GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida coach Jim McElwain delivered the news that most fans had already heard Monday, confirming that junior slot receiver Dre Massey will miss the rest of the season with a knee injury.
What wasn’t known, though, is that Massey played the entire first half with the injury after getting hurt on the opening kickoff Saturday night against Massachusetts.
“That shows you his toughness and his want to do what he can for this football team,” McElwain said.
McElwain didn’t disclose the specific injury Massey sustained, but the receiver’s former coach at Mauldin High School in South Carolina, Lee Taylor, said Massey told him it was his ACL.
The speedy junior college newcomer will undergo surgery once the swelling in his knee subsides.
It’s a significant loss for the Gators after all the preseason excitement and talk about the matchup problems they could cause with the trio of sophomore Antonio Callaway, junior Brandon Powell and Massey wreaking havoc on opposing secondaries.
“There’s obviously a disappointment anytime that something like that happens. And yet, the beautiful thing about teammates, family is they’re there to support, elevate, pick him up. That’s what we saw,” McElwain said. “He had a lot of family members here too for the first time, and I know it was disappointing for him. And yet he’s got a lot of ball ahead of him. He’ll get this thing handled. He’s a guy that will work at the rehab piece and I think it has shown, credit our strength staff and our PTs and that kind of stuff how some of our guys have come back from injuries and actually been stronger.”
Massey is able to take a redshirt this season and still have two years of eligibility remaining.
In the meanwhile, though, this season moves on without him. Florida’s next matchup comes Saturday at home vs. Kentucky.
“That’s tough. That’s a hard injury to have happen to him, but I think he showed how tough he is,” quarterback Luke Del Rio said. “When he got hurt on the first play, he played the whole first half. I know that injury is kind of unique in that some guys are in excruciating pain and other guys don’t really feel it. But he said he felt it. You know, it’s going to be tough to lose a great player like Dre, but we’re talented in that room and we’ll rally around him and support him through the rehab process.”
So the question is, how do the Gators replace what they were expecting from Massey following his impressive preseason?
McElwain said sophomore running back Jordan Cronkrite filled in on some of the packages the Gators had planned for Massey on Saturday night. He noted that they used the wildcat formation only once, adding “we’ll get somebody else in there to help (with) that kind of stuff.”
He suggested the Gators could go with multiple running backs more often than they have in the past.
And they might be inclined to go with two tight end sets more often as well, with redshirt-sophomore C’yontai Lewis returning from a one-game suspension to pair with junior DeAndre Goolsby atop the depth chart at that spot.
As for the receivers, Callaway (eight catches for 72 yards and a touchdown) and Brandon Powell (7-73-1) both had big performances in the season opener. Powell set a career high with those seven catches and could be in line for a breakout season.
The Gators will have to wait and see who else steps up. True freshman Josh Hammond had five catches for 38 yards Saturday night while fellow rookie Freddie Swain caught two passes for 11 yards.
Florida also will get highly-touted true freshmen Tyrie Cleveland and Rick Wells back as they return from some combination of suspension and hamstring injuries.
“Tyrie and Rick, they’re extremely athletic, fast, big guys for freshmen,” Del Rio said. “If you just saw them in the locker room, you probably wouldn’t think that they’re true freshmen just because they’re pretty developed physically. The biggest thing with them is just getting comfortable. They both had hamstrings, so just getting them comfortable and reintegrated back into the offense. It’s really good to have them back, especially with Dre being down.”
Junior wide receiver C.J. Worton also could potentially be ready to return from a high-ankle sprain if he continues to progress this week.
McElwain said Monday it was too early to know how the Gators would make use of all those pieces.
“It really depends on those three guys we mentioned coming back from injury and where that sits,” he said. “I’ll know a little more on Wednesday, when I kind of see what we have and what parts we have.”
Ryan Young is a Florida beat writer for SEC Country and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.