Nov 18, 2023; Columbia, Missouri, USA; Florida Gators head coach Billy Napier on the sidelines against the Missouri Tigers during the second half at Faurot Field at Memorial Stadium. [Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports]

Billy Napier Talks Gator Football at First Spring Practice

The Florida Gators football team kicked off its spring practice Thursday. Coach Billy Napier addressed his expectations heading into his third season as he aims for drastic improvements from last year’s performance.

He said between the group of veterans and a talented group of rookies, he was impressed with the leadership and accountability.

2024 Season Overview

Florida went 5-7 in its second year under Napier, and ended with a five-game losing streak. During the offseason, the program made several changes to the coaching staff.

UF brought in Ron Roberts, its new linebacker’s coach, to serve as the Gators’ executive head coach and co-defensive coordinator. The team also gained former Los Angeles Chargers assistant secondary coach Will Harris. He’ll serve as the Gators’ secondary coach.

Most recently, Napier promoted tight ends coach Russ Callaway to co-offensive coordinator. The change was not a surprise, as Napier said he showed leadership capability.

Thirteen starters returned from last year’s roster, including quarterback Graham Mertz, running back Montrell Johnson Jr., linebacker Shemar James and cornerback Jason Marshall Jr. Eleven transfers also joined the Gators.

Napier said having Mertz back to play quarterback is a major deal and he sets the standard for the entire team.

“Not only through his work ethic but as a competitor, the toughness, the way he prepares and treats people,” he said. “He’s a consummate pro.”

The Quarterback Dynamic Duo

The 2024 recruiting class is led by freshman quarterback DJ Lagway. The five-star recruit from Texas earned various awards in high school, including Gatorade National Player of the Year. Napier said he has unique ability – the size, the athleticism, the arm talent. But the best thing about him is his work ethic and desire to learn, he said.

“He loves the game, and that was very apparent out there today,” the head coach said.

Napier spoke on the dynamic between Mertz and Lagway. As a freshman, Lagway has an advantage of being able to observe Mertz, who has done a phenomenal job embracing that mentorship, he said.

Addressing the Defense

Despite the Gators’ defense underperforming over last two years, Napier said he is confident for new pieces to succeed.


Napier said the team is consumed with improvement and learning concepts, situations and field zones. He said the group of veterans need to continue to develop and the rookies need to get into position to impact the team.

Florida will compete in the annual Orange and Blue game at 1 p.m. on April 13 at the Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

About Hailey Hurst

Hailey Hurst is a second-year journalism major with a sports media focus. She is aspiring for a career in sports media writing/production. Contact her at

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