GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Fans have clamored all season to see redshirt junior receiver Dre Massey get an opportunity, and it finally came Saturday night.
Well, kind of …
No, Massey wasn’t the high-volume playmaker many forecasted for him before last season and again this preseason. But he did score his first touchdown at Florida, racing in from 6 yards out on a sweep in the fourth quarter to give the Gators a 17-10 lead.
“It’s really, really good to see him get the ball and get around the edge right there. He’s been missing that more than anybody,” quarterback Feleipe Franks said. “But it’s really good to see him back healthy and get that score. It really helped us out at a big point in the game. He’s a really good player and a really good kid. I was proud for him.”
Massey was the talk of the 2016 preseason as a junior college newcomer whose elite speed and intriguing versatility were being touted as talents Florida could use in multiple ways. A former high school quarterback who once accounted for 11 combined touchdowns rushing and passing in a game, he was going to be the Gators’ X-factor.
Then he tore his right ACL on the opening kickoff of last season and had to watch, rehab and wait.
Again the hype resumed this preseason, but Massey had been mostly a non-factor, totaling 1 catch for 2 yards through the first five games.
Essentially, freshman Kadarius Toney took over the role Massey had been expecting to work his way back into this fall.
Earlier this week, fellow Gators receiver Josh Hammond offered his thoughts on why this season hasn’t gone quite as expected for Massey.
“In camp he was kind of slow learning, but he’s definitely gotten the gist of it now going through the game plans,” Hammond said. “The game plans kind of shorten up the playbook a little bit because now we have a set of plays that we’re going to run for this specific game. So he’s grasping it and he’s definitely going to be a big part of our offense this game.”
And then there was perhaps the mental block of returning from a serious knee injury and trying to reclaim the top-end speed that set Massey apart when he arrived at campus.
“Speed’s still there. The only thing I would say that probably he was hindered all through camp, he was still kind of scared of his knee a little bit,” Hammond said. “But playing in games and finally getting his groove back, you can tell that he’s finally getting it back and he’s back to the old Dre.”
Massey had returned some kickoffs in previous games while getting a minimal amount of reps at receiver.
But with Toney missing the game Saturday against Texas A&M with a separated shoulder and top wideout Tyrie Cleveland a non-factor due to a lingering high-ankle sprain, it stood to reason Massey would get his chance to make a case for a bigger role.
He was targeted on a deep post route in the first quarter, but the pass sailed incomplete as he stumbled while making an unsuccessful case to the official for a pass interference call.
Franks later flew an errant screen pass out of his reach in the third quarter and Massey ultimately didn’t record a catch while generating his only production as a rusher. In addition to the 6-yard touchdown, he lined up in the wildcat once in the second quarter, rushing for a 3-yard gain.
Asked afterward about Massey seeing some more looks, coach Jim McElwain had little to say, though that was typical of his answers in general after the tough loss.
“Thought he did a good job getting the ball in the end zone on the fly sweep,” McElwain said simply.
McElwain did not update Toney’s timeline for a potential return, but it stands to reason he and Cleveland have a chance to play in two weeks against Georgia.
That means Massey’s role probably isn’t going to increase all that much this fall, but it’s a long season and that always could change as circumstances evolve.
In the meanwhile, the touchdown was at least a nice moment for a player who had waited so long for that opportunity to cross into the end zone at the major college level.
“Oh it was big, it was real big. I’m excited for him. That touchdown meant everything to him,” Florida left tackle Martez Ivey said. “And just I know when he first came and he tore his ACL, played that whole first half and didn’t say nothing about it. That explains his heart and the love he’s got for us. And that’s a special moment for him right there on that touchdown, and I know I expect him to get a lot more touchdowns after that one.”