Chomp | SEC Media Days: Napier ‘loves the challenge’ of leading the Gators; Smart hates Jacksonville?

Florida head coach Billy Napier speaks during an NCAA college football news conference at the Southeastern Conference Media Days, Wednesday, July 20, 2022, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore) (John Bazemore, Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

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I find myself saying this many weeks, but we really do have a lot to cover in this week’s newsletter...

And happy birthday to Florida head coach Billy Napier, who’s fresh off a trip to Atlanta for Southeastern Conference Media Days this week.

🐊 Napier & Gators players ‘learning together’

Napier went to SEC Media Days, the unofficial start of the college football season, as one of the new faces in the conference.

He had the same message he has since he took the Florida job: There is a lot going on in year one of taking over as head coach of the Gators.

“I have been impressed with the leadership at Florida in terms of their awareness, what it’s required to be competitive at this level, their investment in the Heavener Center, the resources it took to build this new facility. I think is going to help us in recruiting, it’s going to help us acquire players, it’s going to help our player experience, our efficiency as an organization,” Napier said Wednesday. “They were committed to our vision and our plan, right? I think we’re 20% bigger as an organization. We’ve modernized the approach. We have an incredible product. I mean, we have history, we have tradition, we have an elite degree. We have one of the best experiences for scholar athletes in the country. It’s been done before, and they’re passionate about doing it again, right.

“I think they understand maybe why there’s a struggle. I think they’re working hard to address those things. But I love a challenge, and this is a challenge. I think we can get caught up in all that or we can see an unbelievable opportunity, and that’s exactly what I see.”

Florida head coach Billy Napier speaks during an NCAA college football news conference at the Southeastern Conference Media Days, Wednesday, July 20, 2022, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore) (Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

Now seven and a half months into the job, Napier, who came from Louisiana, said he, his staff and the players have been learning their way together.

“I like this group. I think they’ve got a chip on their shoulder. They’re excited about the opportunity to earn some respect. Reality is in college football, 25 to 30%, every year you’re going to have attrition. You’re always a work in progress, whether it’s year one or it’s year 10,” he said. “I’ve been very pleased with the off-season, each phase. It’s the first time we’ve done it at a new place with a new group of people. We’re learning together.

“This group has embraced the work. I’m proud of our team. This team is not scared. They’re tough, they love to compete. When you put the ball down, they’re about it. I’m excited about training camp.”

Gators Breakdown host David Waters, in the latest episode, shares Napier’s thoughts on laying the foundation to bring the Gators back to prominence and what it takes to get there.

🎤 Richardson, Gouraige, Miller join Napier at SEC Media Days

One way for the Gators to get there in year one under Napier? Sophomore quarterback Anthony Richardson.

Richardson — who was selected to join Napier at SEC Media Days, along with redshirt junior offensive lineman Richard Gouraige and redshirt senior linebacker Ventrell Miller — opened up about his personal and team expectations for the 2022 season.

“We try not to look into it too much. We take everything one day at a time because we can’t predict the future. As long as we prepare for everything then I feel like everything will be smooth,” the Gainesville native said.

And Napier said he’s been impressed by Richardson.

“I think he’s remained humble. He’s got a little bit of an edge. I think he wants to prove himself. He’s still relatively an inexperienced player — played 221 plays or something like that, completed 33 passes. He has tremendous ability. He’s working hard to develop, improve as a person, as a leader. He’s working hard to increase his football IQ. His skill is developing. I think he’s prime to have a phenomenal year,” he said. “But we’ve got a lot of work to do, right? I told him I can still remember in the spring game, I could see he had some urgency about him. I told him, It’s important, this energy that you feel right now, you got to bring that and channel that energy between now and the next opportunity in the stadium.”

Florida quarterback Anthony Richardson speaks during NCAA college football Southeastern Conference Media Days, Wednesday, July 20, 2022, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore) (Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

Richardson also shared what Napier does that the players like.

“He trusts in himself, he trusts in his system, he trusts in the players and the staff. His confidence is unmatched. He is a people person, and that’s what I like about him. He puts people before himself, and I really respect that because I try to do the same thing. His confidence is the main thing that has rubbed off on all of us,” he said.

Miller, who’s from Lakeland, said the new coach has done a great job of emphasizing accountability.

“Also, teamwork and bringing the team together and building relationships,” Miller said. “That’s a big thing he has brought in.”

The players also revealed an interesting tidbit: Napier requires them to take a pen and paper to meetings to write down important information.

“He says writing it down allows you to take in the process and information,” said Gouraige, who’s from Tampa. “He always preaches to take things day-by-day to keep making each other better.”

🚫 ‘AR-15′ nickname no more

Before SEC Media Days, Richardson said in a statement Sunday that he will no longer use the nickname “AR-15″ because it shares similarities with the semiautomatic rifle often used in mass shootings.

The nickname comes from his initials and his jersey number, 15.

The 21-year-old quarterback, who is expected to become the starting quarterback for the team this fall, said he also plans to rebrand a clothing line that used his now-former nickname.

Click here to read the statement that Richardson tweeted out.

Richardson also discussed his decision at Media Days, saying he is “just trying to rebrand myself and become a better person.”

He said he was thinking about “what the future holds” when making the decision.

“I’m not going to be able to play football for the rest of my life,” Richardson said. “I feel it was pretty much a business decision. There’s a lot going on and that kind of played a part in it. Just trying to understand like who I am as a person.

“AR-15 doesn’t necessarily describe who I am. I’m Anthony Richardson and that’s who I’ve been since I was born.”

🙄 Kirby Smart complains about Jacksonville again

Georgia head coach Kirby Smart has been grumbling for years about the Florida-Georgia game being held in Jacksonville. He continued that during SEC Media Days when he renewed his calls for the annual rivalry game to be played on the universities’ campuses instead.

Smart’s argument for wanting to do away with one of the only neutral-site rivalry games in college football (the other prominent one amongst Power Five teams being the Red River Rivalry between Oklahoma and Texas at the State Fair of Texas): It’s a recruiting disadvantage.

“For me, I’m competing against guys all across the SEC who host kids at their biggest game,” said Smart, who’s entering his seventh season leading the Bulldogs. “When Auburn plays Alabama, guess where the recruits are? They’re at Auburn. When LSU and Alabama play, guess where the biggest recruits want to go? It’s an opportunity for us to bring these kids who fly in from all over the country. What game do they want to see? They’d like to see Georgia play Florida, but they can’t do that.”

Georgia head coach Kirby Smart speaks during NCAA college football Southeastern Conference Media Days, Wednesday, July 20, 2022, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore) (Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

But Georgia hasn’t been hurting in the recruiting arena. Since Smart returned to his alma mater in 2016, Georgia has produced top-five recruiting classes every year except his first (which was still a top-10 class).

Napier, who spoke at the podium at SEC Media Days in Atlanta after Smart, was asked for his thoughts on whether the game should be moved but said he can’t weigh in on that quite yet.

“I want to experience the game first, right? I’d like to see that game in Jacksonville, experience that game before I have an opinion on that. There’s a lot of credibility to both, right? The home-and-home obviously would be fantastic. But there’s also some tradition there. There’s a rivalry there,” Napier said. “Time will tell. I agree, that’s above my pay grade. But I’m looking forward to the opportunity to participate in the game.”

You can read what Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry and legendary former Gators quarterback and SEC Network analyst Tim Tebow have to say about a potential location move here.

💰 Big money for top Dawg

And speaking of Kirby, the national championship-winning coach has agreed to a contract extension through the 2031 season, a 10-year agreement worth more than $110 million.

The deal was announced Thursday but had been expected for weeks.

MORE DETAILS: Smart gets 10-year extension, raise to $10.25M

Smart will be paid $10.25 million this season in base salary and supplemental compensation. He will receive raises each season, leading to total compensation of $12.25 million in 2031.

Smart joins Alabama’s Nick Saban, Ohio State’s Ryan Day, LSU’s Brian Kelly, Michigan State’s Mel Tucker and Texas A&M’s Jimbo Fisher as college football coaches who will make at least $9 million in 2022.

💪 Sankey says SEC ‘stronger now than at any other time’

SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey proclaimed Monday the league “is stronger now than at any other time in our history.”

But the conference can’t rest on its success, which includes the last three national championships in football, Sankey said in his address that opened SEC Media Days. He spoke of the changes to come with conference realignments, leaving open the possibility of further expansion after Texas and Oklahoma join the SEC in 2025 to make it a 16-team conference, as well as what might be next for the College Football Playoff.

FULL STORY: SEC won’t panic over conference expansion race, Sankey says

Southeastern Conference commissioner Greg Sankey speaks during SEC Media Days, Monday, July 18, 2022, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore) (Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

The Big Ten recently countered the SEC’s move by voting to add Southern California and UCLA as conference members beginning in 2024, positioning both the SEC and Big Ten as super conferences.

Sankey said the league feels no pressure to add to its 16: “We know who we are. We’re confident in our success. ... Don’t feel pressured to just operate at a number. But we’ll watch what happens around us and be thoughtful but be nimble.”

In this Gators Breakdown episode, David shares Sankey’s thoughts on the SEC’s strength, expansion and scheduling.

🏆 It’s award watch list season

While we still have a few more weeks until college football season, it’s now award watch list season.

Richardson was named to the Maxwell Award Watch List, the Maxwell Football Club announced Monday.

The Maxwell Award has been presented to the college player of the year since 1937, and Florida has had three award winners: Tim Tebow, who won back-to-back years (2008 and 2009), and Danny Wuerffel in 1996.

The award is named in honor of Robert “Tiny” Maxwell, a former standout at Swarthmore College and a renowned sports writer and football official.

Last season, Richardson appeared in eight games and totaled 930 total yards of offense with 401 on the ground and 529 in the air. He was selected to the All-SEC Freshman Team becoming the Gators’ first quarterback since 2014 behind two 150-plus yard passing and 115-plus rushing performances. Richardson has accounted for three touchdown scores of 70-plus yards and is one of three FBS quarterbacks since 1996 to record an 80-plus yard rush and 75-plus yard pass in the same game.

And on Wednesday, redshirt sophomore running back Nay’Quan Wright was announced as a candidate for the 2022 Doak Walker Award, which is presented annually to the nation’s top college running back.

The award is named for Southern Methodist’s three-time All-American running back Doak Walker. It is the only major collegiate award that requires all candidates to be in good academic standing and on schedule to graduate within one year of other students of the same classification.

Wright, who’s from Miami Gardens, saw action in 12 games last season and rushed for 326 yards with a touchdown. He caught 14 passes for a total of 178 yards, including a career-long of 51 yards against Vanderbilt. A three-time member of the SEC Academic Honor Roll, he averaged 27.2 yards on the ground per game and 14.8 yards per reception in the 2021 season.

✌️ Preview magazines: Part 2

Gators Breakdown continues to dive into Athlon and Lindy’s college football preview magazines.

While the publications think Florida will be improved from last season, they still see a team lacking top talent.

David is joined by Will Miles in this podcast episode to break down low unit rankings and minimal All-American and All-SEC picks for the Gators.

Local Gator Hunter Barco selected in 2nd round of MLB draft

Bolles graduate and Gators left-handed pitcher Hunter Barco got the pro baseball call on Sunday night.

Barco was the 44th overall pick by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the second round of the Major League Baseball draft.

Barco was the consensus top local player entering the draft, pegged as a prospect to land somewhere between 61 and 90. The call came earlier than that for the Florida junior.

READ MORE: Barco picked by Pirates in MLB draft

Florida starting pitcher Hunter Barco (12) throws a pitch during an NCAA baseball game against Liberty on Friday, Feb. 18, 2022 in Gainesville, Fla. (AP Photo/Gary McCullough) (Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

Barco was pitching as well as he has in Gainesville this year, posting a 1.41 ERA and 52 Ks in 38.1 innings pitched before injuring his ulnar collateral ligament. Barco underwent Tommy John surgery after that, an injury that is likely to keep him in recovery for the remainder of the year.

Barco was a 24th-round draft pick of the Mets in 2019 but opted to attend Florida instead.

Barco was the second Florida player drafted Sunday. Outfielder Sterlin Thompson was the 31st overall pick by the Colorado Rockies, and outfielder Jud Fabian went at No. 67 to the Baltimore Orioles. On Monday, right-handed pitcher Brandon Sproat was drafted by the New York Mets with the 90th overall pick in the third round.

🙏 Prayers for Patric Young

I know Gator Nation will join me in sending thoughts and prayers to former Gators men’s basketball forward Patric Young, who I’m proud to say I’ve known since middle school and studied together at Florida.

I just recently found out that the former Providence star was in a serious car crash last month in Nebraska and suffered serious injuries.

Patric Young of the Florida Gators looks on as the Gators practice ahead of the 2014 NCAA Men's Final Four at AT&T Stadium on April 4, 2014 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images) (2014 Getty Images)

Last week, Young, who now works as an analyst on SEC Network, posted a video giving an update on his recovery. In the video, Young is in a wheelchair with a brace on his back.

VIDEO: Young ‘in great spirits’ as he continues recovery from car accident

“Hey everybody, exactly two weeks since my accident, first milestone of many to come. In great spirits, thank you everybody so much for your thoughts and prayers. I’m about to ring this bell. Close one chapter. Can’t wait for the next one,” Young said. “Be headed up to Colorado really soon. So, everyone thank you again so much for the love and support it keeps me going and I hopefully I can continue to inspire you guys as I’m going.”

Young has since tweeted that he arrived in Denver.

✉️ Send us your Gators thoughts & questions

David and I want to hear from you. Do you have any thoughts or questions about the Gators football program? Agree or disagree with something we’ve said? Let us know here, and we’ll share our responses to your questions.

🎙️ Listen to more Gators Breakdown

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About the Author:

Jacksonville native and proud University of Florida graduate who joined News4JAX in 2016.