GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Because Malik Zaire sustained a broken right ankle two games into the 2015 season, there has been curiosity as to whether Florida’s new graduate transfer quarterback will pursue and receive an extra year of eligibility from the NCAA and thus extend his stay with the Gators beyond just 2017.
That remains a wait-and-see situation for several reasons, the quarterback’s father Imani Zaire says.
“If a redshirt is granted we’ll just see how everything goes,” he told SEC Country. “I know he wants to get his degree. I know there’s lot of people who think he’s just a one-and-done and doesn’t want to pursue his degree and that’s just not true. I think if he can get it … thats what he wants.”
But Zaire also wants to play in the NFL, and if he proves to be the quarterback both he and the Gators hope he can be this fall, then the pursuit of a medical redshirt could be moot, his father noted. Or, for the opposite reason.
First, Zaire has to win the starting job. Nothing has been guaranteed to the former Notre Dame quarterback, who is set to compete this summer with redshirt freshman Feleipe Franks and redshirt junior Luke Del Rio for the top spot on the Gators’ depth chart.
Imani Zaire says the potential for the medical redshirt and extra season was mentioned briefly in his talks with the Florida coaches, but it’s not a primary focus at this point.
“All things were talked about. He sees the pros and cons of it as an insurance policy, but again, none of that stuff will matter if the boy [doesn’t] start. If he goes out and [underperforms] I don’t even think they would pursue a fifth year. Now I don’t believe that’s going to happen. I believe it will be the opposite of that, but right now that’s kind of put on the side. It’s all about getting caught up, getting on and playing some football,” the elder Zaire said.
Zaire announced his intentions to join the Gators last month and started summer classes last Monday. Between offseason workouts and fall camp, he has a little more than two months to learn the offense, get to know his teammates and prove that he is the best option on the depth chart before Florida’s season opener with Michigan.
A former highly-coveted recruit out of Kettering, Ohio, Zaire started three games at Notre Dame and was set to hold the job during that 2015 season before breaking his ankle in Week 2 against Virginia.
While it’s a limited sample size, Zaire had made a very strong impression in his first two starts for the Fighting Irish. He was named the MVP of the 2014 Music City Bowl after completing 12 of 15 passes for 96 yards and a touchdown while also rushing for 96 yards and a score in a win over LSU. And he then opened his redshirt sophomore season completing 19 of 22 passes for 313 yards and 3 TDs against Texas.
He was just 7 of 18 passing for 115 yards and a TD with 87 rushing yards the next week against Virginia before sustaining his season-ending injury. DeShone Kizer, a 2017 second-round NFL Draft pick, took over as Notre Dame’s starting quarterback and kept Zaire in a backup role last season before Zaire asked for his release.
Imani Zaire says the family hasn’t received any concrete indication as to whether the NCAA would grant the extra year of eligibility, but he is confident they have a strong case. If it comes to that.
Again, he reiterated, that’s a topic for another day — and not one he expects Florida coach Jim McElwain to want to discuss publicly at this point.
“I understand the political stuff too behind all of this,” Imani Zaire said. “Let’s face it, this really shakes up the apple tree. You’ve got [a bunch of] quarterbacks now. You got the one who was looking halfway decent in the spring game, the heir apparent, and now you have this senior guy coming in. The head coach is playing it smart by not anointing anyone at this point, but at the same time he doesn’t want to not say things and run people off. I wouldn’t want his job right now. Quarterbacks and receivers are real sensitive. …
“I know Coach McElwain is building a solid program. He’s getting Florida back to prominence.”
There are many who believe the Gators are indeed just the right quarterback away from becoming a true national contender. Whether it’s Zaire, Franks or eventually one of the top high school QBs — like 5-star dual-threat Justin Fields — the program is aggressively recruiting.
Zaire sees that potential as well and believes he can be the answer Florida seeks.
Time will tell.
“I think he’s going to love it down there. He’s already loving it,” Imani Zaire said. “He looks at the team camaraderie and the thousands of people who are already supporting him and the way they support their teams down there. He likes the grand stage down there. He performs at high level. It’s never about him, per se. He wants to win, he wants to help the team win by any means necessary. … The ultimate deal is to win an SEC championship, to possibly go to the national championship. That’s how this kid thinks.”