Florida football coach Billy Napier discusses QB Jaden Rashada, NIL, Graham Mertz

Kevin Brockway
The Gainesville Sun

Florida Gators coach Billy Napier didn't get into specifics on why prized quarterback recruit Jaden Rashada asked out of his National Letter of Intent, but expressed frustration about the current state of college football recruiting in the Name, Image and Likeness era.

"Every college football coach would tell you they’re frustrated," Napier said. "We’re living in a fluid dynamic. There’s a lot of good things about NIL, but I think the combination of the NIL and the portal creates a dynamic you have the bad things about the NFL but none of the good things.

"We’re all aware of the issues and the parameters we’re competing in at this point. I think as time goes the market will settle down.” 

Jaden Rashada saga:It's official: Quarterback Jaden Rashada released from Florida Gators Letter of Intent

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More Florida football:Gators land commitment from Wisconsin transfer QB Graham Mertz

Florida head coach Billy Napier speaks during a news conference for the Las Vegas Bowl NCAA college football game Friday, Dec. 16, 2022, in Las Vegas. Florida is scheduled to play Oregon State in the bowl game. (AP Photo/John Locher)

Napier said he doesn't expect Florida to hear from the NCAA on Rashada's recruitment, which reportedly went south due to a botched NIL deal with the Gator Collective. Rashada, a top 60 national recruit and 6th rated quarterback in the Class of 2023, signed with Arizona State today.

NCAA rules prohibit college coaches from being involved in NIL deals.

"I wish we could get into specifics, but we're not allowed to," Napier said. "The reality is the current structure of NIL with third parties being involved, with agents being involved, with marketing representatives, with lawyers, with collectives, very fluid and I think a very unique dynamic.

"We’re living in a time in college athletics that we’ll look back upon. I think ultimately NIL is a strength for the Gators. We’re very pleased with where we’re at relative to our current players, all the athletes and what we’ve been able to accomplish in a short amount of time.” 

Napier said he wasn't disappointed on a personal level in Rashada's decision to ask out of his LOI after the reported NIL deal evaporated. Rashada said at the Under Armour All-American game in early January he was looking forward to becoming a Gator.

"I still have the utmost respect for him and his family," Napier said.

Asked whether Rashada's recruitment has created a perception that Florida is not living up to its commitments in the NIL arena, Napier responded: "I can only speak on our current team, the current athletes that we have - not only in football but a lot of sports have benefitted. We have a ton of strengths in that area. We live in a state with 21 million people; we’ve got half a million living alumni; we’re surrounded by huge markets. I think our players have benefitted from that.” 

Napier confident in QB Graham Mertz

Napier expressed confidence in new Florida quarterback Graham Mertz, a Wisconsin transfer and one of 10 transfers the Gators added during the January period. Mertz enrolled at Florida this semester and will take part in spring practices, which begins on March 4.

"We’re talking about a guy that’s started 32 games," Napier said. "He’s an experienced player. And I do believe that he’s got unique tools. When you go back all the way to his high school recruitment, he’s one of the top quarterbacks in the country. Close to 6-3, a little under 6-3. He’s 215 pounds."

Napier said he consulted with former Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst and evaluated 24 different quarterbacks in the protal before signing Mertz.

"We’re getting an experienced player that’s got arm talent, that can process, and wanted to be at Florida," Napier said. "He has been fantastic. I think he has proven his work ethic, just observing him, hearing the other players talk about him, the work he’s done with our staff, not only strength and conditioning, but also every part: the training room, nutrition, film study. He’s done a great job so far. Certainly, the guy’s a very experienced player.” 

Florida signs OL Caden Jones

Florida signed one player out of high school for spring National Signing Day, Caden Jones, a 6-foot-5, 307-pound four-star offensive lineman from De La Salle High in New Orleans.

Napier and his staff have a prior relationship with Jones when they recruited him while at Louisiana. Jones also is a former high school teammate of Florida starting running back Montrell Johnson.

"Still some maturity physically and I think we're going to look up in a couple of years and be really glad we took him," Napier said. "He's Montrell Johnson's teammate and I think Montrell is probably the reason we got that done. Good player and certainly one I'm excited about the future there."