Florida Gators football adds eight players on National Signing Day to boost Billy Napier's first class
Florida coach Billy Napier preached patience during his introductory press conference, saying the program would take its time in filling out the roster. Less than two months later – 59 days to be exact – UF’s roster is almost complete, thanks to a fruitful National Signing Day.
The Gators signed eight players by mid-day and announced the addition of several transfers, giving Napier and his coaching staff a transition class that ranks within the top-20 by 247Sports when early enrollees and transfer-portal additions are factored into the equation.
“I'm pleased with the progress we've made. I thought we answered a lot of needs,” Napier said Wednesday. “I thought we took advantage of each opportunity to add players to the team.”
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Outside linebacker Jack Pyburn, who committed to UF less than 24 hours prior, wasted little time in making his decision official, becoming the first prospect to send in a signed letter of intent, doing so before the clock struck 8 a.m.
The multi-sport athlete out of Jacksonville’s Bolles School saw his recruitment heat up significantly down the stretch before Pyburn verbally committed Tuesday to the Gators.
The traditional National Signing Day can lack much of the hype and excitement as a result of the early signing period, as well as the addition of the NCAA’s transfer portal, meaning the morning was largely spent signing committed prospects.
Next came a signed letter of intent from Miguel Mitchell, a 6-foot-1 safety out of Oxford, Alabama, who verbally committed to the Gators at the conclusion of his official visit Jan. 16. Considering the interest Florida’s verbal commits received in the build-up to Wednesday, however, there were no givens the Gators wouldn’t be on the receiving end of a shocking flip.
Oregon and Tennessee came into the mix for Mitchell in the final month of his recruitment, including receiving an in-home visit from the Volunteers’ head coach, Josh Heupel, on Jan. 25,
But Mitchell, a three-star prospect in 247Sports’ composite rankings, opted not to take any official visits following his initial commitment to Florida.
Though that wasn’t the case for Jalen Farmer, a 6-foot-5 offensive lineman out of Covington, Georgia, who maintained his commitment through Florida’s coaching turnover despite pledging to previous UF head coach Dan Mullen.
Farmer took official visits to Alabama, Auburn and Kentucky leading up to Signing Day, making it a realistic possibility the Gators could lose their only remaining offensive line target to a conference opponent.
Napier didn’t shy away from the obvious: competing for players against top programs isn’t dreadful, it’s desirable.
“This guy is not really all about the glitz and the glamour and recruiting. He's got a plan. And I was very impressed with his maturity, his approach,” Napier said of Farmer, “and certainly it's a good thing when some of the best programs in the country come in and try to recruit some of your commits.”
UF running back commit Trevor Etienne out of Jennings, Louisiana, who committed Jan. 8 to the Gators and running backs coach Jabbar Juluke, followed suit, giving the Gators the No. 14 overall running back in the 247Sports composite rankings.
Etienne, the younger brother of Jacksonville Jaguars running back Travis Etienne, had received interest from Clemson — where his brother also starred — along with offers from Alabama and Auburn earlier in his recruitment before signing with the Gators.
Gators don't get Caden Story or TreVonte Citizen
Defensive lineman Caden Story did choose Clemson over Florida, the first bit of disappointment for UF, but not the last.
The Gators were one of the four hats on the table for TreVonte’ Citizen, the nation’s No. 9 overall running back according to 247Sports’ composite, after Citizen narrowed his decision to Auburn, Florida, LSU and Miami leading up to National Signing Day.
Citizen’s announcement was broadcast nationally on ESPN2, and he certainly made it an entertaining one by keeping people guessing until the final second. Citizen put on and subsequently removed all four hats on the table before revealing a fifth hat — a white hat adorned with Miami’s logo, indicating he’ll be headed south to play for one of Florida’s in-state rivals rather than head to the SEC.
“I don't think I've ever batted a thousand with signing day,” Napier acknowledged. “This is a little more like baseball here. We've got to swing a lot and make contact, and at the end of the day we need 25 really good hits. So, it requires a little bit of perspective, if that makes sense. And resiliency, I would say. So you've got to have a short memory. You've got to move on to the next one.”
Gators add another quarterback in Max Brown
Move on Florida did, adding its second quarterback in as many months by signing Max Brown out of Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Brown initially committed to Central Michigan and former UF coach Jim McElwain before reopening his commitment Jan. 23, mere hours after receiving a scholarship offer with the Gators.
During his senior season, Brown dazzled, passing for nearly 4,100 yards to go along with 61 touchdown passes while claiming the state’s 3A District MVP award – impressive figures for a dual-sport athlete, let alone someone who’s fairly new to the quarterback position.
“I think Max, when you turn the tape on, you can immediately see the baseball background. The off-platform throws. Really a natural thrower. A guy that is projected to be kind of a middle-round draft pick in baseball,” Napier said. “He was 6-1 and a half, 200 pounds on his visit. Dad played receiver in the National Football League. Really a good-looking athlete. We think he has upside. He just started playing quarterback two years ago.”
Pass-catchers Caleb Douglas, Hayden Hansen come to Florida
Florida then announced the additions of offensive lineman O’Cyrus Torrence, a transfer from the University of Louisiana-Lafayette who earned All-Sun Belt conference honors in consecutive seasons with the Ragin’ Cajuns, and 6-foot defensive back Jalen Kimber, a four-star prospect in the class of 2020 who played his first two seasons at Georgia. Torrence is already on campus and enrolled as a senior in time for the Spring semester, as is Kimber, who missed the majority of the 2021 season due to a shoulder injury.
Prior to Napier's press conference, Florida received a signed letter of intent from defensive lineman Andrew Savaiinaea out of Graham, Washington, who helped lead his high school team to a perfect 15-0 record and a state championship during his senior season. Savaiinaea also displayed impressive hands off of the line, hauling in 24 passes for 317 yards and nine touchdowns.
“We just spread out and evaluated the players that were available. He did some evaluation work for us,” Napier said of recruiting Savaiinaea on the other side of the country. “Then he gets here on the official visit, the guy was 6'3", 259 pounds, and really moves well for his size. He's not only a heck of an outside linebacker, but a heck of a tight end as well. He's going to be an edge player on defense. Big, tall, long, and a lot of growth potential there. I think a really unique athlete for his size."
Although his program would eventually land five-star linebacker Harold Perkins, Louisiana State coach Brian Kelly saw his Signing Day woes continue with Caleb Douglas' decision to sign with Florida over offers from LSU, USC and Notre Dame.
The 6-foot-3 Douglas was named Co-Offensive MVP this past season in Texas District 10-5A-1 football after catching 51 passes for 984 yards and five touchdowns.
Douglas, who was the first player offered a scholarship by Napier upon taking the UF job, joined 6-foot-5 tight end Hayden Hansen as UF’s two pass-catching signees.
“This guy is a former quarterback, and a guy that really blew me away when he came and did a private workout for us at Louisiana. I thought I was on reality TV or something. It was like, this guy doesn't have the opportunities that maybe I would think he would have. So I think a little bit of that is a result of him playing quarterback,” Napier said of Hansen. “I think it's one of the better evaluations in the class, in my opinion.”