The Billy Napier era is officially underway, and the new head coach has already set himself apart. The 2022 campaign began last Saturday night in front of the largest opening crowd in school history at 90,799, which proved to create issues for the No. 7-ranked Utah Utes. Then, the night ended with the Florida Gators taking down Utah, 29-26, in thrilling fashion.
The camaraderie we saw this weekend did not develop overnight. With the announcement of Napier as the 29th head coach in Florida Gators history came the task of rebuilding a program left in rocky waters by Dan Mullen. On top of that, Gator Nation can be ruthless with its expectations and command results quickly.
Building A Foundation Of Trust
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During the hunt for a new coach, Athletic Director Scott Stricklin identified three requirements needed to form a successful program during a press conference late last year.
"Number one, someone who could identify and recruit the right people for Gator football, that's both players and staff. Secondly, someone who could take those individuals and build relationships by taking personal attention....third, put all those individuals in a position to be successful on the football field, but also beyond that."
Since Napier's hiring in December 2021, he has met these expectations with methods of strategy and structure that ultimately led to the season opening win.
In the offseason, Napier hired 12 new coaching staff members and assembled over 60 supporting staff members. Each hire came to the scene with extensive resumes of their own. Co-Defensive Coordinators Patrick Toney and Sean Spencer made immediate impacts on the program and all of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium got to see the improvement on that side of the ball immediately. Gator fans will begin recovering from the Todd Grantham-induced PTSD. The Gators defense came up with several critical stops, and the Utah offense served as a great test for the SEC opener next week against Kentucky.
Fifth-year linebacker Amari Burney, who put up seven tackles on the night and had the game-winning interception, was able to run onto the field with confidence.
"It means a lot to me for Coach Napier and PT to trust me with the opportunity to come on the field," Burney said in his post-game conference.
HUGE GOAL LINE STAND FOR THE @GatorsFB DEFENSE ? pic.twitter.com/xxGcV4pIT7
— ESPN College Football (@ESPNCFB) September 4, 2022
Turning to the offense, coordinator Rob Sale has established Anthony Richardson as the new solid QB1. Richardson excelled at his position in the offseason and brought it to light in the season opener. Richardson was named to the Davey O'Brien Great 8 List on Tuesday when he set new career-highs of 168 passing yards and three rushing touchdowns.
"Coach Napier told me we're gonna try and score right here, for a game-winner. My heart kinda froze because I hadn't really heard those words before," Richardson said in the post-presser.
Napier showed his commitment to building relationships through trust and expects the team to do the same with each other.
"I feel like the team trusts me. The coaches trust me to make a play and make something happen," Richardson continued.
By building a solid foundation, Napier has allowed for visible growth.
Success On And Off The Field
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Napier prioritized building a strong off-the-field staff in order to shape his players into well-rounded individuals. Each week, Florida highlights multiple scholar athletes on a weekly basis. This week, they honored Rocco Underwood, Tyreak Sapp, and O'Cyrus Torrence.
Congratulations to our Scholar Athletes of the Week @rocco_4015, @SappTyreak and @78_KingBo! ?#GoGators | #jOURney pic.twitter.com/bGoTnoKSJ0
— Florida Gators Football (@GatorsFB) September 5, 2022
In addition, Napier has been on board with aiding players in benefiting from the newly passed NIL policy. Napier added Marcus Castro-Walker to the off field roster as the director of player engagement and Name, Image and Likeness. Recently, four players have signed with the fast-food chain Krystal.
Southeastern fast-food chain Krystal is entering the NIL space.
Six #Gators student athletes, including four within the football program, have signed on.
STORY: https://t.co/3rPf4cuNZo pic.twitter.com/m25A5tCSaV
— Corey Bender (@Corey_Bender) August 30, 2022
Castro-Walkers role will only gain in importance as the Florida Gators succeed on the field. This week, Richardson's NIL valuation numbers have risen to an incredible $1.1 million.
Anthony Richardson's NIL stock is only going up ?
The Florida quarterback's On3 NIL Valuation has climbed to $1.1 million ? a 105 percent increase from last week.
More from @Pete_Nakos96: https://t.co/Wxq2WBwhnj pic.twitter.com/2qpXwGtgIe
— On3 NIL (@On3NIL) September 6, 2022
Wildcats In The Swamp
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The Florida Gators will open up SEC play this weekend as they host the No. 20 Kentucky Wildcats. A different opponent, but the same Napier mindset will be present to guide the Gators.
The excitement surrounding the win over Utah is still circling, which only adds pressure to the upcoming top-20 showdown. Billy Napier announced on Wednesday at a press conference that the Swamp was officially sold out Saturday night.
"In this venue. In this environment and this league. This level is magnified and you got a lot of people watching. I always try to flip the script in my head and with our team, that it's really an opportunity," Napier said, "as soon as I see the word pressure in my mind, I say opportunity."
Despite each facet of the Florida Gators program being fresh and new, Napier and his staff approached the whirlwind with a veteran state of mind.
"We quality controlled every minute of Friday and Saturday. That was the first time for the majority of the organization outside of a few players. I'm talking about every thing and every part."
As the Gators enter Week 2, it serves as their benefit for the venue and game time to remain unchanged.
The Gators will take the field without five of their players due to injury, including one starter. Although, very few other changes were made to the depth chart.
Florida releases the depth chart for week one. pic.twitter.com/ekc9qWzrP2
— Inside the Gators (@InsideTheGators) August 31, 2022
With starting long snapper Marco Ortiz out on injury from last week's game, redshirt freshman Rocco Underwood will fill in his place. All offensive and defensive starters remain.
Florida will enter into the Kentucky matchup with the opportunity to really shape the identity of the Gators and what the remainder of the season will entail.
"Our approach during the season is that you want to be a well oiled machine. From week one to Week 2 everything is brand new," Napier said, "I am hoping that we improve each each and get consumed by the process of preparing."
MORE: Upset in the Swamp: Billy Napier Begins Florida Tenure with Massive Win
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