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3 Florida Gators to watch in Billy Napier’s first camp and season

Napier attributes his Louisiana success to recruiting evaluations and detailed player development. Here’s how that will play out at UF.
Florida Gators coach Billy Napier said his staff's recruiting evaluations and detailed development were major factors in their success at Louisiana.
Florida Gators coach Billy Napier said his staff's recruiting evaluations and detailed development were major factors in their success at Louisiana. [ HANNAH WHITE | Courtesy of UAA Communications ]
Published Aug. 9

GAINESVILLE — Florida Gators coach Billy Napier credits much of his Louisiana success to two factors: his staff’s evaluation process in recruiting and their attention-to-detail player development.

“I’m excited about applying those things here in this setting,” Napier said Tuesday.

As we look for signs about whether Napier can succeed in this setting — at a premier program that has fallen on hard times — keep an eye on three players who will serve as a collective litmus test.

Related: One key to Billy Napier’s Florida Gators turnaround: Socks?

Offensive lineman O’Cyrus Torrence was one of Napier’s biggest success stories at Louisiana. Napier’s staff offered the three-star prospect before his senior season (a strong evaluation), then groomed him into an all-conference performer (great development).

O'Cyrus Torrence was an all-Sun Belt player at Louisiana and followed Billy Napier to the Gators.
O'Cyrus Torrence was an all-Sun Belt player at Louisiana and followed Billy Napier to the Gators. [ ISABELLA MARLEY | Courtesy of UAA Communications ]

Torrence said he was “a little shocked” Napier and UF’s staff contacted him after he entered the transfer portal because he didn’t think the Gators would need him. They did.

The Gators explained the development they had in mind for Torrence and how it will translate to the NFL. The passion they showed in recruiting him was as intense the second time as it was the first.

“I didn’t make the wrong choice then,” Torrence said, “and I didn’t make it this time, either.”

Related: The Florida Gators built Billy Napier’s army. What will it actually do?

Landing Torrence was big enough for the Gators. Transfer offensive linemen are in short supply, so getting one of the best in the portal was encouraging for a program that must win more high-end recruiting battles. If the Gators can develop him into an all-SEC performer and early-round pick (as some mock drafts suggest), Torrence will be a walking billboard for what this staff can accomplish.

Receiver Ricky Pearsall will be, too.

Arizona State transfer Ricky Pearsall has been one of the Florida Gators' most hyped players this preseason.
Arizona State transfer Ricky Pearsall has been one of the Florida Gators' most hyped players this preseason. [ HANNAH WHITE | Courtesy of UAA Communications ]

Like Torrence, Pearsall was one of the top players at his position in the portal after leading Arizona State with 580 yards and four touchdown catches last season. Through the first five practices of preseason camp, he has been one of the most talked-about performers.

“He’s a nice piece to have,” safety Rashad Torrence told reporters last week.

The Gators lacked big-play receivers last year, and the group Napier inherited from Dan Mullen was unimpressive. Pearsall, then, will have the chance to be a high-impact player immediately — if Napier and his staff hit on their evaluation and develop him the right way.

Beyond the portal, true freshman defensive back Devin Moore has impressed early. The four-star Naples native was another big recruiting win (he flipped from Notre Dame) and has a shot at significant early playing time.

Related: Florida Gators’ Anthony Richardson is ‘ready for the challenge’

Moore was the kind of prospect Napier couldn’t and didn’t sign at Louisiana; top-300 recruits don’t end up in the Sun Belt. It’s too early to tell whether Napier can consistently sign more Moores to compete with Georgia and Alabama. After a rough June that led to message-board meltdowns about Napier’s future, the Gators have eight oral commitments from top-250 players. Mullen’s first and final full classes had seven each.

Regardless, Napier will be another Will Muschamp if he can’t develop the blue-chip talents he does land. To do so, he’ll have to adapt his approach from Louisiana. Napier said the Gators’ players are generally more developed than the ones he coached in Lafayette. The attention to detail and refined techniques will be even more important as the margins get smaller.

“At Louisiana we didn’t get the five-star (recruits),” Napier said. “We started from scratch with a lot of players. We projected. We took height, length and speed. We had to teach football at a much different level, and I think it made us better as coaches.”

How much better? We’ll start to find out in the next few weeks.

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