Over the course of the past week or so, the Florida Football program has had its fair share of high's and low's. From losing out on high-level quarterback recruit Jaden Rashada, to landing four 4-star recruits in edge rusher Isaiah Nixon, cornerback Sharif Denson and defensive lineman Gavin Hill and T.J. Searcy, and finally losing projected starting running back Demarkcus Bowman to the transfer portal. A lot has happened in the past week or so for the Gators, both good and bad.
For those who haven't been paying much attention, just sit back, relax and enjoy as I will be breaking down everything in more detail and giving my analysis on what each event that transpired means for the program.
4-Star QB Jaden Rashada Commits to Miami Over Florida
Perhaps the most notable event of this past week occurred on Sunday when high-4-star quarterback Jaden Rashada spurned Florida and the likes of LSU, Ole Miss and Texas A&M to take his talents down south to play for Miami. Rashada, who is ranked as the number 45 player in the country and number seven quarterback in the 2023 class, has a ton of talent and finished his junior season with 2,220 yards and 27 touchdowns to just 5 interceptions.
There was much speculation for a long time that Rashada was going to pick Florida heading into his original commitment date of June 18th, as the he had taken an unofficial visit to Gainesville on May 25th and an official visit from June 7th-9th. All signs pointed to Rashada coming to play for Billy Napier in the orange and blue. However, this would not be the case.
After taking what was supposed to be his final visit before committing to UF on the June 7th-9th weekend, Miami came calling late and flew out Jaden for a visit to Coral Gables two days before his original commitment date. This visit ultimately resulted in Jaden postponing his commitment date to June 26th and committing to Miami after Florida was rumored to be his frontrunner for some time.
This was a major loss for the Billy Napier in the 2023 class, his first complete class as head coach of the Gators, as Rashada was seen as a guy who could've potentially been Anthony Richardson's successor at the quarterback position. Almost immediately, rumors started spreading about Miami offering him $9.5 million to go play there and even him turning down an offer of $11 million to come play for the Gators.
This started a flurry of back and forth between Rashada's agent, Michael Caspino, and the Florida Gators main NIL collective, the Gator Collective, in which Caspino called the collective "the most dysfunctional in all of college football" and going onto say "I plan on steering my clients away from them. From my standpoint, I never ever want to deal with them again. If it weren’t for the collective that’s completely dysfunctional at Florida, he probably would have been there." The Gator Collective and their legal team then responded with this announcement via Twitter that can be seen below:
Regardless of the he said/she said that this whole commitment process caused, the fact still remains the same: the Gators still need a quarterback commit in the class of 2023. As of right now, Florida only has two quarterbacks that they have offered in the 2023 class who haven't committed yet, those two being 24/7 Sports' 5-star ranked Dante Moore from Detroit, Michigan and 24/7 Sports' 4-star ranked Dylan Lonergan from Snellville, Georgia.
Unfortunately for Coach Napier, both Moore and Lonergan have shown little interest in UF as they focused most of their quarterback recruiting resources on getting Rashada. Now that getting him as well as most likely Moore and Lonergan is out of the picture, the Gators are going to have to act fast to try and grab a quarterback for the class of 2023. While not getting a signal caller might not be the end of the world for the Gators, with redshirt sophomore Ohio State transfer Jack Miller III likely taking over the starting role once Anthony Richardson leaves, it is always better to have options at the quarterback position moving forward and going without one in a recruiting class could prove detrimental down the road.
Former 5-Star RB Demarkcus Bowman Transfers to UCF: What This Means at the Running Back Position
As if things weren't already bad enough after Rashada chose Miami over Florida last week, former 5-star running back recruit Demarkcus Bowman announced on Monday that he would be transferring to UCF after entering the portal just days earlier. Bowman, a product of Lakeland High School, chose Clemson over Florida and a few others when he committed as the 20th ranked player and 3rd ranked running back in the class of 2020 according to 24/7 Sports. Florida was believed to be a front runner for a decent amount of time in his commitment as well before ultimately losing him to Clemson.
However, Demarkcus would soon change his mind early in his freshman year and transfer to Florida in October of 2020. This was a huge pickup in the transfer portal for the Gators as Bowman had loads of talent that Gator fans couldn't wait to see on display. After sitting out the 2020 season due to transfer rules, Bowman had a decent 2021 season, only seeing 14 carries for 81 yards. While this wasn't exactly the start to his college career that he had probably envisioned, Bowman came out of spring practice in the mix for the starting job heading into fall camp with a solid role in the rotation, so his decision left Gator fans somewhat puzzled. The question now for the Gators is what is the answer going forward at the running back position. Luckily for us, there is plenty of depth in the backfield. A three headed dragon consisting of redshirt junior Nay'quan Wright, Sophomore transfer Montrell Johnson and redshirt senior Lorenzo Lingard will lead the way for the Gators backfield this season and hopefully provide a balanced rushing attack to complement Anthony Richardson's arm.
The frontrunner entering fall camp out of the three running backs is redshirt senior Lorenzo Lingard. Lingard, who transferred to Florida via Miami in 2020, has struggled to find consistent playing time so far in his two seasons in Gainesville. After entering spring practice as someone who was projected to be a key contributor in the backfield, he earned most of the first team reps and performed very well when healthy throughout the duration of the spring. Although not getting much action in the spring game due to injury, Lingard's performance in the spring along with his experience as a redshirt senior makes him the likely candidate to lead the backfield right now heading into fall camp.
The second candidate to appear consistently in Florida's backfield this season is Nay'quan Wright. Wright, who has played his entire career in the orange and blue, has spent his time backing up both Malik Davis and Dameon Pierce for the past 3 seasons in Gainesville. Over those three seasons, he has racked up 563 yards and three touchdowns on 142 carries on the ground to go along with 34 catches for 401 yards and one touchdown on the receiving end. He came into the off-season as one of the favorites to start at running back due to his experience and talent level and if you've been paying attention to Gator football over the past three seasons, you know that this guy can play.
The third and final head to the three-headed dragon is Louisiana transfer Montrell Johnson. After having a stellar freshman season, where he rushed for 838 yards and 12 touchdowns on 162 carries while earning Sun Belt Freshman of the Year honors, Johnson followed Coach Napier from Louisiana to UF to play at a higher level. Going into spring practice, Johnson was seen as one of the two leaders to earn the starting spot, along with Wright and showed his ability in flashes during the spring. While being just a sophomore, Johnson has the most experience in Billy Napier's offense so he should be a main contributor in Florida's offense this fall.
The Gators also have 4-star freshman running back Trevor Etienne, brother of former Clemson and current Jacksonville Jaguars running back Travis Etienne, that just got to campus this summer. While Etienne most likely will not contribute immediately early on, don’t be surprised if he starts earning a larger roller as the season progresses.
Overall, the Gators are just fine in the running back department. With a deep, talented and experienced backfield, headlined by Wright and Johnson, all three running backs should see a decent amount of carries and the Gators will look to establish a strong running game early and often in Billy Napier‘s offense in his first season in charge.
Gators Secure a Quartet of 4-Star Commits
While the last week or so had a good amount of lows for the Gators, there were a few major positives in the mix. Billy Napier secured commitments from four 4-star prospects over the past week, consisting of edge rusher Isaiah Nixon, cornerback Sharif Denson, defensive lineman Gavin Hill and edge rusher T.J. Searcy.
Nixon, who hails from Lakewood High School in St. Petersburg, Florida, was originally committed to UCF before flipping his commitment to UF following a visit on June 17th. Listed as the 26th ranked edge rusher and 195th overall player in the class of 2023 according to 24/7 Sports’ composite ranking. Nixon stands at 6-foot-4, 220 pounds and as a leaner built prospect, Nixon uses his speed and finesse to disrupt plays in the backfield. He’s very quick off of the ball, plays very well in space and has the potential to be very versatile as a defender, possibly being able to drop into coverage on occasion. While he will need some time to build up his strength and frame before he becomes an impact player, Nixon has plenty of upside and can really help this defense moving forward once he gets his body developed.
Along with Nixon, Billy Napier added another key piece to the defensive line in local product Gavin Hill. Hill, who comes to UF via Gainesville’s Buchholz High School, stands at 6-foot-3, 255 pounds and is ranked as the 38th best defensive lineman and 259th overall player in the class of 2023 by 24/7 Sports’ composite ranking. Playing mostly defensive end throughout his high school career, he has the potential to play on the interior at some point if he adds some mass to his build. Like Nixon, Hill is a very versatile athlete, as he played tight end and defensive end throughout his freshman and sophomore seasons and is also a basketball player. That versatility and athleticism will be of major use for the Florida defense and he will look to make an impact from the beginning as a Gator.
The third prospect that the Gators picked up over the last week was Jacksonville, Florida cornerback product Sharif Denson. Denson, who comes to Gainesville via Bartram Trail High School, stands at 5-foot-11, 170 pounds and is 24th ranked cornerback and 206th ranked player overall in the class of 2023 by 24/7 Sports’ composite ranking. For a more in-depth breakdown on Denson, check out the attached link, where Stadium and Gale’s own Anthony Beck wrote a great feature article on him.
The fourth and final prospect that Napier added to the class of 2023 over the past week is perhaps the best one yet in 6-foot-5, 250 pound strong side edge rusher T.J. Searcy. Searcy, who is ranked as the 20th defensive lineman and 153rd overall player in the class of 2023 by 24/7 Sports' composite rankings, is a very athletic defensive lineman with tremendous upside. Although listed as a defensive lineman by most services, he is a strong side edge rusher at heart, but is generally believed to be recruited to Florida to be a JACK edge rusher. His large frame will make it easy for him to put on muscle as his career develops and potentially play strong side defensive end down the road. For now though, he is a key piece and huge pickup to the Gators' class of 2023 and I cannot wait to see how he preforms next year in the orange and blue.
While there were some negatives this week for our program, there were also a lot of positives. Getting commitments from the likes of Nixon, Hill, Denson and Searcy give us four very high-level prospects who have the potential to be stars at UF. We as a fanbase must give Billy a chance to put his system into place. Give him time. Not only has he not coached a game yet at Florida, but he is just going through his first full class as our coach so before we all get gloom and doom, we must be patient and let him get his system and operation in place. Rome wasn't built in a day and rebuilding this program sure won't be quick either, so just give him a chance to do it the right way.