Editor’s note: In advance of Florida’s Orange & Blue Debut, SEC Country is highlighting one storyline of note each day to help prepare fans for the culmination of spring practice. Friday’s entry, the third in this series, examines the quarterback position. The first entry focused on the pressure facing kicker Eddy Pineiro, and the second story looked at Florida’s new starters in the secondary.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — When there’s a quarterback competition taking place, it trumps any and all other storylines for a football team.
All eyes have been on Florida’s four new signal callers this spring as they compete for the starting job, and that will again be the case Friday in the Orange & Blue Debut.
“In any position, you want to create as much depth as you can and have guys push each other,” Gators offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier said. “I think that we’ve got four quality kids here who are pushing each other every day and that’s what you want. You want guys to know that every rep matters and that every rep is being evaluated.”
UF went through this last spring, with Treon Harris and Will Grier going head-to-head and continuing their competition all the way into the first game of the 2015 season. Grier, suspended last October for one year for testing positive for a performance-enhancing substance, has since transferred to West Virginia, while Harris is currently suspended from the team and plans to play wide receiver if and when he returns.
Now the Gators have graduate transfer Austin Appleby, Oregon State transfer Luke Del Rio and true freshmen Feleipe Franks and Kyle Trask at quarterback.
“It’s a different room than where we were a year ago,” Nussmeier said. “Luke’s been in the system before. He was with us last season, so he’s a little bit ahead. Then Austin’s done a really good job. A veteran guy, and really pleased with the extra things they’ve done on their own, especially being really good role models for those young guys.
“Because we talk all the time about what it takes to play at a very high level, but when young players see guys that are older than them and how they work to prepare, it sets a really good example. I’m very pleased with that.”
As upperclassmen, Del Rio and Appleby are considered the most likely candidates to win the job. Del Rio had a long-winding journey to get to UF, and Appleby left Purdue for perceived greener pastures at Florida.
Like Appleby and Del Rio, Franks was an Elite 11 finalist and one of the Gators’ major additions in their 2016 class. Trask has been the surprise of the spring and, according to star cornerback Jalen Tabor, throws the “prettiest ball” on the team.
“You look at those two guys and their ability to throw the football,” Nussmeier said. “When you just talk about pure passing, those guys have some really good talent. They’ve done a really good job of studying extra and trying to prepare to the best of their ability.
“The speed of the rush and playing against our quality defense day in and day out, it forces you to speed up. It’s great practice. It’s moving a little fast for them right now, but at times they flash, and it’s a good flash.”
As a whole, the quarterbacks played well this spring. However, UF coach Jim McElwain was not happy with the position in last Friday’s scrimmage.
The spring game will be an opportunity for them to finish on a strong note, and perhaps one player can pull ahead of the pack heading into the offseason.