GAINESVILLE, Fla. — After three years of watching and waiting at three different schools, Luke Del Rio is a starting college quarterback.
He’s been pegged as Florida’s next signal caller since the end of last season, but it became official Thursday.
“Obviously really excited,” Del Rio said of his reaction to the news. “Long time coming. Not necessarily here, but just in college in general.
“I feel like I earned it. I thought I had a really good camp. I’m glad the coaches saw it the same way.”
Del Rio spent one year at both Alabama and Oregon State before sitting out Florida’s 2015 season due to NCAA transfer rules. Del Rio took command of the Gators last spring and gained an edge over graduate transfer Austin Appleby.
UF coach Jim McElwain kept an open competition heading into fall camp, but Del Rio won the job after two weeks of practice.
“I think I was consistent,” Del Rio said. “Taking care of the ball. Being accurate with your checks at the line. And I think just doing it day in and day out.
“That’s what they’re looking for. Anyone can do it once or twice, but can you do it throughout camp?”
This is Del Rio’s third year with offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier, having played under him at Alabama in 2013. His knowledge and familiarity with the system was evident this month.
“He’s been making a lot of good throws, a lot of great reads, in practice,” wide receiver Brandon Powell said. “He’s been in this offense for a while. He knows it like the back of his hand.”
The response Del Rio received from his teammates also set him apart. According to defensive lineman CeCe Jefferson, Del Rio will trash talk to the defense if he sees them lacking energy.
“He’s a natural leader and he’s consistent,” Jefferson said. “There isn’t a day that goes by that he doesn’t come out fired up and getting his side of the ball ready. It’s contagious.”
Del Rio said he has natural leadership abilities, which is to be expected from the son of Oakland Raiders coach Jack Del Rio. The redshirt sophomore has embraced being a player the team looks up to.
“I think it’s very important for any quarterback,” Del Rio said. “Whether you want to be or not, you’re going to be looked at as the leader. You’re the one that’s talking, giving the plays. You’re touching the ball every play.”
“It comes with knowing what to do, being accountable and consistency. Me personally, I want to follow a guy who does it every time the right way.”
Del Rio now gets to lead the Gators into the 2016 season, which opens on Sept. 3 against UMass. Dressed in a Gator polo shirt Friday, Del Rio can’t wait to be in uniform after a year away from the game.
“It’s going to be really exciting,” Del Rio said. “I’m really looking forward to it. Last year, I was running out of the same tunnel kind of looking like this. So I looked like the equipment staff did. It’ll be nice to be wearing pads this time.”
Zach Abolverdi is the Florida beat writer for SEC Country and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.