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Wednesday, November 29, 2023

‘We’re getting closer’: Billy Napier emphasizes culture ahead of Charlotte matchup

Gators preparing to face the 49ers Saturday

Florida football head coach Billy Napier talks to the Gators following UF's Orange and Blue Game Thursday, April 13, 2023.
Florida football head coach Billy Napier talks to the Gators following UF's Orange and Blue Game Thursday, April 13, 2023.

Florida head coach Billy Napier has made it clear there’s no culture of complacency throughout the Gators’ locker room. 

As the No. 25 Florida Gators (2-1, 1-0 SEC) prepare for their upcoming matchup against the Charlotte 49ers (1-2) Saturday, there is an increased emphasis on remaining committed and not getting too comfortable, Napier said.

“There's a mindset that we're trying to develop here, to where we can be consistent and not depend on external things to motivate us,” he said in a press conference Wednesday. “It’s not where we want it to be right now but I think we’re getting closer.”

UF’s second-year head coach hasn’t been satisfied with how his team has executed practices throughout the week. Wednesday’s practice was particularly tough according to the players.

Gators junior edge rusher Princely Umanmielen said the defense got together at the end of practice to go over what they could’ve done better.

“Cam Jackson, he was letting everyone know that the way we practiced today was unacceptable,” Umanmielen said. “And then Teradja [Mitchell], he was just saying, 'We can't talk about it. We got to be about it.’”

UF sophomore safety Miguel Mitchell said Napier’s disapproval toward practice didn’t go “unnoticed” Wednesday.

Florida’s preparation has always been a week-to-week process. However, it’s especially important for the Gators this week to carry their momentum from last week’s victory, and to remain humble while doing so, Napier said.

“I would tell you during the week that there's an element of fear,” he said. “And then, obviously, you want to compete with fearlessness.” 

Florida was unable to string together more than two victories last season in Napier’s first season with the Gators. UF won back-to-back games only twice throughout the season.

This year, it’s important to strive for consistency, Umanmielen said. 

“We just have to keep going with the momentum and not let up,” he said. “We got another opportunity this week to set ourselves for success next week.”

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One of the biggest differences between this season and last is the camaraderie and leadership among players in the locker room. This year’s team is much more close, and players can be more real with each other, Mitchell said. 

Napier said he has welcomed the vocality from his players.  

“I do appreciate the players being vocal about the things that need to be done better,” he said. “I think that's a healthy thing.”

Of the dozens of UF players who have demonstrated leadership on and off the field, there has been a surprising number of freshmen who have done so as well. 

Freshman safety Jordan Castell — who was named the Shaun Alexander Freshman of the Week Tuesday —  showed that leadership Saturday when he lifted up the head of his freshman teammate Ja’Keem Jackson who gave up a 55-yard touchdown to a Tennessee receiver seconds earlier.

“[Castell]’s got a mature mentality to him,” Mitchell said. “If you came to pass him you wouldn’t think he’s a first-year guy for sure.”

Even Florida’s head coach has recognized the leadership of Castell.

“The guy’s playing partly because he’s mature enough to handle it,” Napier said Monday. “I think he is a future leader, and certainly amongst his classmates he’s well thought of.”

Umanmielen accredited the plethora of leaders to the recruitment process of his head coach.

“I think a big part of his recruiting is character,” he said. “He looks at the character of the players he’s bringing in … I think that’s a big part of how the program is changing.”

The Gators will look to continue their success ahead of their Saturday matchup against the Charlotte 49ers. The game will be broadcast on ESPN+ and SEC Network+.

Contact Luke Adragna at Follow him on Twitter @lukeadrag.

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Luke Adragna

Luke Adragna is a third-year journalism student and the Florida Gators football reporter at The Alligator. He is a cat ethusiast and completes the NYT Daily Mini in less than a minute each day.

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