After almost eight long months of waiting, the 2022 college football season looms near. Damn-it we made it! Before we all look forward to the excitement of the season opener versus the Utah Utes, let's rewind, review, and revisit how we got here. After all, it's been a long-time-coming for some of us.
The Firing and The Hiring
I'll make this quick. The 2021 Florida Gator's football season culminated with Scott Stricklin electing to fire lame duck head coach Dan Mullen. Just a few weeks later, Stricklin moved to hire Billy Napier away from The University of Louisiana at Lafayette (ULL). Napier would finish out his tenure at ULL with a 40-12 record and a Sun Belt Conference Championship. Napier, along with his family, hopped on a plane to Gainesville, Florida just a few hours after the victory.
Building an Army
I'm not quite sure which beat writer or fan coined "Napier's Army" phrase to describe Napier's on-field and off-field support staff, but it has stuck. Kudos to that creative soul. Anyways, Napier moved quickly once he set his feet in Gator Country. As the new sheriff in town, Napier brought in familiar faces from ULL and industry peers alike to round out his staff. Notably, co-defensive coordinator Patrick Toney from ULL was one of the first on-field assistants hired. Conversely, the likes of Corey Raymond, defensive-backs coach, and Katie Turner, Assistant AD of Recruiting Strategy, were poached from rivals LSU and UGA respectively. The top-to-bottom hiring approach seems to have transitioned smoothly into a top-to-bottom program culture where specific roles are assigned and responsibilities are defined.
The 2022 Recruiting Class
Recruiting is recruiting, so I'll gloss over this quickly (more on this topic below). Napier and his staff scrapped much of Mullen's 2022 class. In a little less than a month, Napier was able to fill out the class with solid pieces such as Karmari Wilson, Shemar James, Chris McClellan, Devin Moore, and Trevor Etienne. All of which look to be making noise in fall camp as potential early contributors. Personally, I loved the move to scrap the class and rebuild. If you're still thinking, "Oh but what about Gibson, he was a must-take!?" Hush, I can assure you Blue-Chip Billy has it under control. In all, solid pieces for a transition class. We should see a number of these guys earn significant playing time this season.
The inaugural spring camp for Napier and staff officially began the process to usher in a new brand of Florida Gator football. Three practices in, Emory Jones entered the transfer portal, and Anthony Richardson began to cement himself as the starting quarterback. Offense and defense began the installs of new schemes and the forming of new identities on and off the field. The team capped off the spring with a motivating all-around performance in the Orange and Blue Game. Richardson stole most the spotlight with an explosive first-half, and the defense showed flashes of ability from a number of players who seemed to be lost in the depth charts under the previous coaching staff. A welcome sight to so many of us clamoring for the best athletes to play regardless of seniority.
The Drought (Kinda)
Not sure what they call the months of May-August during the college football off-season, but it seems like a drought. Or it typically does...
Some of you all absolutely destroyed my Drought narrative this off-season. For those of you in the dark here, the Florida twitter faithful briefly launched an all out recruiting crusade against our beloved Billy Napier from June(ish) to mid-July(ish). The message boards and twitter streets alike erupted when the news that quarterback recruit Jaden Rashada would be taking his talents to South Beach. Some of you even went as far to say the 2023 recruiting class was left for dead. Not shouting names here, but I even saw a few tweets calling for Napier's head! Man, there are really some "passionate" fans that don the orange and blue out there. We still love you, most of the time.
Anyways, business was business as usual for Napier and staff. The noise quickly began to quiet down with a trio of Jacksonville, Florida area commitments from Sharif Denson, Marcus Stokes and Treyaun Webb in the span of 11 days. Thank you Duval County, it is much appreciated. The trio helped spark the ensuing few weeks of fireworks for the 2023 Florida Gators recruiting class, propelling the class to a current national ranking of #10, according to the 247Sports Composite.
Fall Camp and Beyond
And alas, the "Drought" ended. SEC media days brought welcome stories back to the forefront of conversation. More importantly, fall camp for the Gators began a couple weeks ago, and the rumors, reports, and hot-takes have followed. Despite the rumors, Florida insiders and national analysts alike agree on one thing, Anthony Richardson is as advertised. Personally, more welcoming storylines to ring my ears, are the whispers of a defense playing together within Patrick Toney's scheme.
Stories aside, I think we can all take a deep breathe, close our eyes, and soak in the appreciation that we are back. We made it. From the firing and the hiring, to the twitter recruiting crusades that plagued the summer of 2022, all the way to Week 0 of the 2023 college football season. We are back, and we've earned it. We will see you all in Gainesville on September 3rd. Go Gators!