Fifth-year defensive playmakers Burney, Dean talk about returning to Florida football

Graham Hall
Gator Sports

Florida players not headed to the NFL had a decision to make upon Billy Napier’s arrival in Gainesville in early December: stay with the program or enter their names into the NCAA’s transfer portal. 

Some made the latter choice, such as offensive lineman Gerald Mincey and Ty’ron Hopper, now at Tennessee and Missouri, respectively.

But for some Gators, returning was an obvious decision.

To take a page out of Sam Hinkie’s playbook, they just had to trust the process. 

Amari Burney and Trey Dean, two who were recruited to UF by then-coach Jim McElwain and his staff, expanded upon their decisions to return  when they spoke Thursday at the conclusion of UF's second spring practice.

A look at practice:Safeties working in coverage during Florida Gators' outdoor spring football practice.

More:Once former 7-on-7 teammates, UF starting safeties Dean and Torrrence arrived with chemistry

More:5 quick hits from Billy Napier's second spring football practice with Florida Gators

Florida defensive back Trey Dean III (0) defends during the Cotton Bowl in Arlington, Texas, on Dec. 30, 2020. Dean says he's back because he had unfinished business at UF.

“First, there was no doubt in my mind that Scott Stricklin was going to make the right decision in hiring the new coach. First of all, I just trusted in God. They hired coach Napier,” Dean said. “I knew coach Napier was going to hire the right staff and the right people around me to help me become a better person.”

Dean received an invitation to participate in the NFL Scouting Combine, and his abilities in coverage, combined with his familiarity and experience at multiple positions in the defensive backfield, should give him a shot at the next level. It was uncertain whether he'd stick around for spring football after he posted the invitation on his social media pages on Jan. 3.

But Dean had unfinished business at Florida — goals he believes are attainable under Napier.

“I know a lot of people say I shouldn’t have come back even though a lot of people don’t have the chance to go to the NFL,” Dean said. “But what coach Napier is bringing to the University of Florida, it’s going to be special.”

Although he put the trust in the powers that be, Dean was keen on Napier being the man tasked with replacing Dan Mullen at the helm. 

“I knew a lot about him. His resumé speaks for itself. He’s a great guy. When they were doing all the coaching (search), I was hoping they were going to get Billy in there. I was hoping he was going to choose us the way we chose him,” Dean said. “I knew Scott Stricklin was going to pick the right guy. I think Billy Napier is a great fit. I think everybody will see in fall.

“To take a team like the team he was at last (Louisiana) and do the things he did, that’s a big step. You put Billy Napier with the caliber of players we have here, and I think we’re going to build something special.”

Florida Gators linebacker Amari Burney (2) tackles a large rolling ring as part of a drill during spring practice Tuesday at the indoor practice facility in Gainesville.

When it came to Burney’s decision, it wasn’t exactly the potential of a Napier-led program that led him to return. 

It’s something that seems to be fleeting in the era of the NCAA’s transfer portal — honoring a commitment. If Napier wanted him, Burney wanted to be back. Considering his status as a fifth-year student-athlete, it wasn’t the first time Burney had to make such a decision.

“I’m very loyal. I made a decision when I first got recruited,” Burney, who graduated from UF in December, said. “Coach McElwain got fired and then coach Mullen became coach. (Mullen) called me, told me that he wanted me, so I stayed. Billy Napier did the same thing. When he first got here, he sat down with me and asked me what my decision was on it and I told him, ‘I’ll sign all the papers, I’m here.’”

It’s been a little over four months into the Napier regime, but the two already are convinced they made the right decision.

In his final go-round at Florida, Burney, now a graduate student, expects his loyalty to pay off even further when UF’s linebackers make significant strides this season. 

“We’re going to make some plays. I’m going to tell you that right now, we’re going to make a whole bunch of plays,” Burney said. “We’re going to be aggressive every play we’re out there. Eleven guys to the ball. If you see somebody slacking, guess what? They’re off the field. We’ll get another guy in there to go be aggressive.”