When Billy Napier was hired to replace Dan Mullen back in December, he made it clear he was going to hire an “army” of people to work for him. On Friday night, this “army” was on full display as Florida hosted the annual Friday Night Lights camp.
Perhaps these were Catapult GPS trackers that were distributed to vacationers. Maybe it was the portraits of every UF assistant coach taped to the registration photos so that potential clients could quickly match the face to the name. Or maybe it was Napier and almost all of his staff who gave up everything they did to greet a priority target upon arrival. All of this – and more – has made this year’s Friday Night Lights feel very different from the ones Mullen runs, and if you’re a Gators fan, that’s good.
Napier & Co. started the week ranked 23rd in the national 247Sports Composite Team Rankings. After getting a commitment Thursday night from a Top247 quarterback Ja’Kim Jackson and another Friday night from Top247 receiver Aidan MizellGainesville residents will wake up Saturday morning with 14th grade country. But don’t be surprised if the Gators keep climbing the rankings. In the end, Napier’s first Friday Night Lights performance was reputedly a hit.
247Sports will take you through the event below.
Alpha dogs: WR Jeremiah Smith and Joshisa Trader
These elite camps have quickly become junior high school exhibitions where most high-profile retirees don’t want to risk injury. And while it would be nice to see some celebrities compete, their absence allows kids like Jeremiah Smith as well as Joshisa Trader shine. Two five-star wide receivers from Hollywood, Florida, Chamiande-Madonna Prep put on a show as soon as the one-on-one meetings began inside The Swamp, essentially scoring points for each rep before quickly shutting everything down. Considered the nation’s best player in the 2024 class by 247Sports, Smith fits the bill at 6ft 3cm and 185lbs and is only a handful of opposing defensemen. The same can be said for Trader, who is currently ranked as the No. 3 athlete in the 2024 cycle. The two friends, who grew up playing junior football together in Miami-Dade, received a lot of love from Napier between practices and should be regarded as one of the best rising juniors not only in Florida but in the entire country.
More fun moments from one-on-one meetings and training
QB Marcus Stokes (Florida captures) – Fresh off a cruise ship, Stokes didn’t originally plan on throwing, but at the last minute decided to let it rip. His first pass in a 1-on-1 game was a perfect six-handed penny for Smith. Stokes needs to clean up the mess, but there’s a hand talent.
2025 DL Armondo Blount – Remember the name. Blount was by far the best linebacker on Friday and was killing linemen with an explosive first pitch. Fort Lauderdale, Florida youth Dillard was a 3A state champion shot put as a freshman.
RB Michael Mitchell (Utah picks up) – Prior to camp, there were rumors that the UF might offer to Mitchell, who lives nearby in Middleburg. As of 01:00 on Saturday, this has not happened, but Mitchell has proven he can play as he has scored several times on corner routes.
ETC Caden Jones – When the camp moved from IPF to the stadium, Jones, 6ft 7in and 300lbs, was seen riding down the street in a Polaris Ranger with Napier. It was a tough squeeze, but you could tell the Gators wanted to keep a close eye on the New Orleans De La Salle product.
2024 db Jalen Hayward – No one in the DB line was as smooth as Hayward’s. The Top247 prospect from Rockledge, Florida then held his own in 1-on-1 matches and managed to hit a few passes. His Florida 2023 teammates commit Bryce Lovett to a contract and play regularly in Gainesville.
WR Richard Dandridge (Temple commit) – The Gators already have two receiver slots allocated by Creed Whittemore and Eugene Wilson. So they probably don’t have room for a guy like Dandridge, but he sparkled and made one of the catches of the evening when he pulled the goaltender’s rope.
ATN Desirio Riles – Riles is a QB turned LB/TE from Jacksonville Christian University (FL), standing over 6ft 3in and armed with long arms. He was tasked with covering running backs as soon as the 1-on-1 matches began and had a good pass. Riles might be an interesting project for someone.
CB Dwight Bootle II (Nebraska captures) – Bootle essentially fought for reps and was pretty tacky in the outside lighting. The eldest Miami Palmetto lacks length, but has gained weight all over his torso and has some of the necessary skills to make a difference in the slot.
2024 DL Adam Kissai – Kissai is a complete stranger from Palm Beach (Florida) Bayside, who was hard to miss when registering. Not only was it 6 feet 6.5,205 pounds, but it also had an 82-inch wingspan that needed to be increased. Kissai is very raw and thin, but he has shown some edge-to-edge fighting.
2024 Chalil Cummings – Cummings can please a lot of people, he visits Col (Florida) Bradford. He started the night working in safety but switched to wide receiver towards the end of the camp. He excelled in both roles. Florida has not yet proposed, but this may change one day.
Lots of big frames in the stands
One of Florida’s biggest goals in the 2023 cycle is to remodel/rebuild defensive line room. As one contact put it, the Gators “have to” get longer as they want to play like Alabama and Georgia in the trenches with a real nose, two 4is and an elite, jerky pass rusher.
It won’t be easy to sign them all, but almost all it takes for UF to build such a front is walking around the facilities on a Friday night, getting in on the action. James Smith (No. 2 DL at 247Sports), Samuel M’Pemba (No. 3 EDGE), Yakvavius Russo (No. 8 EDGE), Kelby Collins (No. 24 DL), Kamran James (No. 26 DL) and Will Norman (No. 31 DL) all were present. As well as current UF commits TJ Searcy (No. 28), Gavin Hill (No. 30 DL) and Isaiah Nixon (No. 35 EDGE).
The offensive line visitor group was not as deep as the defensive line group, but it was still interesting to see a few coaches/trainees walking around with 5=1 equipment. Apparently, this is the motto/mood of Florida’s offensive line, where Napier is now at the helm. The Gators are currently taking on promises from two 2023 offensive linemen: four stars Bookja Harriswho hung out in street clothes on a Friday, and a three-star Bryce Lovett.
Additional notes about visitors/campers
When Napier gave his opening speech, he stressed the importance of creating competition on Friday. Another coach said in passing that the Gators wanted the FNL to be like the FNL in the past, when everyone in the state showed up in hopes of getting an offer. The Napier Regime may not have happened yet, but there were still a lot of kids sent to other places who are being drilled, such as security checks in South Carolina. Cameron Upshawcommitment to security in Indiana Love Ferrell and the receiver from Minnesota captures Doniel Hayes. One would think that all three prospects that Florida would continue to evaluate.
Miami Northwest Four Star Wide Receiver Andy Jean According to Swamp247’s Blake Alderman, he was one of the last people to leave campus on Friday night. He is tentatively scheduled to be at a BBQ in Miami on Saturday, but there is reason to believe this could be a trend in the right direction for Florida. The Gators also seem to have found some support with Tampa (Fla.) quarterback Wharton Top247. Dijon Johnson. He remains committed to Ohio State, but was seen hanging out with UF commits Friday night. Treyon Webb as well as Sharif Denson. Then there’s Winter Garden (FL) West Orange four-star security Jordan Castell. He’s set to announce his commitment Saturday at 10:30 am EST, and his orange and blue hat on Friday night could be a telltale sign of what’s to come.
A handful of 2024 quarterbacks rushed for Florida, but it looks like no 2024 hand has received as much love as a five-star. DJ Lagueywho watched all the action from a distance. The outstanding Lone Star State player was in town with his father. Full back of the IMG Academy Desmond Rix was another five-star player in 2024.