Billy Napier confirms scholarships to walk-ons, focuses on building Florida Gators' roster

Graham Hall
Gator Sports

Throughout Florida football’s recent spring camp, coach Billy Napier emphasized the importance of walk-on players within the program, saying they’re a critical aspect of the roster, regardless if the team has championship aspirations or not. 

Napier took it a step farther, however, and claimed the Gators would reward several walk-on players with scholarships by the conclusion of the spring. 

“We took over a program, we've had a number of things that have caused attrition on our team. I mean, we're literally going to give five walk-ons scholarships this spring,” Napier said on March 31. “So, we have spots available. So, the University of Florida, you can anticipate us being very aggressive in the portal this spring, we need players.”

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In the nearly two months since Napier’s comments, the Gators haven’t disclosed any walk-on players placed on scholarship while continuing to pursue players in the transfer portal. However, on Thursday night, as Napier prepared to address the Fightin’ Gators Touchdown Club, he revealed UF had been able to follow through and elevate five players from walk-on status to scholarship. 

There was only one problem: Napier, fearing he would make a mistake in his response, wasn’t prepared to publicly disclose those walk-ons who had received scholarships.

“I think next time I get in front of you guys I'll be able to give that to y'all,” Napier said. “Off the top of my head here, I don't want to screw that up. But we were able to do that.”

Florida’s head coach acknowledged the difficulties the decision to offer five walk-ons a scholarship offer may present to the program when it comes to competitive roster-building. It means fewer scholarship offers for players in the transfer portal, and it also takes away from the count of walk-ons on the roster.

Not only are the Gators running low on scholarship spots — the team has added nearly as many walk-ons as permitted to the roster, said Napier. 

“I think there's some pros and cons to that, right? But a lot of guys were able to take full advantage of our current situation. And, you know, we're headed towards a time where we'll have 50 walk-ons, and we're getting closer,” Napier said. “We're only able to add so many per year. But we've added the maximum amount. I think we have one more spot for this class. And then we'll obviously work on the students, the freshmen that are coming in, if there's anybody that maybe could join the team. So, a lot of work left to do.”

Billy Napier: WR Ricky Pearsall 'fit our offense'

Arizona State wide receiver Ricky Pearsall (19) scores a touchdown against Arizona in the first half Saturday, Nov. 27, 2021, in Tempe, Ariz. Pearsall is now a Gator.

A spot was taken just six days prior when the Gators reached into the transfer portal and added Arizona State transfer wide receiver Ricky Pearsall, the Sun Devils’ leading pass-catcher during the 2021 season. 

Pearsall has already arrived in Gainesville in time for the phase five, summer regimen, of Napier’s eight-phase plan, giving him more than two months to acclimate to the program and develop relationships with his teammates and new coaches.

With Pearsall hailing from Arizona State, where Napier previously worked as quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator, there was familiarity between the parties prior to his decision and arrival in Florida.

As the talent-acquisition portion of the upcoming season draws closer to a close, the Gators have made recent moves to improve the roster, whether it’s via the transfer portal or elevating a walk-on to scholarship. 

“We felt like Ricky's skill set fit our team, fit our offense. We had some familiarity. There was some relationships there because the year in Arizona State some of our staff members, some of the common relationships,” Napier said. “So I think Ricky's a good person. I think he's competitive. I think that he's proved himself. ...  I think he can catch the ball. He's proved to be a run-after-catch player. I think he's got some toughness to his game. He can play on special teams. I think he gives; we're adding a player that has had a ton of production in the past and we feel like the player can help our team."