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Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Florida football gains no new-signees, looks ahead toward spring

The Gators have 30 new players joining the program

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.

On Wednesday, Florida head coach Billy Napier spoke publicly for the first time since Dec. 20. Additionally, the Gators now have a clear picture of what their roster will look like come spring practice, as no surprises occurred on National Signing Day Wednesday. 

In total, Florida added 30 new players, including 18 high school players, 11 transfers and one Junior College player. According to 247Sports, UF has the 14th-ranked recruiting class in the nation and eighth in the SEC. 

“This is probably the best group of players we’ve had since we’ve been here,” Napier said. 

The Gators’ 2024 class is headlined by two five-stars in quarterback DJ Lagway and defensive lineman LJ McCray. 

Along with the new players, Napier made changes to his staff during the offseason. Notably, Ron Roberts, Gerald Chapman, Will Harris and Joe Houston are experienced coaches – both collegiately and professionally – who joined the staff in the offseason 

Roberts joins the team as a co-defensive coordinator and executive head coach. Chapman will be a defensive line coach while Harris will be a secondary coach. 

“Part of the evaluation was that we needed to play better on that side of the ball,” Napier said. “We went through a very extensive process to land where we landed with Will Harris and Gerald Chapman. They’ve got character, they have passion for people. They’ve been around good coaching, they know what it looks like.” 

Moreover, Napier said Roberts has a mutual relationship with defensive coordinator Austin Armstrong, and he’ll be the head coach of the defense while Armstrong remains coordinator.  

Last season, fans were vocal about Napier hiring an offensive coordinator. Though, Florida scored 30-plus points in three out of its four games to close the season. 

Napier said he doesn’t plan on changing who calls the plays offensively and there is time to figure that out. 

“We’re in the process of defining those roles,” he said. “There will be different responsibilities to some degree. Offensively, we may have different titles within that group of people. Ultimately, we’ll keep the same system. 

UF has had 29 players come from the transfer portal since Napier started with the program and multiple have made an impact and could get playing time come the fall. 

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Notable transfers this offseason include Joey Slackman, Asa Turner and Jameer Grimsley. Slackman, a defensive lineman and transfer from the University of Pennsylvania, was the Ivy League Defensive Player of the Year.

Grimsley, a defensive back from national runner-up Washington, started 28 times and has six career interceptions. 

Additionally, quarterback Grahm Mertz transferred from Wisconsin and had a successful first season with the Gators in 2023. Mertz, who had shoulder surgery in the offseason, will “100% be ready to go” in the spring, according to Napier.

The quarterback threw for 2,903 yards and 20 touchdowns in his first year with the Gators. 

UF is currently under NCAA investigation for possible NIL violations committed during the recruitment of former five-star recruit Jaden Rishada. 

Florida is just one of multiple programs under NCAA investigation, and Napier said NIL is heavily affecting the game and “everyone” knows it needs fixing. 

“College football, right now, is in a very unique space,” Napier said. “We need change. I think everybody knows that.” 

The head coach is confident players want to attend and play for the Gators football program. Napier has done a solid job getting coaches in all areas with experience in the NFL. 

Craig Fitzgerald, the new director of football performance, spent four seasons with the New York Giants. Jake Senkal, the new director of football nutrition, joins the staff after eight seasons with the Washington Commanders. 

And Houston, a former special teams assistant coach for the New England Patriots, joins the program to oversee the special teams. 

“It’s about creating the best player experience in the country,” Napier said. “We’ve got a unique degree to offer we’ve got an incredible alumni network, we’ve invested in the player development, we’ve got the development piece with the coaching.” 

The Gators will have their annual spring game at 1 p.m. on April 13. Then, they’ll open the 2024 season against the Miami Hurricanes Aug. 31 before playing one of the toughest schedules in the SEC. 

“There’s got to be some maturity,” Napier said. “This offseason will be a part of that. That leadership component with the talented group of rookies coming in, I think that’s good for the Gators.” 

Contact Bennett Solomon at bsolomon@alligator.org. Follow him on X @B_Soly11.

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