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Recently, ESPN took a look at how new head coaches are choosing to rebuild the programs they take over, and Billy Napier’s first go around with the Florida Gators is an easy case study to look at it given the school’s history and membership in the perenially strong Southeastern Conference.
Identifying positions of need is the first step in ESPN’s assessment, and the list is unsurprisingly long. Running back, wide receiver, offensive line, defensive line and linebacker it reads. Only two of those holes (running back and offensive line) would be filled in the first six months of Napier’s tenure, though.
He had just weeks to scramble and piece together a recruiting class that had prospects jumping ship left and right. Napier ultimately snagged five-star safety, Kamari Wilson, from Georgia’s grasp and also landed four-star linebacker Shemar James. Four-star running back Trevor Etienne is another nice addition, but the group is still considered weak in a conference that routinely boasts the nation’s top recruiting classes.
New coach Billy Napier has his hands full trying to remake this roster as the previous staff went 6-7 last season with lackluster recruiting over the past few classes. The Gators finished the 2022 recruiting cycle ranked No. 32 overall, last in the SEC.
Napier then turned to the transfer portal, bringing in a trio of offensive players that already know his scheme. Montrell Johnson, the Sun Belt Conference’s Freshman of the Year, is sure to add to the run game behind four-star Louisiana transfer O'Cyrus Torrence and fellow interior offensive lineman Kamryn Waites.
Still, it’s been hard to fill the holes left in the receiving core by Jacob Copeland (Maryland) and Kemore Gamble (UCF). The transfer portal, in general, has hurt more than it’s helped this offseason. Sure, guys like Ricky Pearsall and Jalen Kimber have a chance to make an impact early, but it doesn’t replace the departing starting talent. Not to mention those who have graduated or turned pro.
The coaches lost quite a bit to the portal and weren’t able to fill every hole… Defensive linemen Zachary Carter, Antonio Valentino and DaQuan Newkirk are all gone as well, so the defensive staff has some work to do in the front seven to replace the production they had from last season.
It’s not the total overhaul some programs have seen, such as LSU or Oklahoma. In fact, Napier is taking a fairly traditional approach to rebuilding the Gators considering the modern game’s transfer rules. Landing a strong recruiting class in 2023 seems to be the path he’s headed down, but there are questions about whether or not Florida can keep up in the NIL space with some of the nation’s top programs.
As ESPN suggests, there’s still plenty of work to do for Florida to be “rebuilt,” but Napier is addressing the issues one by one. That attentiveness is what got him the gig, and he’s been successful in the past.