Florida football fans excited to get first look at Napier-led Gators at spring game

Alan Festo
Gator Sports
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Gator football fans slowly found their way Thursday afternoon to the University of Florida campus ahead of the annual Orange and Blue game.

The tailgating scene was quiet and it was hard to tell if the bars and restaurants across University Avenue were open or closed.

Those that did arrive early said they were excited to see the team’s progress under new head coach Billy Napier.

Around 3 p.m., season ticket holders Mark and Beth Bishop, along with her brother-in-law, Tim Anderson, were among the first to set up their tailgate in the O’Connell Center parking lot. Anderson said the game being moved from Saturday to Thursday night worked out perfectly since he is down for the week from Virginia visiting with family.

“Looking forward to seeing how the team is coming together,” Anderson said.

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Beth Bishop, a Gainesville native who said she was the biggest Gator fan among the three, said she doesn’t expect Florida to compete for championships right away under Napier, but she certainly expects a winning season.

“I know it’s going to take time to build this team, but I feel good about (Napier’s) message to the team and everything he’s doing here,” she said.

'Love him. ... (Billy Napier's) got a plan'

Across University Avenue, Josh Humphrey was sitting outside The Spot giving his daughter, Harper, 1, some cold water on the warm spring day. The two, along with his wife, Lindsey, and sons Jackson, 6, and Jacob, 4, came all the way from Mississippi for the game.

Humphrey said he’s been impressed with Napier’s approach to the game so far.

“Love him," Humphrey said. "Everything he’s doing is very methodical, deliberate. He’s got a plan,” he said. “I think Billy Napier doesn’t just care about the final score, the final record. He cares about the players and the rest of their lives and being good people.”

On the north lawn of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, the crowd slowly began to build ahead of the 5 p.m. Gator Walk. Former Florida kicker Judd Davis, a first-team All-American and winner of the Lou Groza Award in 1993, was among several Gator alumni mingling in the Johnny Townsend Foundation Tailgate. Davis, like many Florida fans, was hoping to get a look at likely starting quarterback Anthony Richardson.

“Everyone wants to see A.R.," Davis said. "I talked to coach Napier, he spoke the other night, and he said he’s (Richardson) doing well. I think everyone just wants to see what kind of system, right? Try to get back to the days of scoring touchdowns.”

About 10 minutes before the Florida players made their way through the crowd and into the stadium, the Florida Gators Marching Band and cheerleaders fired up the crowd with favorites “Jaws,” “Go Gators” and “Orange and Blue.”

Napier then led his team into the stadium, down the steps in the north end zone and across Florida Field where he was met with hugs and high-fives from friends and family.

A short time later, fans began to fill the seats. Davis said he was a bit confused following the decision to move the game from Saturday to Thursday, but still, he expected a great crowd and a great spring game.

"It's under the lights in The Swamp," Davis said.

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