College recruits around the country made the next step in their respective careers by signing with various schools on Wednesday’s National Signing Day. After signing 20 high school recruits on Early Signing Day in December, the Florida Gators football program welcomed one more signee to the 2023 recruiting class – four-star offensive lineman Caden Jones.
On Wednesday, head football coach Billy Napier spoke about the updated recruiting class, 10 transfers that joined the program after Early Signing Day and the Jaden Rashada saga.
Overall, Napier describes the Gators’ class as “unique” due to the volume of early enrollees and transfers as well as the number of players who returned. In total, the Gators are currently training over 100 players, according to Napier.
Four-star OL Caden Jones signs as part of 2023 recruiting class
After originally committing to Florida during the All-American Bowl, Jones put the pen to the paper and officially signed his letter of intent to play for the Gators. The New Orleans native chose the Gators over Florida State, LSU and others.
Be like Caden.
Welcome to Gator Nation, @_cjones63! #GoGators | #D23AMTEAM pic.twitter.com/BWmXwTDO1l
— Florida Gators Football (@GatorsFB) February 1, 2023
Napier spoke about how Jones’ length as well as his potential growth stand out to him.
Jones stands at 6 feet 7.5 inches and weighs 307 pounds, according to Florida’s 2023 signing class list. Three of the four major recruiting sites ranked Jones as a four-star recruit with On3 and 24/7 Sports ranking him in the top-30 at his position.
Jones became the seventh new offensive lineman in the class with his signing, joining Roderick Kearney, Knijeah Harris and Bryce Lovett as the four total high school recruits on the line.
Napier speaks on the offensive additions
In between Early Signing Day on Dec. 21 and Wednesday, the Gators welcomed 10 newcomers by way of the transfer portal. The winter window of the transfer portal closed on Jan. 5, meaning it was the last day for players to enter their name into the portal until May.
Although not the flashiest addition, arguably the most crucial is the addition of former Wisconsin starting quarterback Graham Mertz, who becomes the presumptive starter going into the season. Mertz will bring experience to a nearly non-experienced quarterback room, which is something Napier noted.
In four seasons at Wisconsin, including three as the starter, Mertz threw for 5,405 yards and 38 touchdowns against 26 interceptions. He added eight total rushing touchdowns during his time as a Badger.
Overall, Napier said that both the players and coaches have noticed a strong work ethic from Mertz during their strength and conditioning portion of the offseason.
Additionally, a position Napier hit hard in the portal was the offensive line after the departures of O’Cyrus Torrence and Richard Gouraige to the NFL as well as the transfers of Joshua Braun, Michael Tarquin and Ethan White. Napier said the replenishing the offensive line with the additions of the four high school recruits as well as the transfers of Micah Mazzcua, Dameion George Jr. and Kiyaunta Goodwin was some of their best work.
The final transfer addition on the offense makes his way from Tulane. Running back Cameron Carroll joins the Gators after a productive but injury-riddled career with the Mean Green. He will likely be a depth piece behind Montrell Johnson and Trevor Etienne.
Defensive additions create depth and competition
As much as the staff focused on rebuilding the offensive line, the staff also rebuilt the defensive line following the departure of Gervon Dexter Sr. to the NFL and Jalen Lee to transfer. The Gators welcome two transfers at defensive line to replace the two departures- Cam’Ron Jackson from Memphis and Caleb Banks from Louisville.
As with the offensive line, the size and the multiple years of eligibility left stand out to Napier.
The Gators also experienced major attrition at the middle linebacker position following the departures of Ventrell Miller and Amari Burney to the NFL. To add depth and competition, the staff brough in Teradja Mitchell from Ohio State, Deuce Spurlock from Michigan and Mannie Nunnery from Houston.
Although he will only be with Florida for one season, Mitchell’s transfer was important due to his experience at Ohio State as well as creating depth due to departures and injuries, Napier said.
As for Spurlock, Napier explained that they attempted to recruit him while he was at Louisiana and when he became the head coach at Florida. He will have four years of eligibility as he begins his Gator career.
Finally, Nunnery stood out to Napier due to him being awarded the national special teams player of the year while he was at Houston. Currently, Napier said Nunnery is testing as one of Florida’s most athletic players on the team through the early portion of spring camp.
The Jaden Rashada saga takes another turn
The long whirlwind of a recruitment that is four-star quarterback Jaden Rashada’s has officially taken another turn. The former Florida signee announced he will be attending Arizona State next season. Rashada’s decision will unite him with new head coach Kenny Dillingham, who recruited Rashada while he was the offensive coordinator at Oregon.
Napier commented on the situation saying that he can’t go into the specifics of what happened, but that the staff is focused on developing the team they have in place, and he still has the utmost respect for Rashada and his family. Napier added that they do not anticipate the NCAA investigating the situation.
After committing to Miami on June 26, Rashada flipped to Florida Nov. 10 and signed with the program on Dec. 21. However, the four-star quarterback asked out of his letter of intent prior to the university’s spring semester beginning. On Jan. 20, the school granted Rashada’s request, and he was free to sign with any other school, eventually landing on Arizona State.
Napier also provided his take on NIL in general, saying that he still believes NIL can be a strength at Florida.
ABC – “Always Be ‘Cruitin'”
Although National Signing Day usually means the end of recruiting for a class, the transfer portal changes the dynamic for recruiting, and the Gators could still add more faces to the 2023 class. The Gators are still open to sign any players who are currently in the transfer portal. Additionally, Napier will be able to add more names to the roster when the spring portal window opens on May 1, which will close on May 15.
Napier said the team plans to take advantage of any opportunities that present themselves, especially at the quarterback position to complete the 2023 recruiting class.