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Gators utilizing Catapult technology in recruiting

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Desirrio Riles paced the sideline of Florida’s indoor practice facility on Friday evening, moving from station to station as he participated in drills and tests in front of a host of Gators staff members and other prospects who attended the program’s Friday Night Lights camp.

An uncommitted three-star athlete prospect, Riles has received looks from some programs as a tight end. Others, such as Florida, view the 6-foot-3, 225-pounder as a potential fit on defense as a linebacker.

But Riles hasn’t yet received a scholarship offer from the Gators at least in part because the program needed to evaluate him further. And to aid them in doing that, Riles was fitted with a Catapult tracking vest throughout his camp experience, a device that allows Florida to follow things such as his maximum speed in miles per hour, heart rate and total steps, among other things.

It’s a tool that enables the Gators’ coaches to gain insight into players’ performances beyond what the eye can see during a workout, a level of attention to detail in the recruiting process that head coach Billy Napier foreshadowed after his hiring.

“This is a talent acquisition business,” Napier said in December. “We’re going to work tirelessly in this area.”

Riles wasn’t the only prospect wearing a Catapult vest on Friday night. Four-star Utah running back commit Michael Mitchell, who Florida’s staff has kept an eye on in recent months, was also wearing one throughout the evening as was New Orleans (La.) De La Salle High School offensive lineman Caden Jones.

“We’re going to be very patient and calculated about everything that we do,” Napier has said on multiple occasions.

The Catapult technology is a potentially significant tool for the Gators in their pursuit to identify and develop talent, something they demonstrated they could do at an extremely high level during their time at Louisiana when they were one of the winningest Group of 5 programs in the country over a four-year period.

Current Florida offensive line coach Rob Sale developed three of the five offensive linemen drafted out of Louisiana since 1989 and has identified plenty of other high-level talent who almost certainly had the ability to play Power 5 football.

Current Florida co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach Patrick Toney had similar success as Sale on the defensive end in two seasons with the Ragin Cajuns.

“I mean, point to me,” former Louisiana offensive lineman Max Mitchell said. “Use me as an example. As a freshman, I wasn’t that good. I might’ve shown some promise but I wasn’t great. Then you saw major improvement. Dynasties aren’t built overnight. If you just let coach Napier and coach Sale build what they want to build and evaluate talent the way they know how it could be something really special.”

Now Napier and his staff have more resources at their disposal, such as Catapult, to aid them in their talent identification process. It’s something that could give them greater insight on elite prospects while also assisting them in finding players who might fly under the radar, something they were clearly trying to do during the Friday Night Lights session on July 29.

“We’re going to go through a very thorough evaluation process,” Napier said.

Attention to detail has been among the most prominent themes in Napier’s young tenure at Florida. In the spring, the new Gator leader said that everything has its place on a schedule in his system and each activity within that structure is deliberate from meals to team meetings to practice and even time at home with family, something several of his Florida staff members have said is a critical aspect of the head coach’s routine.

“When he first got here, he had us write down our schedules and everything we do,” senior linebacker Amari Burney said in the spring. “Then we meet with the coaches and they critique your schedule so that you can be the best player you can be.”

According to some Florida players, such as senior safety Trey Dean, team structure was something that was missing in the waning stages of former head coach Dan Mullen’s tenure. Napier is working to fix that by implementing a regimented routine for his athletes, which includes a mandatory team breakfast at 7:30 a.m as well as time carved out for tutoring, weight training, practices and recovery.

In addition to streamlining the program’s daily operations and impacting the way the team recruits, Napier’s system has the potential to influence on-field results.

“We’re going to be a structured team,” Dean said. “We’re going to be a disciplined team. So if somebody was to beat us, god forbid, they’re going to beat us. We’re not going to beat ourselves.”

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