MELBOURNE, Fla. — When quarterback Will Grier decided to transfer from Florida, it was quite a blow for Gators fans.
Not only had Grier led their team to a 6-0 start, which fell apart after his suspension, but he was UF’s most productive player at the position since former Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow. Grier, now at West Virginia, had 1,204 passing yards and a 66 percent completion rate, along with 10 touchdowns and just three interceptions.
He came up clutch against Tennessee, throwing a game-winning score for 63 yards on fourth down. The following week, he tossed four touchdowns and completed 83 percent of his pass attempts in the upset victory over Ole Miss.
With Luke Del Rio likely to be the starting quarterback for Florida, the biggest question is if he can be as productive as Grier.
“Obviously we kind of expect that. We expect him to take it farther than that,” McElwain said when asked at the Space Coast Gator Club. “That’s kind of what it’s all about. But we’ll see how he leads the team, we’ll see how he takes what the defense gives him and time will tell there.”
Some close to the UF football program, including former tight end Jake McGee, believe an eligible Del Rio could have challenged Grier for the starting job in 2015. At the time, Del Rio had more playing experience and knew Doug Nussmeier’s system better than Grier, a redshirt freshman.
Del Rio generated a lot of buzz last summer with his performance in offseason workouts, and McElwain called him a “sparkplug” in practice. Despite his impressive play, Del Rio came in last year knowing he would sit out.
“Every situation’s different,” Del Rio said. “I thought Will did a great job last year. He got better every single game. Treon (Harris) did a good job of filling in. It’s kind of weird, I got here in Summer B and was just thrown into it.
“It was kind of an awkward situation … you don’t want a transfer quarterback who’s on the scout team trying to be the outspoken leader when you can’t play that year.”
There’s no holding back Del Rio now. He threw for 176 yards and two touchdowns on 10-of-11 passing in Florida’s spring game.
“It’s pretty exciting to see him step up in that leadership role and take it on,” UF offensive guard Antonio Riles said. “I like how he’s commanding the offense and wants things done.”