GAINESVILLE, Fla. — All season, Adarius Lemons has waited for his turn, his opportunity, his moment to shine.
On Saturday, in Florida’s 36-7 win over UAB that snapped a five-game losing streak, Lemons finally had his turn.
The freshman running back had a team-high 89 rushing yards on just 11 carries against UAB — and that doesn’t even include a 62-yard touchdown run down the left sideline that was called back because of holding by the offensive line.
He broke through tackles, pushed past the line of scrimmage and found ways to churn for extra yards while wearing down the opposition.
“When you come to Florida and you play running back, that’s what you’ve got to come with,” fellow running back Lamical Perine said. “He’s an elite running back.”
Offensive lineman Tyler Jordan added: “Just watch the kid in practice. That’s how he plays.”
And whoever becomes Florida’s next coach now has a chance to see that Lemons can perform on the field.
It just adds another layer to what will be a young and deep running back room in 2018.
The Gators (4-6) already knew they had backfield playmakers in Perine (team-high 8 rushing touchdowns) and freshman Malik Davis (team-best 526 yards before a season-ending injury against Georgia). Now add in Lemons — a player who teammates called “crazy legs” ahead of the season — along with the incoming recruiting class that could include Dameon Pierce and Iverson Clement, and Florida has a backfield loaded with potential for next year.
“Those guys know you may not be on that day, OK fine, but another guy will get an opportunity to play and have an opportunity to carry the load,” interim coach Randy Shannon said. “It’s been a great competition. It’s been great for us as a football team. Guys are really coming around and doing a great job.”
But it wasn’t just Lemons and the running backs who made the most of their opportunities on Saturday. In summary:
- Freshman defensive back Brad Stewart recorded his first career interception. Safety Shawn Davis almost came down with an interception of his own, as well.
- Sophomore defensive end Antonneous Clayton, a former 5-star prospect, recorded his first career sack after spending most of the season entrenched near the bottom of the depth chart.
- Redshirt freshman offensive lineman Stone Forsythe started his first career game at left guard.
And that’s on top of the bevy of underclassmen who already have stepped up and had to play valuable roles for the Gators this season.
That list includes defensive backs Marco Wilson, C.J. Henderson and Chauncey Gardner; wide receivers Tyrie Cleveland and Kadarius Toney; linebackers David Reese, Vosean Joseph, Jeremiah Moon and Kylan Johnson; defensive end Jabari Zuniga; and offensive linemen Brett Heggie and Jawaan Taylor.
Barring transfers, Florida will return all of its skill position players on offense except for Brandon Powell and DeAndre Goolsby. Martez Ivey, a junior, is the only offensive lineman who is likely to consider the NFL draft.
On defense, Duke Dawson is finishing his final year and redshirt junior defensive tackle Taven Bryan is likely to test the NFL waters. CeCe Jefferson could leave too if he gets a high enough pre-draft grade. Outside of that, Florida returns everyone else.
With one more game left to play, the tape from this year now will become the players’ resume for the next coach to evaluate even if that’s not how the players are viewing it.
And Shannon believes that football team isn’t that far off.
“This program looking ahead is unbelievable because there’s so much young talent on this football team that this program will never be second-fiddle to nobody,” Shannon said. “We just have to keep adding on. The talent is here if you look at the whole entire team.”
The Gators showed a piece of that on Saturday with a rare bright spot after six weeks of futility. More than 400 yards of offense, 4 forced turnovers on defense, 5 field goals from Eddy Pineiro and, ultimately, a win.
Players are optimistic that this is just the start of what can be the return of Florida football.
“We’ve got great receivers, great running backs, great DBs,” Powell, a senior, said. “Florida’s gonna be back on top whoever the next coach is.”