasn’t where it required to be, navigating the transfer portal, developing out

a staff that was growing by a tremendous 25%and, oh yeah, trying to discover the existing roster and get them up to speed on an entirely new system.”Tampering, “Napier suggested,”magnifies that. “Do not simply take his word for it. Tennessee coach Josh Heupel, who has no factor to support a competing coach, said first-year coaches lag the 8 ball in a way they’ve never ever been previously. “I do not know if it’s ever been more difficult than it is now due to the fact that of transfer portal,”he stated. “You genuinely have to recruit everyone on your roster. Then you got to head out and hire guys to come to your lineup. … You’re literally dealing with everything that every coach is grumbling about right now presently inside the landscape of college football, plus you have no relationships with the players on your lineup.” Simply discovering their names is an obstacle. So if there was a disconnect between Napier and holdovers from the previous staff, possibly it was with good factor. “We run a tight ship,”Napier said. “I’m a firm believer in structure and routine. We play complimentary football. We teach a set of worths. And I think that that’s where it was different. Suddenly, it’s like there’s repercussion, there’s discipline, there’s responsibility.”Napier called in 2015’s squad” one of the more dysfunctional groups I’ve been a part

of. “But, he promised, “We got a plan for whatever.”Some players didn’t like the strategy and left. Eguakun and Marshall stated they’re better off for it. Opposing coaches in the SEC aren’t prepared to evaluate Napier off one rocky season, however they did offer a twinkle of hope:”A few of their finest players are young, which’s a good idea.”A tremendous 24 freshmen are on Florida’s official depth chart, including both starting tight ends Hayden Hansen and Arlis Boardingham, starting protective end Caleb Banks, starting security Jordan Castell and standout starting receiver Eugene Wilson III. And that’s to state nothing of the additions Napier & Co. made through the transfer portal.After securing a top-15 recruiting class in December, they approach changing quarterback Anthony Richardson. But rather of signing a high-profile transfer like Sam Hartman or Devin Leary, they wound up generating previous Wisconsin signal-caller Graham Mertz, which went over about in addition to the Tomahawk Chop inside Ben Hill Griffin Stadium at the time. Last spring, ESPN did not rank Mertz amongst its top 75 portal players.Mertz has been effective, however, with 12 passing touchdowns and only 2 interceptions. His 76.2 conclusion portion is tops in the SEC.Less than 2 days after Mertz led a fourth-quarter resurgence at South Carolina, Napier told ESPN that it’s beginning to feel a lot more like his time at the University of Louisiana in regards to”simply the total culture in the structure.”His first string there completed 7-7 before winning double-digit games and finishing atop its department in each of the next 3 years.

Graham Mertz has actually passed for 1,897 yards with 12 goals and 2 interceptions this season. He’s finishing an SEC finest 76.2%of his passes. AP Photo/John Raoux FORMER FLORIDA NATIONAL championship-winning coach Urban Meyer used Napier guidance upon taking the job that sticks with him today.”It’s important for you to comprehend,” Napier recalled Meyer informing him,”you remain in a state with 22 million individuals and you have huge alumni, but you’re likewise in a state with 2 hated competitors

. So if you fall and journey, not just do you understand your small portion of bandwagon fans get riled up, but you likewise have 2 fan bases from others that jump in on the

action too. “”So,”Napier stated,”that’s the truth. “And it’s a truth Napier hasn’t avoided when fans have actually voiced their frustration after losses to Utah and Kentucky this season.”Let’s call it like it is,”he stated,”Sometimes you deserve to be criticized.”He didn’t snap when it was recommended he give up playcalling duties on offense to focus on the huge picture. He stated it was a”pertinent concern “and part of the evaluation, “However I feel great in our process. “Napier’s ability to take the proverbial bumps in the

roadway in stride and stick to his strategy is precisely why

athletic director Scott Stricklin hired him in the very first location, mentioning his special personality and approach. “The idea of employing Billy wasn’t to have a four -or five-year service,” he said. “It was to have a 15 -, 20-year service.”

As Stricklin stood on the field in Columbia a couple of weeks ago, he kept in mind 2 years earlier when he was in the very same spot and it became clear that the” internal fundamental obstacles” under previous coach Dan Mullen were”

more significant than we most likely recognized. “(Mullen, now an expert at ESPN, did not react to demands looking for remark for this story.)”And so to be back there and to have that sort of game that we had was rewarding to be on the

other side where the fundamental issues have in large part been corrected,” he said. “The culture, the relationships, the concentrate on the things that you can’t be terrific without have been dealt with.”Which is not to recommend that the group is anywhere near a finished product.”However I believe the things are in place for it to happen,” Stricklin said.Florida is third in ESPN’s most current Class Rankings for 2024. On Sunday, Napier and his personnel added four-star defensive end L.J. McCray to the growing list of commitments.Put together a strong showing versus Georgia on Saturday and it may cause a lot more hires to jump on board.Because for as up-and-down as Florida’s been, no one in college football doubts the strength of the brand or its ability to produce championship games.”Florida’s a momentum task, if that makes good sense,” Napier said.”I think if you get it built,

it’ll be hard to decrease.”He stopped briefly a beat for emphasis.” If you got the discipline to

create it the right way and something that’s sustainable and repeatable.

That’s exactly what we’re going to do. “

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