Billy Napier talks South Carolina, the downfield passing game, and more

by | Oct 11, 2023 | 0 comments

Florida head coach Billy Napier met with the media one last time ahead of the matchup with South Carolina. Napier discusses the Gamecocks, the downfield passing attack, the return of Trevor Etienne and more.


Opening statement:

“Alright, so we’ve been talking a lot about gratitude with the players. I think sometimes when we go about life, we keep those things to ourselves and I talked with the players about how silent gratitude does no good for anyone involved. Being intentional about telling people that you appreciate what they do, talking about the things that you’re thankful for, certainly we got a lot to be thankful for and we’ve got to continue to do what’s right. We’ve got to continue to make good choices and decisions and continue to execute our process better and work harder on who we are as people, remember our purpose, continue to improve as students.

Certainly, football goes along with that. We’ve had a good week. Whether or not that means we’re going to play better, I don’t know. But I can say that I appreciate the attitude and the energy and effort of all involved, players and staff. I do think that when you’re in a leadership position, part of the deal is you got to keep a close watch on those that have been entrusted to you. What are their needs? What are their problems? You have to help come up with solutions. We should be modeling leadership, we should be mentoring the players, we should be empowering the players on the team with their voice and equipped the young people for the future because this game can teach you a lot. Good day overall. Really excited about the opportunity Saturday to take a step forward here.”

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South Carolina special teams and the threat of fakes:

Billy Napier: “Pete Lembo is outstanding at what he does. I do think they invest time in that area and certainly their head coach has a history there. They’re very good at what they do. I think all six parts of the kicking game, they use their good players, I think they’ve got a good, sound scheme and there’s no doubt that you’ve got to be fake-conscious and obviously they’ve got some things that are unique that you have to prepare for but much like every week, you’re trying to win that phase. You want to come away with a win in the hidden yardage battle and you want to avoid any game-changing plays and you’re trying to create one. Certainly when you talk about how you defeat South Carolina, that’s part of the equation. I think that’s a relevant question.”

South Carolina WR Xavier Legette:

Billy Napier: “I think the size-speed combination, right? The guy’s a big, physical player who can get behind you and then win in close contact with a guy. He has a lot of play strength. This is a big man that presents a matchup issue if you have a guy who doesn’t have a lot of play strength or balance. I think he’s really developed and improved as a receiver. He’s always been a really good special teams player at retuner and I think he’s taking the next step as a receiver. I have a ton of respect for how he plays. He’s tough, he’s physical and he’s tough to tackle. He’ll be a National Football League player for sure.”

Spencer Rattler

Billy Napier: “Yeah, I think just overall, think about how he started his career at South Carolina, the things he went through at Oklahoma. The year I was at Arizona State he was out there. You know, so I saw him, went to his high school, been around him. He’s grown and matured. You can see the level of confidence that he’s gotten from experience, he’s had a lot of success.

This is his second coordinator at South Carolina, so if you think about it it’s his third coordinator. So, there’s some experience here. I think he’s got a pretty good idea big picture-wise, what’s going on. Man, I thought the back half of the season last year he was outstanding, and he’s kept that momentum. Really, he’s distributing the ball for them. That’s ultimately, you know, he’s the center of what they do. Whether it’s the RPO game or the run game, or it’s just all the pass concepts that you see.”

Impact of the transfer portal

Billy Napier: “Yeah, just the world we’re living in. And thank the good lord for it. We certainly have benefitted from it. As many headaches as there’s been that come with it, I’m certainly happy for the players we’ve been able to add to our team. But I think it’s going to continue to be that way, especially at quarterback. Because you’ve just got one starter and as time goes, there’s just movement, because everybody wants to prove that they’re the guy and that they can play. You know, there’s some positive experiences that come from that. All those guys that you mentioned there, they’ve recreated themselves to some degree.”

Graham Mertz and the downfield passing game

Billy Napier: “No, I think if you really look at it with the close eye, you know, a number of our completions, there are vertical options on the play and they just have been covered. But, you know, we haven’t necessarily hit the deep ball much this year. You know, I think we’ve caught them. You know, and I think, what, he’s 80% or something like that. It’s just been — and look, I do think all things contribute here. The continuity on the offensive line. You know, I think there’s a number of factors here relative to how the season has went so far. But it helps, there’s no doubt. And look, that’s who we are. I mean, watch us play last year. I mean, we did it last year, you know, and I think ultimately, hopefully going forward, we’ll be able to take advantage of some of that.”

The importance of not making a big deal out of external factors

Yeah, I think the way I would say — when I say not to make a big deal out of it I mean ultimately it’s not under our control. That doesn’t mean that you don’t have to take it into consideration and adapt from a mental perspective.

I still remember — I grew up in the Tiger Woods era. Grew up when Tiger Woods was absolutely dominating golf, and professional golf, and I was addicted to golf, man. I can remember Tiger Woods saying, hey, I hope it’s windy. Hey, Ihope it’s raining. To me, that’s an advantage because I think I’m more mentally tough. I have better intangibles than the rest of the field. Ultimately, it’s part of the messaging, the mentality, the approach you want to try to create with the players. But there’s always things that are factoring in terms of strategy and game management and making sure you’re doing your best for the players from a planning standpoint.”

Going on the road

Billy Napier: “I think so, yeah. I think so, and look, every player will tell you it’s a different mentality when you go on the road. And, look, I’ve always been … I love it. I’ve always been like to me it’s the ultimate challenge as a competitor is to go in. So, yeah, we’ve had our struggles. It’s goes back ultimately, the quality of the football hasn’t been very good in those two occurrences this year. We have to play better football. A number of things contribute to that, though.”

Having to re-recruit the players with the transfer portal

Billy Napier: “I’m to a point now where we’re in our second year here. We’ve completely rebuilt the player experience here. If they don’t want to, they don’t want to be here. I can’t imagine I much better place to go to play college football after being here a couple of years. I would put our player experience up against anybody in the country, relative to the whole package. It’s taken time to get there. But I believe in what we have to offer the student-athlete – the alumni network, the player development program that we have in place with GatorMade, connecting the dots, really having a holistic plan for who we are as people, students and football players.

The level of detail we offer from a resource standpoint, strength and conditioning, sports science, nutrition, training room, football development, facilities, NIL, location – I don’t know about y’all but the last couple of days it’s been pretty nice out there. It’s October in Gainesville and it’s pretty tough to beat. If they don’t want to be here, they don’t want to be here. We have the opportunity to sign in the country both in high school and the best players available in the portal. I don’t think that’ll be a problem going forward. Will we have attrition? Absolutely. They’ll be some attrition. But I think that’s just reality. Some of it’s healthy. When you think about it, if a guy’s on the fence he doesn’t need to be here. Right now, I can tell you this group of players, they’re in. They’ll be some attrition when we get to the winter. In the meantime, I think we have a pretty good product to offer.”

Trevor Etienne back this week

“He’s had a great week. He’s full speed. We kept him non-contact, but we made an effort to work on ball security so he got some exposure. He’s ready to go.”

Hayden Hansen getting more time

Billy Napier: “Hayden’s been outstanding. He’s really grown a lot. I thought he had a good offseason. Another guy who didn’t have a history at tight end, played quarterback in his senior year. He has traits. He’s 6-6, he’s 270 pounds, he’s smart, he’s long. He’s an adequate receiver, but man he’s a good person. He works extremely hard. It’s important for him to do his job. He’s a good teammate. And look tight end is one of those positions you’re playing off the ball a lot. He’s done a great job. He continues to improve. There’s a ton to learn in that room. There’s a set of fundamentals. He and Arlis are very similar in that regard from a development standpoint.”

Two redshirt freshmen contributing at tight end

Billy Napier: “Let’s don’t jump the gun here. Those guys are freshmen and they have minimal experience, they’re getting play and need to work to get better and will keep getting better. They need to improve. They need to keep working.”

Jaydon Hill at STAR

Billy Napier: “Yeah, when you think about making that move, a little bit of selflessness there, big-picture-wise. I do think Jayden probably could play any of the five positions. He could go back to playing corner. He could play either safety position. He’s smart. Jayden’s had a heck of a journey, man, in terms of the injury, overcoming a second injury. So he is a guy who has a focus. He appreciates the opportunity to practice, play, compete and being healthy. He’s a good teammate, man. He’s got character. Mom and dad are phenomenal people. And I think he’s a reflection that you’ve been through the hard times and he knows this is a precious opportunity I have and he’s made the most of it. So Jayden Hill, he’s a big, fast, physical player, and he’s smart. He’s done well for our team.”

On Kingsley Eguakun being injured

Billy Napier: “Kingsley, man, this is the hard thing about injuries man. It’s one of the tougher things that you experience as a player or coach, especially in the back end of your career. Kingsley played his butt off at Tennessee and he had a setback and then they played at Kentucky. Was he himself? Maybe not. I think we have a very specific plan to try to get him back to 100% so that when he has an opportunity the next time he can go play really good football. But Kingsley has always had a presence here from the first day I got here. He’s vocal. He’s an alpha. He’s gotten an edge to him that I love and he’s done a great job being around,  staying engaged, in meetings, on the field. He’s in return to play protocol and he’s making progress every day.”

The importance of getting to the bye week

Billy Napier: “It’s a big factor for all of our players that are banged up. It comes at a good time for us. SEC did the Gators right there from a history standpoint when they gave us that open date. I think it’s kind of a midpoint. It’s beneficial for a lot of reasons but certainly for guys like Kingsley it can be extra beneficial.”

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