TALLAHASSEE — His eyes advised the story earlier than he even mentioned a phrase. They by no means cried however intermittently welled with tears, prompting him to often pause his dialogue to gather himself.
With a voice that cracked and an overt absence of his in any other case even-keeled character, Florida head coach Billy Napier was visibly overcome with emotion within the quick aftermath of his staff’s 45-38 loss to No. 16 Florida State on Friday evening in Tallahassee.
“Humbling to be standing on that sideline,” Napier mentioned as he slammed his fist down on the desk in entrance of him, “and pleased with the way in which these children competed within the recreation.”
To make sure, Florida’s regular-season finale loss wasn’t with out crucial shortcomings. Napier mentioned as a lot.
The Gators (6-6; 3-5) didn’t comprise Florida State quarterback Jordan Travis, who ran for 83 yards and two touchdowns, each of which got here on miraculous scrambles that noticed him evade what ought to have simply been a sack for a big lack of yards.
And whereas Florida was in a position to restrict Travis to simply 13 completions on 30 makes an attempt, the Seminoles had been potent once they related via the air, gaining 270 yards and scoring as soon as with none interceptions.
Offensively, an especially efficient first half during which the Gators scored 24 factors and led their rival by three fully dissipated after the intermission. Sophomore quarterback Anthony Richardson, who threw for 151 yards and three scores within the first half-hour of motion, accomplished simply 4-of-17 passes within the second half for 47 yards.
Florida didn’t full a single cross within the third quarter.
“The soccer wasn’t ok tonight,” Napier mentioned. “There was numerous good ball on the market however there have been issues we may do higher.”
After taking accountability for his staff’s shortcomings and vowing to repair them, Napier mentioned he was significantly pleased with his gamers regardless of the disappointing end result.
The 43-year-old coach has reiterated all through the season that Florida’s locker room tradition was in want of huge enchancment, one thing he felt as if he was in a position to accomplish this season.
Napier mentioned the proof was his staff’s resiliency on Friday evening, which was the rationale for his emotion.
“I feel the factor I’m most pleased with is how exhausting the gamers performed within the recreation,” he mentioned. “They put it on the road, I feel, throughout the board. It wasn’t at all times fairly however you’re speaking a couple of group that — I’m on the sideline. I watched it with two eyes. They performed the sport of soccer the precise method. I’ve obtained nothing however respect and admiration for our gamers. The trouble and physicality, the psychological toughness, it is a group that’s made a ton of progress as individuals relative to creating up a staff, having a staff, having a bunch that cares for one another.”
The modifications behind the scenes have many Florida gamers feeling inspired in regards to the course of this system below Napier’s instruction even when they “did not win as many video games” as they or their followers had hoped they’d.
In response to senior linebacker Amari Burney, who performed at Florida for everything of Mullen’s tenure, the Gators’ new teaching employees already has the staff in a greater place than it had been in recent times.
“I inform coach Napier and coach [Patrick Toney], ‘I want I had y’all for 4 years, I’m not even going to mislead you,’” he mentioned. “I inform (freshman linebacker) Shemar (James) day by day you’re within the biggest palms you possibly can be in on the College of Florida proper now. These coaches deliver a lot, not even simply within the recreation of soccer however simply in life normally.”
Sixth-year senior linebacker Ventrell Miller, who performed for his third head coach since becoming a member of the Gators, provided an analogous sentiment to Burney.
“Like coach Nape mentioned, I do know we did not win as a lot video games this 12 months, however this needed to be one in all my favourite years since I’ve been right here,” he mentioned. “Simply the brotherhood we simply constructed all through the time. Like I mentioned, that’s one thing coach Napier simply emphasised, you’ll be able to simply see how the brotherhood has grown all year long and it has been a good time.”
In response to Richardson, Florida’s improved togetherness ought to allow it to win extra video games transferring ahead. He mentioned the camaraderie permits the Gators to stay centered when dealing with a deficit and prevents them from getting forward of themselves when main.
“We positively improved so much,” Richardson mentioned. “We turned so much nearer. We’re a household now. Starting of the 12 months it wasn’t a lot that. It was very two-sided, however this employees got here in and didn’t fairly good for us and introduced us nearer collectively. Simply seeing individuals within the locker room, taking to one another, loving on one another positively means so much to us.”
Napier could have one other important alternative to mould the staff’s tradition whereas additionally making an affect on its on-field product.
The primary-year coach hasn’t shied away from the truth that his staff will look markedly totally different in his second 12 months on the helm as important roster modifications are afoot.
Eight Florida scholarship gamers have already both introduced their choice to depart the staff or have been dismissed from this system, a complete that’s anticipated to develop quickly in over the subsequent a number of weeks.
Napier’s eighth-ranked 2023 recruiting class and the transfers he and his employees will attempt to land will fill the vacancies, permitting this system’s personnel to extra intently resemble its coach’s wishes.
“Coach Nape talked about that just about all 12 months: this staff won’t ever be the identical whether or not it’s as a result of accidents, transfers or something,” Richardson mentioned. “We already knew this staff wasn’t going to be the identical. We knew it wasn’t going to be the identical staff subsequent 12 months. That’s simply one thing we’ve been fascinated by all 12 months, it type of hurts to finish the common season this fashion.”
With Florida’s tradition in a powerful place, Napier mentioned now could be the time for his staff to give attention to persevering with to enhance on the sector, a course of that he anticipates will likely be aided by the aforementioned roster modifications.
A loss at Florida State has Napier feeling significantly motivated.
“We’re going to get higher,” he mentioned emphatically with tears nonetheless in his eyes. “We’re going to enhance. We’re going to make use of that have.”