They sat out their first season on campus. Now, they’re ready to make an impact.
The Florida Gators have 19 redshirt freshmen on their roster, players who either needed an extra year to adjust to college life, were too far behind on the depth chart to find playing time or dealt with an injury that kept them from seeing the field.
Here are three of those redshirt freshmen who should make a contribution for the Gators in 2017 as Florida attempts to make a third straight run to the SEC Championship Game.
1.) OL Brett Heggie
Heggie left spring camp as Florida’s starting left guard. Barring a massive dropoff, Heggie should maintain a stronghold on that position heading into the 2017 season.
Florida coach Jim McElwain and offensive line coach Brad Davis praised Heggie’s work ethic.
“He’s kind of working himself into a player that we’re going to rely on quite a bit this fall,” Davis said. “Every day he’s got to go out and compete and earn it. So far he’s done a heck of a job for us.”
Heggie will be working with a veteran offensive line — which also includes left tackle Martez Ivey, center T.J. McCoy, right guard Fred Johnson and right tackle Jawaan Taylor — that McElwain is calling the strength of the team.
2.) LB Jeremiah Moon
A thumb injury kept Moon on the sideline after playing in two games as a true freshman, but 2017 looks to be the year where Moon breaks out for the Gators.
At 6-foot-4 and 208 pounds, Moon’s biggest strength is his versatility. His hard-hitting nature makes him perfect for an outside linebacker spot. His ability to drop back in pass protection will allow him to line up against tight ends. He will likely start as the backup to Kylan Johnson, who has a similar skill set but an extra year of experience, but will likely be active in the rotation.
Also don’t forget Moon was dominant in the spring game, recording a game-high-tying 5 tackles and a pass breakup while working with the second team.
3.) DB McArthur Burnett
Burnett found himself too far down on the depth chart to see the field last season. That type of thing happens when you have three starters who went in the second round of the 2017 NFL Draft and four more juniors on the second team.
This year though, Florida’s secondary will rely on its youth considering it has three upperclassmen with playing experience, cornerback Duke Dawson and safeties Marcell Harris and Nick Washington. That’s where Burnett comes in. He’s a hands-on learner who had a full spring practice to take in as many reps at both outside corner and nickel as possible before the Gators’ five true freshmen got to campus.
His best attribute, though, is his speed, which will likely guarantee him a spot as a gunner on both kickoff and punt returns even if he is put toward the back of the rotation in the secondary.