GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The last time Florida signed an offensive lineman from Mallard Creek High School in Charlotte, N.C., it ended up with a future first-round pick in the NFL draft.
The Gators would be pleased if freshman offensive lineman T.J. Moore, who arrived on campus earlier this month, could match that.
Moore developed a bond with former Gators standout lineman D.J. Humphries, who came from the same Mallard Creek football program and preceded him in Gainesville by five years.
He talked at length about their connection, noting, “He was like an older version of me. I was looking at video of him the other day, and I just like see me in the future.”
Meanwhile, Mallard Creek football coach Mike Palmieri discussed the offensive line pipeline in the works from his program to the Gators.
“It’s awesome for us. We’re blessed to have kids all over the country, but we like it when our kids go to schools where our past kids have gone. It keeps the schools recruiting our program. Now T.J. has to do it for the guys behind him, and hopefully Florida keeps recruiting our kids,” Palmieri said.
Humphries was a 5-star prospect coming out of high school and the top-ranked offensive tackle in the 2012 recruiting class according to the 247Sports composition rankings. He played in every game of his freshman season at Florida, starting three. Listed at 6-foot-5, 295 pounds during his time with the Gators, Humphries started the next two seasons at left tackle while missing time both years with injury.
It was enough to impress the Arizona Cardinals, who made him the No. 24 overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft.
And to give players like Moore something to work toward.
On a visit back to his old high school, Humphries stopped by Palmieri’s office and the coach called Moore to come and meet him. They’ve remained in contact since.
“It’s always a blessing to have a guy like D.J. to be a mentor for your young players. He and T.J. really hit it off, and when [Moore] got the opportunity to go to Florida that made it even tighter,” Palmieri said. “D.J. kind of mentored him a little bit, talked to him and I know they still keep in touch.”
So what kind of offensive lineman are the Gators getting this time out of Mallard Creek?
Florida coach Jim McElwain gave his take last week, praising Moore’s footwork and mentality to finish through the play while saying he has the ability to play either tackle or guard.
“I really see him being able to fit wherever the line is the shortest,” McElwain said.
From his perspective, Palmieri highlighted Moore’s physicality and athleticism.
“He’s a really physical kid. He played some tackle for us, but mostly he was a guard for us because he was such a good athlete. We do a lot of pulling and he was pretty good at that spot for us,” Palmieri said.
“I think physically he’s going to be ready to play [right away]. I think it’s going to be more mental with him, learning the system and learning the blocking. But physically it shouldn’t take [him] long to get on the field.”
The Gators brought in two 4-star offensive linemen in their 2017 receiving class — Moore, listed at 6-foot-6, 290 pounds, and Kadeem Telfort, who is 6-6, 318, from Miramar, Fla. Telfort, a tackle, arrived as an early enrollee and made a strong impression in spring practice.
Both players, each ranked within the top 25 offensive tackle prospects nationally, could become immediate factors in the rotation. As the spring game highlighted, Florida’s offensive line depth is lacking.
Whether those two can push the starters this early is yet to be determined. After all, right tackle Jawaan Taylor’s emergence as a true freshman last season was a bit ahead of schedule. But either way both Moore and Telfort give the Gators highly intriguing pieces to work with now and in the future as McElwain builds a line that he says is stronger now than it’s ever been during his tenure.
Said Palmieri of Moore: “He’s earned everything he has. He’s going to be a big asset to the program down there.”
All rankings are from the 247Sports composite unless otherwise noted.