Parental Perspective: Florida Football Commits Parental RoundTable

by Inside the Gators Staff
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Inside the Gators spoke with linebacker commit Myles Graham‘s mother Alicia Graham, defensive line commit Kendall Jackson‘s mother Keri Jackson, and offensive lineman Fletcher Westphal’s mother Libby Westphal to get a feel for the recruiting process, their interaction with the Florida staff and much more.

Here are their responses:

Just in general, what was the recruiting process like for your son and family?

Graham: “It was great, and it was a little high-pressure. He had several offers and a few Power 5s that had made him offers pretty early on. Starting his sophomore year, and at the end of his freshmen year, it became a little long, but it was also exciting and a little stressful. We wanted him to be diligent in his decision-making and ensure he did his due diligence in looking at the schools he was considering. It was a lot of pressure there for a while, to say the least, but we thoroughly enjoyed it.”

Jackson: “Top Tier. Coach [Billy] Napier, Coach [Mike] Peterson, and the entire staff consistently ensure us that Kendall is a priority. I applaud them for never slacking during Kendall’s recruiting despite him being a “local kid.” Every visit was always a pleasure and executed with excellence. We thoroughly enjoyed the process.”

Wesphal: “It was something we didn’t expect. Once he got his first offer from Penn State, he was off and sprinting on the recruiting trail. At first, a lot of people asked “What are you looking for?” and that’s not an easy question to answer. Most teams have the “shiny” things (new weight rooms, remodeled lockers, nutrition kiosks, exceptional player lounges, etc.). So, the focus became, what don’t we like? As parents, our goal was to support him and get him exposure to the colleges (44 of them) so he could compare and contrast the coaches, facilities, and teams – all while keeping his grades up and being a good teammate at Tuscarora. Watching Saturday football is different today because we’ve met the coaches on the sidelines and been in the stadiums. We were happy to share the once-in-a-lifetime experience with him.”

Is there an interesting or funny recruiting story to share? Something the fanbase doesn’t know about.

Graham: “Well, you know Florida was his 28th offer, but they were going through some transitions, so of course, momma is like, what is happening? His dad, of course, said, ‘Honey, be patient. They have their transition between coaching staff; they have different styles.’ He is more level-headed. I know how much Myles wanted to receive an offer from Florida, his dream school. When he did receive an offer, we were on the practice field after spring practice on a visit, and it was so funny. We were standing there with him, and after he left, talking to Coach Napier, he kept a straight face the whole time. As he went to hug me, he let out this yelp. It was really funny, like this high-pitched yelp. His sister and I thought he was about to start crying, so I grabbed him. He was just overjoyed when he received that offer and was filled with emotion. It was a special funny moment because the sound he let out was hilarious.”

Jackson: “The first time we had a chance to meet/sit down with Coach [Austin] Armstrong, he expressed how he loved the Gators since childhood and proceeded to mention being in elementary school and watching players like Rex Grossman. I went to college with Rex Grossman, and immediately felt my age.

Wesphal: “I know it’s no longer allowed for recruits due to recent NCAA rule changes, but the uniform photo shoots got crazier and crazier with each visit. From fake snow in Georgia to classic muscle cars in Oregon – all to create an experience for the recruits.”

We are in a day and age where NIL is a prominent component of college football. How much of a factor was that during the recruiting process and how much did coaches recruiting your son speak on it?

Graham: “The coaches were pretty thorough when speaking on it because it is such a large factor today. For us, it was more about how this program would help develop our son as a young man and help him become a man. With the potential of the type of man he can become. First, it was the school environment and whether he could thrive and see himself within that population. Then how were these men who were going to be so influential to him day in and day out going to develop our son? His work ethic, coming into his own, and the NIL opportunities factored in after those two important parts of his development.”

Jackson: “NIL wasn’t on the decision matrix for us. And while I am definitely in support of NIL, It was important to our family and Kendall that the main thing always remained the main thing. Great education, development, and relationships were all key considerations for his commitment. His goal is to be an NFL Hall of Famer and a Football Coach. We believe the program and staff at The University of Florida can help Kendall meet his goals. I can’t say any staff recruiting Kendall ever led with NIL. They took time to get to know us and always led with what they learned to be of value to our family.”

Wesphal: “Early on coaches would say ‘keep the thing the thing’ during this process.  We took that to heart. Our goal was to find the right educational institution, team, and culture that matched Fletcher the best. We used a spreadsheet with 17 categories and graded the schools – keeping the thing the thing.  Fletcher weighted the items based on what was most important to him and NIL was definitely not at the top.”

Florida Football Parental RoundTables

Since his commitment, what has your son’s and your family’s interaction been like with the Florida staff from the head coach down to staff members?

Graham: “It has been great. Coach Jay Bateman is a great guy; we have gotten to know him well as Myles’s position coach. We have gotten to know the staff as a whole and have seen them evolve. We have been able to attend many games, especially with us moving back to Gainesville. It has been great to get to know the staff from the top down, to even the recruitment staff. The ladies who welcome us on Saturdays when there are home games, and it has been great to see how the program is developing, and it is starting to mesh together.”

Jackson: “We interact on a weekly basis. Many times multiple times a week. There hasn’t been a fall off in communication at all.”

Wesphal: “We are in constant contact with Coaches Napier, [Rob] Sale and [Darnell] Stapleton texting back and forth every couple of days.  Coach Stapleton spent the day with Fletcher and his HS coaches two weeks ago and was able to see Fletcher play in person.”

Speaking of interactions, what has your experience been like dealing with the Gator Nation either in person at games or online? Not only as far as your son goes, but the overall impression of how Florida fans are toward the team as well.

Graham: “I have had the pleasure of dealing with Gator Nation for a while now, from dating Earnest in college to experiencing games after his pro career to now recruiting with our son. It’s awesome; they go hard for their guys and support them. Energy is great at the games, and the crowd is electric, especially the Tennessee game. It’s great how they support each other, and once you’re a Gator, you’re a Gator for life.”

Jackson: “(Laughing). Well the Gator Nation as a whole has been extremely supportive and welcoming. Being an alumnus and having had many of my immediate family members graduate from the University of Florida, we’re no strangers to the fan base at all. I absolutely love the passion our fan base exudes HOWEVER, I’m not a fan of bashing our program, especially our players. These young men need our support and I salute the fans who wholeheartedly stand behind them in all kinds of weather.”

Wesphal: “Our interactions with Gator Nation have been very positive.  We feel the love, for sure. The fans are diehard, have high expectations of the Gators, and can be brutal with their criticism. I suspect it’s the same for all college football team fan bases though.

What is your impression of Billy Napier, your son’s position coach, and the UF staff in general?

Graham: “Coach Napier is a guy who manages well; he seems to be a bit more introverted than some of his other staff, but you can tell that’s because he is always thinking about the game and putting the pieces together well. His personality is more laid back, but he can get in there and after it when needed. That’s the personality that will complement the team and complement Myles with his position coach as well.”

Jackson: “Coach Napier is a class act. Kendall had over 22 D1 offers and Coach Napier was one of the few Head Coaches that thoroughly evaluated him both in person and on film. I’m big on attacking opportunities strategically and I love his strategic approach to getting the Gator Program back to the level we all know and love. No quick fixes but rather sustainable change and improvement. I love it! The same goes for Coach [Mike] Peterson and Coach Armstrong. They both come with a wealth of knowledge and their convictions are strong when it comes to building the program. Excited to see Kendall’s development under their tutelage. I really can’t say anything short of great about the staff as a whole. It’s one big family and all of the Coaches, (regardless of what side of the ball they are on) and support staff (including but not limited to Katie [Turner], Bri [Wade], Coach Luis [McLeod], and Joe [Hamilton]) right down to the student staff members are all very genuine and consistent. I like consistency.”

Wesphal: “From day one all of the coaches have been straight shooters which we appreciate.  We feel Coach Napier is in the process of a rebuild from the inside-out focusing on the finer details that build culture and great young men outside of football – like the GatorMade program. It’s modeled after Clemson’s PAW Journey, but the impact and traction Savanna Bailey has achieved in such a short time is astounding including trips to the New York Stock Exchange, South Africa, Nike Headquarters, Greece, and lots of volunteering, etc…  If that’s the beginning, I can only imagine what the future holds.”

Are any other programs still in touch? Any other coaches trying to still sway your son? If so, what schools/coaches?

Graham: “Not necessarily still trying to sway him, Myles; he hasn’t communicated if any other coaches are still reaching out. I will say Robert Gillespie and Carnell Williams have known him since he was a baby, so those are like uncles to him; one is at Bama, and one is at Auburn. He will always take his uncles’ calls, but they have respected his decision and are happy for him.”

Jackson: “Yes. And with the transfer portal and NIL being huge factors in CFB, I suspect other programs will continue to contact him. However, Kendall’s focus is on the Gators.”

Wesphal: “We made it clear while on the recruitment trail, we are being systematic about finding the right school which pretty much closes the door to future interactions once decisions were made. With that, I know a few would be happy to have Fletcher on their roster.”

Florida is off to a 5-2 start heading into the bye week. How closely does your family follow the team at this point? What do you think of where UF stands right now?

Graham: “We follow them close, even on away games, we are there and watching. Even when we thought they were having a rough time on the road, they just won against South Carolina, which shows promise. Going into the bye week, I think they will make adjustments, and they are trending up, so that’s all you can ask for on a second-year staff. They can put the pieces together to keep the team winning, so we shouldn’t be too upset about that.”

Jackson: “If we are not attending the game then you best believe we are glued to the screen. We’ve always followed Gator Football closely but now we study it every week. We literally have a family discussion about the game every week. We all knew this season would be a challenge but I really believe we have what it takes to shock everyone (including many of our own fans). I believe we’re in a perfect position to keep improving. I’m excited to see what we accomplish the remainder of the season.”

Wesphal: ”We track everything – depth chart, injury reports, player PFF rankings, and watch all the games. The 5-2 start is respectable and will only get better. We cheer every weekend and are looking forward to returning to the Swamp to watch them play Arkansas in Nov.”

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