GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Martez Ivey is now one of the faces of Florida football, but 2017 could be his one and only year in the spotlight.
After two seasons of starting at left guard, Ivey is in a newfound yet familiar place. This spring he made the switch to left tackle, a move that many — including Ivey — have been waiting for.
“I’m really excited,” Ivey said. “I feel like that was my natural spot. I got acclimated to left guard, now I’m just back out to left tackle. The footwork is fine, just getting used to the speed of the game now. I think I’ll be fine in that department.”
It used to be Ivey’s department of expertise. He was ranked the nation’s No. 1 offensive tackle and No. 2 overall prospect in the Class of 2015, according to the 247Sports Composite. Florida’s guard situation, however, offered him a fast-pass to playing time.
Ivey has seen action in 25 games and made 19 straight starts at left guard prior to the SEC Championship Game against Alabama in 2016. But with David Sharpe leaving early for the NFL, the Gators no longer need Ivey on the interior of their offensive line.
“Tez is a natural left tackle,” Florida coach Jim McElwain said of Ivey. “That’s what he was coming out. It speaks volumes to his unselfishness that he went in there and played at guard, knowing that we needed that to happen.
“That first year we got there, just through some bum luck and some things that had happened, we only had four scholarship offensive linemen. We [started] piecing a group together, which we were able to do. And in Tez’s case, I think he’ll really flourish now. He has that ability to move on the outside.”
Like Sharpe, NFL analysts are projecting that Ivey may be able to turn pro with an impressive junior season. While Ivey acknowledges the possibly, making an early jump is not his driving force heading into this fall.
“Not at all,” Ivey said. “I’m going to do it the same way I’ve always been doing it. Worry about football first and if the opportunity presents itself, I’ll think about it and a make a decision.
“I could develop well with two years of left tackle. I would have to do as much in the NFL. I’ll get my degree as well if I stay for four years, so there are reasons to come back.”
Ivey’s high school coach at Apopka, Rick Darlington, also pumped the brakes when asked about his former star player potentially bolting for the league. Darlington actually thinks Ivey needs to spend two more seasons at Florida.
“I think in two years he’ll be a top-10 pick,” Darlington said. “I think he needs two more years so the NFL can see him playing at his position. Tez didn’t whine when they wanted him to move to guard. He did it for the team. He’s a special dude.
“Best I’ve ever coached. He’s just unreal. Athletic, tenacious. Tez would just bury people in practice. He might apologize to them afterward, but he had that killer mentality. He’s someone that wanted to get guys on the freaking ground.”
McElwain said Ivey will remain at left tackle even if he left-handed quarterback Malik Zaire starts this season. Ivey was the nation’s best offensive tackle in high school, but even with spring ball under his belt, he’s still adjusting to his old position.
“The transition has been pretty smooth,” Ivey said, “… but at times it was a little rough because I was so used to playing guard for two years. But I believe now that it’s flowing pretty well. It’ll be less pressure in camp, but then again I want the pressure.”