GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida defensive coordinator Randy Shannon signed eight 3-star linebackers during his time with the Gators, and three of them showed promise as freshmen.
Then there’s Jeremiah Moon, who could be a breakout player in 2017.
Moon is the only 4-star linebacker signed by Shannon in the past three recruiting classes. Moon played in the first two games of 2016 — making 3 tackles — before a season-ending injury.
Moon injured his left thumb in practice before the North Texas game. During a turnover drill, he reach down to scoop up the football and lost his balance.
“I was about to fall and I was trying to catch myself. I felt it pop,” Moon said. “I thought it was jammed and then it started swelling up. I knew something was wrong.”
While sidelined, he watched David Reese, Kylan Johnson and Vosean Joseph blossom late in the season, with Reese earning Freshman All-America honors. Moon was happy for the success of his classmates but frustrated about not having the same opportunity.
“I was mad,” Moon said. “But at the same time, it was humbling just to know that the game can be taken away from you. It’s really (about) cherishing every moment you have out there. I’m all right now. It’s a new year, so I’m ready to get out there.”
Moon returned to action this spring and had a game-high 5 tackles in the Orange & Blue Debut, including a jarring hit on running back Mark Thompson. At 6-foot-4 and 228 pounds, Moon is rangy and can handle multiple responsibilities.
“He’s really versatile,” Gators coach Jim McElwain said. “He can rush the passer, he can play some nickel actually against certain matchup teams, which is really going to help us because of how long he is. He’s guy that really understands the game.”
Alex Anzalone bestowed that knowledge on Moon last year. Jarrad Davis, meanwhile, helped him put on weight. Moon reported to Florida at 216 pounds and wants to reach 240.
Anzalone and Davis, Florida’s starting linebackers in 2016, taught Moon a lot during his medical redshirt season.
“Definitely Jarrad, the physical part. He was always in the training room and always lifting weights,” Moon said. “From Alex, the mental part. Probably one of the smartest players I know.”
Moon played with the second-team defense in Florida’s spring game, but he is competing with Johnson for a starting job. With Johnson, a former safety, and the athletic Moon, Shannon plans to use three linebackers instead of inserting a defensive back for nickel packages.
“If the nickel is not in the game, I’ll be the cover guy,” Moon said. “The coaches have a little bit of faith in me. I’ll go out there and cover. … That’s the fun part. I just take it as a challenge.”
Moon and his fellow linebackers will be trying to replace Anzalone and Davis, which is a challenge. But Moon is confident in himself and his position group.
“We can be amazing. We can be as good as we want to be,” Moon said. “It was good to just get mental reps from guys like Jarrad Davis and Alex Anzalone and all them boys.
“I felt like I could have had a better spring just because I was trying to get in the groove of things. Now I need to prove that I’m here to do what they recruited me for.”