FOOTBALL

Florida football: Billy Napier balancing Las Vegas Bowl prep with National Signing Day

Kevin Brockway
The Gainesville Sun
Florida Gators head coach Billy Napier waves at the crowd during Gator Walk before Florida takes on Georgia at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville, FL on Saturday, October 29, 2022. [Alan Youngblood/Gainesville Sun]

LAS VEGAS — With National Signing Day approaching on Wednesday, Florida coach Billy Napier understood balancing preparation for the Las Vegas Bowl while making a late push for the Gators' 2023 class would be a challenge.

“Problems are often opportunities in disguise,” Napier said from Las Vegas on Friday. “So I think we’re trying to have the right perspective and attitude about it.”

Two weeks ago, when Florida learned it would face No. 16 Oregon State in the Las Vegas Bowl, Napier said he set forth a 13-day plan to prepare for the bowl and a 17-day plan to get to National Signing Day.

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“A banquet, two official visit weekends, 30 players in 5 days, four additional practices, really 6 additional practices, an entire travel day, 4-and-a-half-hour flight to Vegas, three-hour time difference, 30 different stops,” Napier said. “We started early and ended late, let’s put in that way. So really, we’re right in the middle of that.”

Florida is closing in on bringing a Top 10 national recruiting class to campus and received a boost in the 2024 class last week when five-star quarterback D.J. Lagway announced his commitment to the Gators. Lagway is expected to attend the Florida-Oregon State game on Saturday at Allegiant Stadium (2:30 p.m., ESPN).

“It’s been a test of our organization but I think everybody has really stepped up and realizing the urgency and then we realize we’ve got two competitions going on at the same time,” Napier said.

 Worth the Waites

Napier is excited about Louisiana transfer Kamryn Waites making his first start at right guard for Florida on Saturday, considering the path he took to get there,

 The 6-foot-8, 373-pound Waites has only been playing organized football for two years.

“One heck of a story,” Napier said. “Did not play football in high school. We took a flier on the kid just based off his dimensions and athletic ability, and really taught the guy to play football

“It’s crazy to think, unique that at Louisiana we didn’t have any equipment that would fit him. We had to custom order, cleats, helmet pads, all of his gear was custom-ordered. When we say he’s 6-8, 250 pounds, that’s how big he is. He’s a smart player, he’s a fantastic AAU basketball player and a guy I think has unbelievable potential. He’s practiced well and I think he’s excited about the opportunity.”

Waites began the year practicing at tackle, but moved inside to take reps at guard midseason after Florida established a three tackle rotation of Richard Gouraige, Michael Tarquin and Austin Barber.

“We started flirting with a guard idea midseason,” Napier said. “So, he’s been getting reps there and then we made the wholesale change.”