Florida Gators recruiting was in ruins, but Billy Napier salvaged a decent class | David Whitley

David Whitley
Gator Sports

Wednesday was designated as National Signing Day for college football recruits. For Florida, it was more a sign of things to come.

The Gators ended up with a top 20 class. A year ago, that would have triggered a massive panic. But, as you may have heard, a lot has changed with the UF football program.

Nobody knows that more than Billy Napier. As he was riding up the elevator to his press conference Wednesday, he thought back on when he arrived in Gainesville.

“Fifty-nine days ago,” he said. “We were in the air and the ground right here. It’s been unbelievable.”

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In his whirlwind quest to reboot the program, Napier’s hired more people than Amazon. But no matter how many assistants, trainers, nutritionists and quality-control analysts he corrals, success ultimately depends on how many studs Florida can sign.

“So far, so good,” Napier said.

National Signing Day will be early gauge of Billy Napier's impact at UF

Good is a pretty accurate assessment. Though if you were grading on a curve, Napier was selling things short.

Please note that Signing Day also fell on Groundhog Day this year. Traditionally, that meant fans would see the recruiting rankings and we’d have six more weeks of rationalizing why 5-stars weren’t flocking to Gainesville.

Dan Mullen usually signed top-10 classes, but that just meant the Gators were losing ground to Alabama and Georgia. That’s also a major reason why Napier was standing at the podium Wednesday and Mullen was on a coaching sabbatical.

One thing hasn’t changed. Georgia and Alabama are still reeling in talent, enough to give the SEC three top-rated classes of 2022. There has been a change at the top, however.

Texas A&M mopped up a historically grand class, according to the experts. I’m no expert, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Tom Brady signs with the Aggies by the end of the week.

In the SEC rankings, Florida’s class is a lot closer to Vanderbilt than A&M. This is where we should remember where it stood when Napier showed up.

Defections and disillusion had dropped UF as low as No. 77 by one rating service. Napier pulled off a small miracle when he nabbed nine players in the early signing period.

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The marquee name was Kamari Wilson, a 5-star safety from IMG Academy in Bradenton. That’s the backyard football factory where Florida had no luck in recent years.

The Gators had big dreams going into Wednesday. They’d managed to warm up to players like Harold Perkins, a top-10 linebacker from Texas.

If UF had nabbed a couple of those longshots, the recruiting world would have spun off its axis. Napier tried to keep things real with his staff.

“I don’t think anyone’s ever batted 1.000 on Signing Day,” he said. “I had to tell some of the young people in the building this is more like baseball.”

You take your cuts, and you’re happy to make contact one-third of the time. Florida struck out with Perkins, but the mere fact it got in the batter’s box after such a late start was impressive.

As of late Wednesday afternoon, the Gators had added nine players. I’d run down the names, but most probably wouldn’t mean anything to you yet.

Suffice it to say Napier started patching the holes at running back and on the offensive and defensive lines. Okay, here’s one name for you:

Jalen Farmer, an offensive lineman from Covington, Ga. He’d verbally committed to Florida, but Alabama was trying hard to flip him.

“A big win today for the Gators,” Napier said.

Signing Day(s) are only half of it now. The transfer portal is constantly spinning, and Florida’s class is rated borderline top 10.

None of which makes for an eye-popping recruiting cycle, but you have to look back to where things stood 59 days ago.

Then you can look ahead, and you’ll probably see a lot more hits than misses coming Napier's way.

David Whitley is The Gainesville Sun's sports columnist. Contact him at And follow him on Twitter: @DavidEWhitley