If you’re not a die-hard and missed the mess that’s happened with Florida’s 2023 recruiting class as June winds down, here’s a cliff notes rundown of events involving lots of UF’s marquee targets:
- 5-star cornerback AJ Harris, long considered a Gators lean, cancelled a scheduled official visit to Florida and committed to Georgia.
- 5-star safety Tony Mitchell ended a long flirtation with Florida by naming a final four that did not include the Gators and promptly committed to Alabama the next day.
- 4-star defensive lineman Gavin Hill, a local standout at Buchholz High, committed to Florida.
- 4-star offensive lineman Roderick Kearney verbally committed to archival Florida State less than half an hour after leaving his official visit with the Gators.
- 4-star linebacker Grayson Howard, an in-state prospect from Jacksonville, committed to South Carolina over Florida despite making multiple visits to Gainesville in June.
- Florida is also considered to be losing traction with top targets like 5-star cornerback Cormani McClain (a UF-Alabama-Miami battle) and 4-star tailback Treyaun Webb, a Gators legacy from Jacksonville who many wrote in his name in pen for the 2023 class but is now seen as a Penn State lean.
- And the coup de grace: 4-star quarterback Jaden Rashada, who was seen as a UF lock for weeks before delaying his decision and committing to Miami on Sunday. Rashada, a Top 50 prospect, was seen as the future face of Napier’s first full-recruiting cycle. Elite quarterback prospects are like Tik Tok influencers and the expectation was Rashada would commit to the Gators and then other top-flight prospects would instantly flock to Gainesville, too.
So much for Plan A. Maybe Plan B, too.
Recruiting is so much about optics and narrative, and right now, UF is holding a losing hand. Regardless of what exactly is happening behind the scenes within the various Florida-associated collectives, publicly, there’s now the notion that the Gators simply aren’t as organized or attractive as Miami or Florida State — much less Georgia, Alabama or others.
That’s a problem.
Billy Napier was hired by Florida precisely because he could do what his predecessor could not: Recruit at an elite level. Dan Mullen won at least 10 games in his first two seasons at UF, but Year 3 fell off a cliff because Mullen failed to restock the roster with the requisite talent compared to Florida’s SEC rivals.
In stepped Napier, who demanded and was handed “an army” of support staffers and recruiting analysts — rivaling similar staffs at UGA, Alabama and Texas A&M. The charismatic and confident 42-year-old former Louisiana-Lafayette head coach came to Gainesville preaching patience and vision, and then underpromised but overdelivered during his first Early Signing Period — namely beating out the Bulldogs for 5-star IMG Academy safety Kamari Wilson.
He teased the possibility that Florida could become a recruiting power again, especially in a Sunshine State full of flux with a fellow new regime in a Miami and a coach in Tallahassee entering a put-up-or-shut-up season.
“This is a talent acquisition business,” Billy Napier said when he was hired.
Flash forward six months, and the Gators don’t have a single Top 150 prospect among their eight commits.
Well, what do you expect, Gator fans? First year coaches usually have a rough time putting together their first class. Just look at how much Kirby Smart struggled with his… oh, wait.
I expect “it’s still early” is going to get a heavy workout, but if Billy can’t squeeze out nine wins this season (remember, Mullen surpassed that number his first season), the wolves are gonna be howlin’.