GAINESVILLE, Fla. — In discussing the benefits of having an NFL head coach for a father, Florida Gators quarterback contender Luke Del Rio thought back to some of the long plane rides together when the two would go back and forth about how to read certain coverages or what to do in a particular scenario.
“It’s kind of fun when we do that because he always has an answer for whatever I throw at him — ‘Oh no, that won’t work,'” Del Rio said with a smile.
Del Rio, the redshirt sophomore competing for Florida’s starting quarterback job, spent much of his formative years not far from Gainesville while his dad Jack Del Rio was the head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars from 2003-11.
The elder Del Rio, a former linebacker and defensive coordinator, now is the head coach of the Oakland Raiders, and Luke Del Rio said his dad’s defensive background has been especially valuable to him as a young quarterback.
“I actually used to play defense, but my dad always kind of wanted me to play offense because quarterbacks touch the ball every play and you’re the guy,” Del Rio said. “But him being a defensive coach and coordinator and a linebacker when he played, it helped a lot learning coverages and schemes, and I actually prefer that he’s a defensive coach. It’s nice because you get perspective.”
Del Rio also had the benefit of growing up around an NFL locker room.
During the Gators’ media day last week, Del Rio was asked if he is still a Jaguars fan.
“I keep up with certain players, but I’m a Raiders fan,” he said, smiling.
But he has fond memories of those days in Jacksonville.
Del Rio recalls former Jaguars kicker Josh Scobee and running back Maurice Jones-Drew, in particular, as spending a lot of time with him and welcoming him as a young kid hanging around the team.
“Maurice Jones-Drew was always a really good guy. He would beat me mercilessly at ping pong,” Del Rio said. “I was like, ‘Oh, I’m 10, he’ll go easy on me.’ No. He would skunk me. I always appreciated that, though, that they kind of played with me like I was one of their own. It meant a lot.”
Sometimes that treatment led to tense moments for Jaguars players, like when Scobee accidentally hit Del Rio in the face with a football when Del Rio was 8 or 9 years old.
“We were throwing the ball back and forth and he threw one really hard and it skipped, like one-hopped it, and I guess I hadn’t seen that before,” Del Rio said. “It went boom, right in my eye, black eye, bloody nose. He was a rookie and he starts freaking out: ‘Your dad’s going to cut me! Your dad’s going to cut me!’ I’m like, ‘No, he won’t.’ My dad says, ‘How did you get a black eye?’ I said, ‘I fell’ or something like that.”
Del Rio then was years away from becoming a college football prospect, and surely he never imagined that he’d one day end up 70-odd miles away in Gainesville, competing for the Gators’ starting quarterback job. But Del Rio says he took a lot away from those experiences around the Jaguars.
It’s an advantage most aspiring football players don’t get and one he feels has helped shape him in his own development.
“It helps a lot. Outside of just knowledge of the game, just seeing guys how they interact in the locker room, how they prepare, how they handle themselves as a professional,” he said. “And you see guys learn from their mistakes in the NFL because you don’t have people holding their hand. So it’s been really valuable, and I’ve been extremely fortunate and blessed.”
Florida offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier seconded that thought.
“I think any time a young man gets the opportunity to grow up around the game like Luke has, and to be around the phenomenal coaches and players he has, obviously you get that gym-rat mentality and they are always around ball and they see how guys act, how (they) conduct themselves, how they prepare, and I think that’s an advantage,” Nussmeier said.
“I think when you watch the way Luke conducts himself on a day-to-day basis, those things over time have rubbed off on him and he’s taken that to heart.”
Ryan Young is a Florida beat writer for SEC Country and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.