Florida coach Billy Napier vows recruiting for 2023 class will start here in 'our backyard'

Graham Hall
Gator Sports

Two weeks after Florida coach Billy Napier arrived in Gainesville, UF’s 2022 recruiting class stood at 77th, ranking the Gators last in the Southeastern Conference.

It was a dramatic fall from where the program stood just two months prior, but it wasn’t entirely unexpected. 

UF had signed just two five-star recruits in Dan Mullen’s four seasons at the helm, and the 2021 season was marked first by stagnation on the recruiting trail and eventually a decline as multiple top recruits opted to reconsider rather than sign with Florida. 

Six of 247Sports’ top-200 prospects in the 2022 class were at one point committed to the Gators. All six signed elsewhere. 

In just under two months, the Gators did make up much ground under Napier, finishing with the No. 19 ranked class according to 247Sports’ ranking system, which factors in transfers. 

However, it’s hardly the highest-ranked transition class in Florida history – that honor still belongs to Ron Zook, who pulled in the No. 10-ranked class in 2002 after UF legend Steve Spurrier as head coach. 

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Signing Day 2023 focus on in-state recruits

During his Signing Day press conference, Napier made it clear: there’s plenty of work to be done, starting in Florida’s backyard after the Gators signed just six players from the talent-laden state. 

“I think history would indicate that when Florida has a really good football team,” Napier said, “it starts right here in our backyard and works out.”

As the Gators shift focus to the class of 2023 — Napier’s first full cycle as UF’s head coach — he made clear Florida’s coaching staff plans to scour the Sunshine State. 

“That's the approach that we will take and certainly with the '23 group, which we've already started on,” Napier said. “That will be the mentality, for sure.”

It’s not as if Napier underestimated what Florida has to offer in the first place. Rather than look to forge new relationships in the final two months of a player’s recruitment, the Gators relied on previously established connections. 

“I think it's a product of the circumstance. I think we basically just had to go evaluate the players that were available,” he said. “And we looked all over the country.”

Evidenced by his previous team’s improvement from year one to year two, there’s tangible reason to believe the Gators will make a massive leap in the recruiting rankings next season under Napier. 

The University of Louisiana Lafayette improved 28 places in the team rankings from Napier’s first season to his second. After finishing fourth in the Sun Belt conference his first year, the Ragin’ Cajuns would rank atop the conference in recruiting for each of the next three seasons. 

The blueprint looks to already be in place.

“I think you build your schedule based off of the '22s. And then maybe the '23 players in that area. You try to do the best job you can,” Napier said. “And certainly each assistant coach kind of is taking the same philosophy.”

Katie Turner, Florida’s newly hired assistant athletic director of recruiting strategy, may not technically be a coach, but she’s a vital part of the team’s talent acquisition efforts. 

Turner previously worked with Napier in Louisiana as his director of on-campus recruiting before leaving the program to join the University of Georgia as director of recruiting operations. 

Responding late Wednesday on social media to a Florida fan, Turner echoed the sentiment of the initial message, saying the Gators are keen on results rather than rationalizations. 

“No excuses this round either,” Turner wrote. “We’ll make you proud.”

After a hectic 59 days in Gainesville, Napier and his coaching staff know they’ll have to maintain the intensity on the recruiting trail if they hope to have a stress-free National Signing Day in 2023. 

“We're hopeful that we won't be doing this much business in February next year, and we'll be able to be a little bit more strategic about our time on the road relative to the next group,” Napier said. “But I think we made the most of it, for sure.”