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Billy Napier ‘comfortable’ with handling of Jaden Rashada recruitment

DESTIN — Florida football coach Billy Napier said he’s “comfortable” with his role in the recruitment of former signee Jaden Rashada.

Rashada is suing Napier, among others, seeking $10 million in damages for a failed name, image and likeness deal worth more than $13 million that became a black eye for the Gators and spurred an NCAA investigation subsequently put on hold.

Speaking for the first time since the lawsuit was filed May 21, Napier declined to discuss the specifics of the litigation, which also included mega booster Hugh Hathcock and the football program’s former NIL director Marcus Castro-Walker.

“I am comfortable with my actions,” he said while attending the SEC spring meetings in Destin. “I’m thankful for the university’s support. We’re gonna … let the process take its course.”

Napier said he was unaware of the lawsuit until reports surfaced that Houston-based attorney Rusty Hardin had filed a 37-page complaint filed in the U.S. District Court in Pensacola.

“It was first uncovered in the media,” Napier said.

Rashada’s recent transfer to Georgia added another unexpected twist. After UF released Rashada from his letter of intent, he transferred to Arizona State. But after one season, the quarterback transferred to Georgia.

Bulldogs coach Kirby Smart said Rashada told him May 20 that he planned to file the lawsuit the next day. Smart said he told him it was between the 20-year-old, his representatives and family.

The Gators are scheduled to face the Bulldogs on Nov. 2 in Jacksonville.

“It’s a sign of the times, possibly,” Smart said. ” I don’t get really caught up in that. I worry about what’s in my little bubble at Georgia. That’s outside the bubble.”

Napier said he’s confident the lawsuit will not derail the momentum gained since he made sweeping changes to his staff and roster following last season’s 5-7 finish.

“We executed the first half of the offseason the best we’ve done since we’ve been there,” he said.

The Gators signed 20 high school players in 2024, including the nation’s top-ranked quarterback, DJ Lagway, and defensive lineman, LJ McCray of Daytona Beach. UF also brought in 15 transfers, including former 5-star cornerback Cormani McClain and productive Arizona State receiver Elijah Badger during the spring.

“We wouldn’t have been able to do that if we didn’t have a healthy culture, if we didn’t have really good systems, if we didn’t have a good product to sell,” Napier said. “There’s a difference between outside narrative and what people experience when they come to our campus.”

Before Napier flew to Destin, he observed the start of summer workouts for about 30 minutes and headed to SEC Spring Meetings feeling good about his program’s direction.

“That’s what gives me confidence,” he said.

Yet, the Rashada saga continues to hang over Napier’s program ever since the eight-figure deal initially persuaded the California high school to change his commitment from Miami to Florida on Nov. 10, 2022. The contract included a $500,000 bonus to be paid, but it was not honored, according to Hardin’s complaint.

In order to get his son to sign scholarship papers Dec. 21, 2022, with the Gators, the suit alleges Napier promised Harlan Rashada, the player’s father, a $1 million payment from Hathcock the family never received.

Rashada originally committed to Miami in June 2022 after he reportedly agreed to a $9.5 million deal. But the Gators continued to pursue him and eventually convinced him to commit.

“A lot of this narrative has been out there for a long time,” he said. We’re going to keep moving forward. We can’t say much more than that.

“We’ve got confidence in our legal team.”

The Rashada recruitment placed the Florida football program under NCAA investigation for potential rules violations, but NCAA president Charlie Baker has paused all NIL investigations.

The University of Florida is not named in the lawsuit, but the school is providing Napier with legal counsel.

Edgar Thompson can be reached at egthompson@orlandosentinel.com