Billy Napier pens ‘open letter’ to Florida fans amid growing concerns over Gators recruiting

By OnlyGators.com Staff
June 24, 2022
Billy Napier pens ‘open letter’ to Florida fans amid growing concerns over Gators recruiting
Football

Image Credit: Alexis Greaves / UAA

For a head coach who, upon being hired, suggested the path to resurgence for the Florida Gators was through a more dedicated and thorough recruiting effort, early returns have not been positive as the program continues to build its Class of 2023. Amid growing concerns about the direction in which recruiting is heading for Florida in his first full cycle as the program’s leader, Billy Napier penned an “open letter” to the fan base that was released by the University Athletic Association on Friday.

In the letter, Napier thanks Gators fans for their support, citing their “evident and unmatched” passion, while putting over the work his staff is doing in turning over the program into one that “emphasizes discipline, toughness, detail, accountability, and most importantly, teamwork” that will “make a life-changing impact on our players” on and off the field.

Napier reiterated that “NIL will be a strength” for Florida, promoted how the GatorMade program will help athletes and lauded the new Heavener Football Training Center set to open this summer.

“I can assure you that no one has higher expectations for what we want to accomplish than me,” he concluded.

Given Napier is just seven months into the job and has not even coached a single game let alone a full season, the timing if such a letter appeared odd to say the least.

While fan sentiment online has drastically shifted over the last couple of weeks given some perceived recruiting struggles, a source close to the process confirmed to OnlyGators.com on Friday that this letter had been in the works for the better part of a month. It was intended to serve as a closing to Napier’s speaking tour, not as a response to current developments within the program.


Recruiting concerns mount

One of the reasons Napier was seen as the right choice for the Gators was not only his recognition of the importance of recruiting but passion and willingness to do what is necessary to bring top-tier talent into the program. He was faced with a steep uphill battle upon taking over for Dan Mullen but nevertheless closed the Class of 2022 relatively strong with a few key acquisitions during the early signing period.

While Florida was not able to close on its top remaining targets during the traditional National Signing Day in February, momentum appeared to have shifted with the Gators named among the leaders for many top-tier 2023 prospects across both sides of the ball. The fanbase was bullish and rightly so given Napier’s demands for a recruiting “army,” the completion of the football facility and plenty of platitudes that had come from recruits out of visits to Gainesville, Florida.

And then suddenly, over the last couple of weeks, everything appears to have turned on a dime. Seemingly out of nowhere, momentum has shifted with a majority of Florida’s top prospects either committing elsewhere or being projected to choose a different program.

Most notable among those recruits — and perhaps the one most concerning to fans who served as a turning point in their overall confidence in Napier — is four-star quarterback Jaden Rashada (Pittsburg, CA). It was believed Rashada was set to commit to Florida (or perhaps Texas A&M) on June 18. Instead, at the last minute, Rashada pushed his decision date one week, took a previously unscheduled official visit to in-state rival Miami and is now projected to choose the Hurricanes over the Gators on Sunday.

However, Rashada is far from the only notable name whose recruitment is worrying fans. Over the last week, high school teammates five-star cornerback AJ Harris and four-star defensive lineman Tommarion Parker (Phenix City, AL) respectively committed to Georgia and Penn State despite a prior belief Florida led for the former and was heavily in the mix for the latter.

Four-star running back Treyaun Webb (Jacksonville, FL), a local product and legacy, was long thought to be a shoe-in for the Gators. Suddenly, the Nittany Lions have gained significant steam and 247Sports Crystal Ball predictions. Similarly, Orlando products four-star RB Cedric Baxter Jr. and four-star offensive lineman Payton Kirkland saw predictions swing from Florida to Texas and Michigan State, respectively.

Though Florida did land its highest-rated commitment this cycle on June 21 in four-star EDGE Isaiah Nixon (St. Petersburg, FL), he is the lone prospect in the class rated among the top 200 players in the nation at this time.

The Gators sit ranked 40th in the 247Sports Composite, and while there’s more than five months left until the early signing period, the time is clearly now for Napier to address momentum that is heading in an undesired direction by making necessary adjustments to his system. Being able to do so will be paramount not only to his success in building the Class of 2023 but perhaps his long-term prospects with the program given how others that preceded him generally reacted too late to similar circumstances.

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