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Friday, April 12, 2024

Lagway, McCray headline Gators’ early signing day

Billy Napier’s 2024 recruiting class is now ranked No. 16 in the country

UF head coach Billy Napier and the Gators prepare to enter Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Florida's 24-15 loss to the Florida State Seminoles on Saturday, Nov. 25, 2023.
UF head coach Billy Napier and the Gators prepare to enter Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Florida's 24-15 loss to the Florida State Seminoles on Saturday, Nov. 25, 2023.

Five-star defensive tackle LJ McCray was supposed to sign with the Gators Wednesday morning and had verbally committed to Florida Oct. 21. However, he pushed his announcement back, leaving Gator fans nervous as early signing day winded down. 

But at 5:45 p.m. Wednesday, McCray officially signed his letter of intent to the Florida Gators, highlighting a class of 22 players signed.  

“We got some elite players,” Napier said in his press conference Wednesday. “We have young men that were up for the challenge. Ultimately for me, I respect the group that’s committed, that signed today, that’s excited for the work in front of us.” 

McCray was one of two five-star recruits to sign with Florida. Quarterback DJ Lagwayout of Willis, Texas, signed with UF Wednesday afternoon as well. The highly touted quarterback committed to the program Dec. 7, 2022, and was named the MaxPreps National Player of the Year Tuesday. 

It wasn’t all positives throughout the day. The Gators lost multiple four-star commits to fellow SEC schools and Power Five programs. Amaris Williams, a four-star defensive lineman, flipped his commitment to Auburn and signed with the Tigers. 

Minutes later, four-star linebacker Adarius Hayes flipped to Miami after verbally committing to the Gators in January.

Over the summer, 247Sports had the Gators’ 2024 recruiting class ranked as high as third in the country. Now, Napier’s class dropped to No. 16 and is currently eighth in the SEC. 

“You’re either in or you’re out,” Napier said. “My message was don’t come back in January unless you’re fully committed to what we want to do as a team.”

Florida’s first signee came from Myles Graham, a local four-star linebacker from  Buchholz High School. Moreover on the defensive side, the Gators earned a commitment from four-star safety Gregory Smith.

Sunday, UF made a splash in the transfer portal, earning a commitment from defensive lineman Joey Slackman. Wednesday, the transfer from the University of Pennsylvania made it official and signed with the Gators. Slackman was named the 2023 Ivy League Defensive Player of the Year after recording 50 total tackles and four sacks. 

“The film was impressive,” Napier said. “He made an impression, he left an impression. This guy’s got leadership, he’s got a motor, he’s driven. He’s got a plan. Our players love the guy.”

Offensively, tight end Amir Jackson and wide receivers Jerrae Hawkins and TJ Abrams boosted Florida’s passing arsenal. The team also added Chimere Dike, a familiar face to quarterback Graham Mertz. Dike, a wide receiver transfer from Wisconsin, played with Mertz from 2020-22. 

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Additionally, the program signed five offensive linemen, an area where the team struggled during the 2023 regular season. Mertz was sacked 31 times during the campaign, ranking fourth among SEC quarterbacks. 

The team also signed Jaden Baugh, a four-star running back from Ellenwood, Georgia. Baugh chose the Gators over Alabama, and he’s the second running back to sign after star tailback Trevor Etienne entered the transfer portal Dec. 7. 

The early signing day period officially ends Friday. 

“I’m looking for players that want to play at the University of Florida,” Napier said. “It means something. It’s a privilege. It’s a sacred opportunity to be a part of this place.” 

Contact Bennett Solomon at . Follow him on Twitter @B_Soly11

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