Florida coach Billy Napier makes first comments about Jaden Rashada lawsuit: ‘Comfortable with my actions’

NCAA Football

Products You May Like

Florida v LSU
/ Getty Images

DESTIN, Fla. — A relaxed-looking Billy Napier said he was “comfortable with (his) actions” in his first public comments on the blockbuster Jaden Rashada lawsuit. Rashada filed legal action last week accusing the Florida coach of fraud, among other allegations, stemming back to a failed $13.85 million name, image and likeness deal.

“I think it’s important for everybody to understand that I can’t comment due to the litigation,” Napier said at SEC spring meetings. “But I do have confidence in our legal team. I am comfortable with my actions. And I’m thankful for the university’s support. We’re gonna keep it at that and kind of let the process take its course.”

The Florida coach said he first found out he was one of three listed defendants — along with top Gators booster Hugh Hathcock and former Florida staffer Marcus Castro-Waker — through media reports. Rashada’s legal team, led by well-known Houston lawyer Rusty Hardin, filed the lawsuit in federal court last Tuesday, arguing that the trio fraudulently recruited Rashada, then a highly regarded high school quarterback prospect, to attend Florida with no intention of following through on a $13.85 million deal. 

Specifically, the lawsuit claims “fraudulent misrepresentation and inducement, aiding and abetting fraud, civil conspiracy to commit fraud, negligent misrepresentation, tortious interference with a business relationship or contract and aiding and abetting tortious interference.” 

Napier was asked how he’d address the situation with recruits and concerns that Florida didn’t live up to mark with its promises. 

“This narrative has been out there for a long time,” Napier said. “I think we got that question two years ago or a year-and-a-half ago, and I don’t necessarily think it slowed us down, to some degree. So, look, we’re going to keep moving forward. This process has been going, ultimately, the NCAA process. We can’t say much more than that.” 

The NCAA notified Florida last June that it was investigating the Rashada situation which included interviewing Rashada and Castro-Walker, sources told CBS Sports. However, as the NCAA’s enforcement team worked to investigate and build a case that multiple insiders expected to be the most significant of the NIL era, the states of Tennessee and Virginia sued the NCAA to halt enforcement of its NIL-related rules. 

The two states got an early legal win in late February when U.S. District Judge Clifton Corker issued a preliminary injunction that essentially stopped the NCAA from enforcing rules related to NIL and recruiting.  

That left only the legal system to address the Rashada situation. 

The lawsuit argues that Napier, Hathcock and his company (Velocity Automotive) and Castro-Walker convinced Rashada to give up a previously agreed upon $9.5 million deal to attend Miami in favor of Florida. It includes allegations that Hathcock told Rashada, “Whatever Jaden needed to come to UF, Hathcock would make happen.” 

It also alleges his father, Harlen Rashada, was offered a job in the security industry during a recruiting visit. Direct contact between a recruit and a booster during an on-campus visit is against NCAA rules. 

To sway Rashada’s decision, Hathcock and Castro-Walker offered the $13.85 million deal with $5.35 million (including a $500,000 signing bonus) set to come through Hathcock’s Velocity Automotive company and the rest through Gator Guard, the NIL collective that he started. Hathcock had previously committed to donating $12.6 million to the Gator Boosters, and early media reports stated the Gator Guard raised $5 million in its first 24 hours. 

Before the deal was finalized, Hathcock informed Rashada’s representatives that he no longer wanted to route the NIL payments through his company because he planned to sell it, according to the lawsuit. Instead, he and Castro-Walker proposed that Walker and the Gator Collective (Florida’s NIL collective) pay directly for the deal.  

Eddie Rojas, CEO of Gator Collective, allegedly texted Zager about the impending deal: “Tell Jaden we look forward to setting him up for life. Need to set up his brokerage accounts ASAP. Dude is rich and we just got started.” 

The deal was officially signed on Nov. 10, 2022, with the first $500,000 payment due to Rashada on Dec. 5. 

The lawsuit claims Hathcock never had any intention of making that payment and everyone involved, including Napier, knew that. 

It all came to a head on Dec. 21, the first day of the early signing period, where Napier allegedly personally vouched to Rashada that Florida alumni “were good on their promise that Jaden would receive $1 million if he signed with UF on National Signing Day” and that Hathcock would make the payment. 

Harlen Rashada later texted Zager, “Coach Napier said [Hathcock’s] on a plane and that he will wire 1 Mil. He wants the paper work and I’m sending it if you are good.” It claims that Castro-Walker threatened Rashada that if he did not sign, Napier might pull his scholarship offer. 

Hardin previously told CBS Sports that Napier never should have been making those promises, which, at the time, were also against NCAA rules. “That’s not a role he should have been involved in, he shouldn’t have made those promises and he should have stayed out of that whole area,” Hardin said. “He didn’t.”

Rashada spent the 2023 season at Arizona State before transferring to Georgia this spring. Rashada informed Bulldogs coach Kirby Smart the day before filing the lawsuit of his intention to sue a sitting SEC head coach.

“I told him that’s between him, his family and attorneys,” Smart said Tuesday. “I’m not really involved in it, Georgia is not involved in it in any way. But Jaden is a good football player. He’s coming out, he’s got a good body of work. He has the ability to play, which is really crucial at the quarterback position. He’s actually played and is very talented. Happy he’s joining us and looking forward to working with him.”

Asked Monday evening about the Rashada lawsuit, SEC commissioner Greg Sankey said, “I’m not a fan of lawsuits. That’s what I think.” 

Products You May Like

Articles You May Like

Olympics 2024: Favorites, contenders and long shots for tennis in Paris
Fantasy Baseball: Guardians headline list of first-half fantasy All-Stars
Stricker uses short game to take Firestone lead
USA TODAY Sports/MMA Junkie rankings, July 16: Rose Namajunas climbs at flyweight
NIL and relaxed transfer rules have changed recruiting at ‘the most stress-free Peach Jam in history’