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National Signing Day 2022 open thread: Billy Napier looks to close first Florida class

Florida’s coach has already steered his transition class away from disaster. Can he put his program on the fast track to success?

Alabama v Florida Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images

The thing about National Signing Day for the Florida Gators in 2022 is that theirs really is a National Signing Day not unlike the ones that transpired prior to the implementation of the Early Signing Period in recent years.

Billy Napier’s program — and Gator Nation — will be waiting to hear from some of its most-wanted recruits on Wednesday, with top-flight prospects Harold Perkins and Jacoby Mathews among the players who could still pluck a Florida hat off a table, whether literally or figuratively, and don it to signify their commitment. And as the Gators needed a Tuesday commitment from Jacksonville edge rusher Jack Pyburn (more about this later) to get to just 16 total commitments from high school prospects in the 2022 cycle, there is still more work to be done in any case.

Perkins, a top-10 overall prospect from Texas and the leading linebacker prospect in this year’s class, and Mathews, a high four-star safety from Louisiana, are really the only names that would both raise eyebrows and write headlines by picking the Gators today, with a potential luring of TreVonte’ Citizen to Florida over home-state LSU rating as a bronze medal. And with Perkins having primarily trended away from Texas A&M and not to any particular school since a January commitment while Mathews is perceived as likely to choose between A&M and LSU, Florida landing just Citizen of that big three — which the 247Sports Crystal Ball currently does predict — would seem the most likely scenario.

But Florida has a number of other recruits, mostly receiving targets — Arlis Boardingham, Caleb Douglas, and the speedy but diminutive K.D. Hutchinson, whom I have to be in favor of bringing to Gainesville based on surname alone — on its board, and could fill some holes on its roster even if Perkins and Mathews pick other programs.

The fireworks should get started in moments, too — though the first bang might be long-time commit Jalen Farmer flipping his pledge during a commitment ceremony scheduled for 9 a.m. Eastern.

Get ready. Today will be a ride.

10:40 a.m.: The early hours of the day have brought a somewhat surprising stick and a relatively unsurprising miss.

The first was in the form of Jalen Farmer, who opted to sign with Florida despite late interest from a slew of other SEC schools. Farmer touting an Alabama offer last week and having a scheduled commitment on Wednesday morning certainly seemed to signal a possibility that he would ultimately end up signing with a team other than Florida, but the Gators were seemingly able to keep him in the fold. I think that’s a good thing: He looks like a mauler in his highlights.

The latter was the somewhat expected signing of Caden Story with Clemson, which nabbed a commitment from the Alabama defensive lineman despite plenty of interest from Florida. The Gators had been working to secure Story against Clemson and Auburn, and Clemson’s defensive line production in recent years is a formidable thing to go up against, so any loss in this regard is no great shock — but any miss in the trenches has the potential to linger as a nettlesome one in years to come.

12:30 p.m.: The shock of the day so far comes from TreVonte’ Citizen, who is in fact leaving the Pelican State for college, and heading to Florida — but to Miami, not Florida.

Of the six Crystal Ball predictions for Citizen, five — all from this week — were for Florida, and a sixth was for LSU. So the four-star back picking Miami is genuinely surprising.

Florida will probably be fine at running back even without him, given returning and incoming talent, but it rarely hurts to have more options at one of the most fungible positions in football, and reeling in a Louisiana native would have been a prestigious feat for running backs coach Jabbar Juluke and Florida’s staff. Instead, to Miami go those spoils.

6:15 p.m.: So this was a dud of a National Signing Day for Florida.

TreVonte’ Citizen? Headed to Miami. Harold Perkins? Bound for LSU. Jacoby Mathews? Signing late enough that Billy Napier’s NSD press conference was over just under three hours before his decision was set to come.

And make no mistake, these are misses that will hurt Florida going forward. Perkins would have been a phenomenal addition to this class and would have pushed the Gators into today’s headlines by himself. Mathews paired with Kamari Wilson would have been one hell of a safety tandem for a single recruiting cycle. Citizen would have given a deep but mostly unproven backfield another option.

They are also misses that probably mean this recruiting class will go down as Florida’s worst on paper as of National Signing Day ever. The Gators rank No. 19 in the 247Sports Composite rankings for the 2022 cycle; Jim McElwain and Dan Mullen reeled in transition classes that ranked No. 21 and No. 14 in 2015 and 2018, respectively.

But McElwain’s class had two five-star prospects ranked in the national top 10 (Martez Ivey and CeCe Jefferson) to this class’s zero (Wilson, the highest-rated prospect in it, sits at No. 43 nationally) and was led by a trio of talented commits on offense (Jordan Scarlett, Antonio Callaway, and Jordan Cronkrite); this class does not have an analogue to that threesome.

So we, as fans, will console ourselves with truths (there are more was than just recruiting high school players to build a program, and far more than there were in 2015; Napier seems very well aware that he’s taking on a rebuild rather than restocking at a few key spots) and half-truths (Florida could still beat some of the foes that it has lost to of late in the near future even if it took more losses to those foes on the recruiting trail, because anything can happen) until the games begin again in earnest.

But the dirty little secret of all of this is that we would’ve told other truths and half-truths with a better class. It’s still talking season, and the all-consuming discourse abhors a vacuum as much now as it ever has.

The only things that the wins and losses and rankings change, these days, is the volume.