Coach Billy Napier has put together the school’s first top-5 class since 2013. The key now is to hold onto it while some significant cracks in the foundation have formed.
Tackle Nasir Johnson changed his commitment Wednesday to Georgia, even though the 6-4½, 300-pound native of Dublin, Ga., still has a photo on his Twitter account wearing a Florida uniform. Johnson is the third defensive player to bail on UF during the past several days, a span when the Gators’ class has fallen from No. 3 to No. 5 per 247Sports.
“Every team has their casualties on the trail. They have their flips,” Steve Wiltfong, director of recruiting 247Sports, told the Orlando Sentinel Wednesday. “This was a big recruiting win that they had over Georgia that now they got to play against them. So it stings a little.”
Mississippi edge rusher Jamonta Waller’s changing his commitment to Auburn during Florida’s 52-35 loss at LSU was a cruel blow to a defense that surrendered a school-record 701 yards to the Tigers. On Sunday, cornerback Wardell Mack flipped to Texas.
Defensive tackle Amaris Williams, a top-50 prospect from North Carolina, is being doggedly pursued by Ohio State.
Whether the Gators’ class crumbles by Dec. 20’s Early National Signing Day will be critical to Napier’s long-term success after a rocky start to his tenure at Florida.
Napier remains undaunted by the headwinds on the recruiting trail.
‘It’s a battle. It’s part of the job,” he said following Wednesday’s practice. “You win some, you lose some. It’s highly competitive.
“It’s good to have players people want.”
The 44-year-old coach is 11-12 at Florida (5-5, 3-4 SEC) entering Saturday’s visit to No. 9 Missouri (8-2, 4-2).
“We’ll see how this class turns out,” Wiltfong said. “It’s too early. There’s still a lot of really good players in this class. There’s still a lot of reason to be very excited about the future of Florida football with this class holding together for what it is.”
Headlining the class are Daytona Beach Mainland edge rusher LJ McCray, along with DJ Lagway and Xavier Filsaime, a pair of five-star prospects from Texas. The Gators have signed a trio of highly rated linebackers, a key position of need, led by Myles Graham — the son of former UF standout running back Earnest Graham.
“There’s a lot of guys who are really locked in,” Rivals.com recruiting analyst Adam Gorney told the Sentinel. “If they love Florida — not only the direction, but the opportunity to get on the field earlier — a lot of kids are swayed by that.”
True freshmen have handled around 30% of Florida’s defensive snaps.
With that comes growing pains. The Gators are on a three-game losing streak going into the Missouri game and host No. 4 Florida State (10-0) on Nov. 25.
A five-game losing streak to end Year 2 is hard to sell.
But Name, Image and Likeness, playing opportunity, relationships with coaches and a program’s culture are other factors recruits consider.
“It just depends on who the kid is,” Wiltfong said.
Whatever Napier and Co. are touting to prospects, the Gators could use some recruiting wins as the losses mount.
“Recruiting’s about who you get, not who you don’t get. So how do they respond?” Wiltfong said. “Who’s next? Who do they get? How do they develop? That’s kind of where it’s at right now.”
Edgar Thompson can be reached at email@example.com