GAINESVILLE, Fla. — With his move to Florida, former Purdue quarterback Austin Appleby is trying to heat up in more ways than one.
The graduate transfer came to UF in January looking for a fresh start and another shot at a starting job.
“It’s been a wild winter to get to this point,” Appleby said Wednesday. “There’s obviously been a lot of quarterback issues (at Florida). There’s an opportunity to come in and compete to be the guy. That was hard to pass up and I’m excited to be here.”
Appleby started 11 games for the Boilermakers in 2014 and 2015, but was benched because of his turnover issues. He had 18 touchdowns and 19 interceptions over the past two years.
This spring, Appleby has been working with Gators coach Jim McElwain and offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier to cut down on picks and take care of the football. He believes that won’t be a problem in their offense.
“There were situations in the past where I had to put the ball in some tight windows to give us a chance,” Appleby said. “If we had to punt it away, unfortunately, it probably was going to be points the other way. It’s tough to play like that. … And that’s not an excuse, that’s a reality of me growing and looking back and being critical of myself.
“We’ve got dudes here that will go makes plays for you. A checkdown here will go for 60, and it does. Then if it doesn’t work, punting is fine because we have the best defense in the country and we have a punter who’s one of the best in the country. So, just learning to play within the system, you don’t have to do too much.”
The last few months have been an adjustment for Appleby, from the culture of the Gators program and to the weather in Gainesville.
“Those 6 a.m. times in February I remember fondly, walking over in the cold and it’s about -16 outside,” Appleby said of his Purdue days. “You’re questioning how much you like football at that time. It’s a little different when it’s 60 and you get to scoot on over.
“In the cold months of January when I first got here, I had a T-shirt and shorts on and it was maybe 45 degrees. Everyone was losing their minds. I can’t complain.”
But Appleby didn’t come to Florida just to be warm in the wintertime. The 6-foot-4, 235-pounder wanted to play at a high level and compete for a championship, which is expected at UF and demanded by McElwain and his staff.
“There’s talent everywhere, but it’s just these guys are special. They’re Florida Gators for a reason,” Appleby said. “I quickly learned but not only offensively but defensively everything happens a tick faster here. Maybe it’s just the South, maybe it’s just the speed of the game. What I’ve noticed is the way guys compete. When the ball’s up in the air, it’s on. That’s something I’ve grown to really respect out of these guys.
“A simple fade route, it touching the ground for the offense isn’t OK. For the defense, getting a ball caught on them is not OK. It doesn’t matter if it’s a one-on-one and you’re messing around in the winter. Every day you have to bring your A-game. That’s going to serve us well down the road, especially when you get to September.”
Appleby has enjoyed taking the freshmen under his wing and has a good relationship with Luke Del Rio, currently the favorite in the quarterback battle. But make no mistake, Appleby isn’t voluntarily taking a backseat to Del Rio and simply serving as a mentor to younger players.
“I didn’t come here not to play. I came here to compete and earn this starting job,” Appleby said. “The way I do that is just be me. If I take care of the things I need to take care of, control what I can control, I believe everything will take care of itself. … I started in the Big Ten for the last two years. Even with the number of practice reps you get, still once you’re out there and it’s live and you’re in front of 100,000, there’s no pretending.
“I think the only way you can gain that experience is by being out there. So it’s not new to me. I understand what it takes to prepare, I understand what it is to be under the lights, I understand what it is to stand in there. I take those experiences good and bad and have been to develop into who I am today to help this team win a championship.”