Former Florida Football Player Roundtable I

Former Player Feedback

by Inside the Gators Staff

Please Read: Welcome to the new-look Inside the Gators

With Florida’s 2023 season opener against No. 14 Utah just under a week away, Inside the Gators has turned to former Gators football players to get their take on the upcoming season and the state of Florida football.

We will publish the results as they are returned.

Today we have responses from players from four different decades of Florida Football in fullback Chris Bilkie (96-99), running back Ciatrick Fason (2009-12), offensive lineman Leon Hires (98-00), tight end Clifford Taylor (2019-20), and Corey Yarbrough (1995-99).

What is your take on what happened during the 6-7 2022 season?

Bilkie: “An inexperienced quarterback with a first-year staff and head coach. It was disappointing, but not a shock.”

Fason: “I think the 6-7 2022 season went that way because Coach [Billy] Napier had to try to implement his own system, which is normally a battle when guys have been under a different regime for two or three years, and with that, all the players didn’t buy in.”

Hires: The defense was bad. That put extra pressure on the offense to produce, and the quarterback looked like he was told not to run at times. This left them one-dimensional on offense, and they lost several games because of it.”

Taylor: “Just the traditional coach working with what he’s got combo. I didn’t expect an exceptional season in year one, but I saw the potential of the future as there were a lot of young guys getting in the thick of it so early in their careers.”

Yarbrough: “Last season was full of ups and downs. A new (very talented, minimal experience) quarterback and a lack of depth on the defensive line resulted in tough losses.”

To this point, what is your opinion of Billy Napier?

Bilkie: “He has earned my trust, faith, and patience with the way he is handling the program, its resources, and the attention to detail. We need to see him finish strong with the ’24 class and win some rivalry games this season.”

Fason: “I love what Coach Napier has going on with the moves he has made in the offseason and with the class he had come in during spring and the summer. So, I’m impressed and feel he will be a lot better in year two.”

Hires: “He’s a great recruiter, but not the greatest play caller. The one-dimensional offense is on him. He has to be better as a play-caller, especially when you have video game-type talent at quarterback who was drafted top five overall. Six wins ain’t going to cut it.”

Taylor: “I love him, from the couple times I’ve met him he seems like a players coach. I just pray we give him time because he’s built up quite the ’24 class. Let him develop them his way and see where it goes from there.”

Yarbrough: “I’m a big fan of Coach Napier. From a personal side, he goes out of his way to interact with former Gators. On the CEO side, he completely changed the culture for the players. That comes directly from current players, with in-depth answers I am not able to detail.”

Florida faces three opponents – #1 Georgia, #5 LSU, #8 FSU, #12 Tennessee, and #14 Utah – who are ranked inside the top 15 of the AP Preseason Poll. Which game do you believe they are most likely to win?

Bilkie: “#12 UT because of the Swamp advantage.”

Fason: “Of the five ranked opponents we play that are in the top 15 I think the most important one is the first one, the game against Utah, because that can set the tone for the season, especially if we can turn around and beat Tennessee.”

Hires: “We probably have the best chance to upset a rival like FSU or Tennessee. I would love to say Georgia or LSU, but to do that they would have to improve immensely on defense, and we’re very young.”

Taylor: “Utah, because of their quarterback drama right now. Tennessee because they seem to be allergic to the Swamp and we’re gonna be on one that night. FSU, because we had a chance last year and I just feel like our team hasn’t forgotten about that. Especially with the fans storming the field.”

Yarbrough: “I truly believe we have a chance to be in all these games. Because of our defensive line depth, young linebackers and secondary, I truly believe, will be much better. The SEC will chew up a defensive line with only only the three quality linemen we had last year, due to age and lack of development. This year’s unit will have five or six that can handle it. Plus, I believe this year the Swamp WILL provide a large advantage at home.”

What are your thoughts on where Florida currently stands at your former position?

Bilkie: “I don’t think they have anyone tough enough to be a fullback, so they just don’t have one.”

Fason: “The position that I played is the strongest on the team and one of the strongest in the country. Both Montrell Johnson and Trevor Etienne are amazing and big-time game-changers. I also love how they balance out one another. I also loved the young running back Treyaun Webb because he brings a toughness that we have been missing for quite some time.”

Hires: “I really like our offensive line. Austin Barber will be an NFL tackle. He impressed me all year. He anchors a line that lost good interior guys, so that’s where the new guys need to step up. Offensive linemen like running the ball, and we have a stable of horses ready to run.”

Taylor: “Oh the tight end room is deep. I’m excited to see this Arlis [Boardingham] kid. I’ve heard a lot of good things about him from camp.”

Yarbrough: Kingsley Eguakun and Austin Barber are studs, Knijeah Harris is built for SEC interior line play. I know we have two confirmed offensive line coaches, but Cheston Blackshear is the third who really knows his craft, which gives us three.”

Is there a player you believe is flying under the radar but will shine this year? Is there a player you believe needs to step up?

Bilkie: ET [Trevor Etienne] is poised to have a breakout year. The offensive line as a whole needs to step up. We need [Graham] Mertz to outplay the expectations.”

Fason: “The player at my position that I’m expecting more of is Etienne because I know he will get more touches than he got last year and every time he touches it he can easily take it to the house. The player that I want to see step up is Mertz, I want him to show people that he can win in the SEC, and win consistently. The one player I think is flying under the radar is wide receiver Marcus Burke He has been waiting for his time to come and I think he knows that the time is now.”

Hires: “The running backs are very talented. Treyaun Webb is very fast and will step up if Etienne or Johnson stumble or are injured. Mertz has to lead the team and play well. Otherwise, it’s possible we’ll have a losing season and miss a bowl game. Ouch.”

Taylor: “Graham Mertz. I believe he has a lot to prove and he’ll exceed the low expectations some have for him.”

What is your prediction on Florida’s final 12-game regular season record?

Bilkie: 9-3. Go Gators!”

Fason: “I would love to say we’ll go undefeated, but I haven’t seen all of the players that we got from the portal or from this last signing class. However, because nobody is talking about us, I think we are gonna surprise the nation and at worst I think we will go 9-3 this season.”

Hires: “8-4 with a few upsets vs. rivals (fingers crossed).”

Taylor: “I’ll throw a parade if we get to 8-4.”

Yarbrough: 8-4, solid. Potential 10-11 wins with defensive development, infusion of young talent, and solid quarterback play. Our roster is a lot better than the pundits give us credit for in year two of Napier.”

Go to discussion...

Related Articles


  1. Those are some good Gators! Pleasure to read that.

    It's on the optimistic side but why not. I agree we will out perform expectations but that isn't saying much. I hope we shock the world. It's possible if Mertz figures it out like all of these gentlemen mentioned.

Leave a comment

Please log in to your forum account to comment

Community platform by XenForo® © 2010-2022 XenForo Ltd. Style and add-ons by ThemeHouse