There is always a lot of anticipation for the start of training camp at any level — high school, college or pro. But when there is a new coaching staff, the anticipation is heightened. We’ve seen it with the Jaguars, and on Tuesday, the Gators players reported to the first Billy Napier-led training camp.
With Anthony Richardson back as the unquestioned starter, there will be a lot of eyes on the Swamp to see how the Gators look in Napier’s first year.
“Anthony is focused on the work, and there’s certainly a lot of work to do,” Napier said. “Improving as a leader, growing and maturing as a person, very much a young person. Increasing his football intelligence, developing his skill. There’s just so much more out there for the young man.”
Richardson has been listed as a potential first-round pick in next year’s NFL draft despite the fact that he has only one college start under his belt. His performance in the spring game certainly helped his draft stock, but it will be how he handles the pressure of being the starter in the Southeastern Conference that will determine his future.
“I think when your standards and expectations are much higher than anyone on the outside could have for you, I think that gives you an opportunity,” Napier said. “I think Anthony is very aware. That’s one of the things I really like about him. I think he has good awareness, good self-awareness that he is an inexperienced player, that he has potential, but also, that he can improve. There’s lots to learn.”
Because it is the first camp under Napier, it’s a tone-setter. Napier made no bones about it. The Gators are going to work hard and create a team identity over the next month as they prepare to open the season on Sept. 3 against Utah.
“It’s a critical time of the year. We want to work really hard, but we’re going to work smart,” Napier said. “How we execute the plan is the most important part. Everybody is going through training camp. It’s going to be our diligence when it comes to the discipline and the detail, taking feedback.”
Since Napier took the job in Gainesville, he has hit the ground running in recruiting, gaining eight commitments from four-star prospects in the past month, including commitments from three players in the Jacksonville area: Nease quarterback Marcus Stokes, Bartram Trail defensive back Sharif Denson and Trinity Christian running back Treyaun Webb.
Those players won’t be at camp until next year, but they’ll be keeping a close eye on how their future teammates do this season.
“Back when Florida was popping, they had Jacksonville kids on the roster,” Webb said. “We’re trying to build that back again.”