Florida football notebook: Utah week begins early as Billy Napier shouts out young playmakers

By OnlyGators.com Staff
August 25, 2022
Florida football notebook: Utah week begins early as Billy Napier shouts out young playmakers
Football

Image Credit: Alexis Greaves / UAA

Though the 2022 college football season technically begins Saturday with Week 0, the Florida Gators have another week to go until the No. 7 Utah Utes come to town for a rare significant Week 1 showdown inside Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. While that game is more than a week away, head coach Billy Napier has other plans.

Specifically, those plans include an entire week of mock preparation not only to get the players ready for the game but ensure the program — players, coaches and support staff all together for the first time — understands what is expected when game week actually approaches.

Florida officially turned a page from the offseason to Utah on Wednesday, which Napier treated like a game-week Monday. The same will go for Thursday (Tuesday) through Sunday (Friday) as the Gators get a taste of what to expect under Napier for the next three months of the regular season.

While Napier said he would have the same plan in place no matter the season or opponent, Florida having extra preparation for Utah, the defending Pac-12 champions who are largely expected to repeat with a conference crown this season, certainly cannot hurt.

Let’s take a look at some other key topics Napier addressed during his most recent availability with local media.

Young playmakers drawing praise

Much has been made of the Gators’ foursome of running backs with Napier going out of his way on numerous occasions to praise not only the players but position coach Jabbar Juluke, who the head man has lauded for doing a tremendous job with his unit. That praise continued this week.

“We got four backs we have confidence in,” Napier said. “All have character. All are very consistent. They all care. They’re all very smart and understand what to do. Coach Juluke, can’t compliment him enough. He’s already got his group ready to go, and those guys, I’m excited to watch them play.”

Redshirt sophomore Nay’Quan Wright is a known quantity to Florida fans that have seen the speedster make incredible plays across his first two campaigns with the team. Sophomore Montrell Johnson Jr., a transfer from Louisiana, may not have made his plays in front of the eyes of Gators, but it’s quite easy to figure out how crucial of a role he played for the Ragin’ Cajuns a year ago.

Less of a known quantity are redshirt junior Lorenzo Lingard and freshman Trevor Etienne. Lingard, a former five-star prospect, has played in 22 games for Florida but been unable to show out in a reserve role. Etienne, a four-star prospect in the Class of 2022, was the Gators’ fourth-highest rated enrollee. It’s no wonder that he is drawing plenty of praise from Napier.

“I’ve been very pleased with Trevor,” the coach said. “There’s no question we made a good decision there. Familiar with him having evaluated him at Louisiana. The guy’s … loose. He’s got a low center of gravity, catches the ball well. He’s got some returner value. The big thing with him is his character, his consistency. The guy shows up and works, man.

“He’s a little ahead of the game there because of his brother’s experience. He’s from Jennings, Louisiana, man. The guy shows up here, and it’s like he’s in New York City. He’s a worker. He’s got a great attitude. He’s got a little sense of humor. I like him and think he’s got a chance to be a good player for the Gators.”

Napier has similarly talked up a number of players on the roster who have either not seen much action — particularly those on the defensive front seven — or like Etienne are new members of the team who he expects to grow as the season progresses. One of those he singled out is freshman wide receiver Caleb Douglas, a three-star prospect who chose to play for UF instead of LSU.

“Caleb … flashed in the scrimmage the other day, made some plays. Caleb is a former quarterback. This is a guy who, early in his junior year, started playing that receiver position. We’re excited about his upside,” Napier said. “This guy is 6-foot-3, maybe and some change, close to 200 pounds. He’s got some unique traits, the things that are required to play receiver. He’s a developmental player that’s making progress.”

Big man (back) on campus

One of the most talented Gators of the last decade, former defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd did not have the professional career most expected. After being selected No. 23 overall in the 2013 NFL Draft — far lower than projected — he spent four seasons with the Minnesota Vikings. Floyd showed out as a rookie and was named a starter two years later in 2015 only to see his career fall apart seven games into the season after suffering a knee injury. Though the Vikings picked up Floyd’s option for a fifth season, he only played one game before the knee injury cropped up again. The following offseason, he was diagnosed with nerve damage so severe that his career ultimately came to a close.

A 25-game starter for Florida from 2010-12, Floyd had a tremendous junior campaign and created a groundswell of support in The Swamp. After being hired by the Gators, Napier learned Floyd was coming back to UF to get his degree and offered him an opportunity to coach with the team. Floyd spent the last couple months completing a coaching internship with the Dallas Cowboys and returned to campus this week to rejoin the Gators ahead of the season.

“Sharrif’s been nothing but first class since I’ve been here. He’s got a bright future in football,” Napier said. “He’s got character. He understands the big picture, takes pride in his role. Him being able to coach on the field is an advantage for our players.

“This guy was a first-round pick, played a number of years in the league and has a good understanding of the fundamentals of that position. He’ll play a critical role in the practice format going forward.”

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