GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The praise keeps pouring in for Florida freshman tight end Kemore Gamble this spring.
The 6-foot-3, 241-pound early enrollee has capitalized on his opportunity for a strong first impression and may just be forcing his way into the game plan for 2017 despite the veteran depth ahead of him at tight end.
“He’ll be a factor. As of right now, he’ll be playing,” Gators coach Jim McElwain said Monday. “He’s just got to continue the communication piece, especially in the blocking stuff we need to do. But here’s the thing I like about him is he’s willing. The guy has got courage, he doesn’t back down. He’s got as good of hand-eye coordination, great ball skills as probably anybody on our team.”
That’s the second time in recent weeks that McElwain has spoken highly of Gamble, and it comes on the heels of tight ends coach Greg Nord offering his own praise last week.
“The things that Kemore’s come in and done as an early enrollee (have) been exceptional. He’s really going to be a good player for us, and he’s brought a little bit of competition to those other guys and making them giddy-up as well,” Nord said. “You see a good player like him out there playing at your position, you know you better improve your game as well or he’ll get your snaps. He’s a very talented player and I think there’s going to be great things happening for him here at the University of Florida.”
Florida returns its top two tight ends from last season — 6-foot-4 senior DeAndre Goolsby (38 catches for 342 yards and 3 touchdowns) and 6-foot-4 redshirt-junior C’yontai Lewis (18-184-2).
Goolsby received a steady share of targets (mostly on short sideline routes) early in the season before breaking a finger. He then finished strong with 7 catches for 91 yards and a touchdown in the SEC championship game loss to Alabama and caught another touchdown pass in the Outback Bowl win over Iowa.
Lewis, meanwhile, had his breakout game against Georgia with 2 catches for 36 yards and a touchdown, both coming on a key scoring drive. His bigger contributions, though, came as a blocker.
Florida also returns little-used redshirt junior Moral Stephens at the position while moving another young tight end, Camrin Knight, to defense this spring.
How that depth chart and pecking order will look by the fall is unknown, but it certainly sounds like Gamble has seized the attention of the right people in his first spring camp.
“First off he has a lot of talent,” Nord said. “He has a good feel for how to handle his body in a tight situation and he knows how to get in and out of cuts. He knows how to read the defense and adjust to the different coverages. Then he’s a pretty good competitor. He doesn’t know everything yet, but he hasn’t let that stop him as far as getting on the field and competing.”
Gamble, rated a 4-star recruit and the No. 10 tight end in the country in the 2017 class, according to the 247Sports composite rankings, won a state championship last season at Miami Southridge High School.
His offensive coordinator on that team, David Cooney, told SEC Country back in December that Gamble is a “ferocious” blocker who “wants to straight embarrass the person in front of him.” Gamble, meanwhile, shared that the Florida coaches told him during the recruiting process that they could see him as a downfield threat, using his speed to take advantage of match-ups with opposing linebackers.
Again, it’s too soon to know just how involved he’ll be as a freshman, but at the least, it sounds like he’s doing everything he can to put himself in consideration for immediate playing time.
“Excited and happy as heck to have him here with us,” Nord said. “He’s come in as a guy that really should be in high school still. He’s starting to take grasp of the offense. He goes out and does something a little bit better each day to show that he certainly belongs here and I think he’s going to be a big part of the offense and will be a great player here at the University of Florida. …
“We’re not going to set any limits now or expectations now other than we expect you to get better every day and go out there and work and push the other guys. But he’s very talented. We’ll start off there. He’s got a good feel for the game, he loves playing the game and he’s willing to go out and put in the work. Those are great talents to start off with.”