Dre Massey took the opening kickoff from the end zone and ran upfield.
With a pair of blockers in front of him, the shifty wide receiver hustled out at full speed, took a quick step to the left and made it to the UF 21-yard line before a pair of UMass defenders brought him to the ground.
The ramifications of that play ultimately ended Massey’s season.
Massey suffered a right knee injury on that kickoff return and will have surgery once swelling subsides, leaving an already shaky Gators offense with one less weapon as they head into Southeastern Conference play and forcing a quartet of freshmen to step up their production early in their careers.
While the injury happened on the first play of the game, Massey stayed in the game until halftime before finally retreating to the locker room. He did not record a catch.
“He showed how tough he is,” quarterback Luke Del Rio said. “He got hurt on the first play and played the whole first half. I know that injury is kind of unique in that some guys are in excruciating pain and others don’t feel it. He said he felt it.”
The Gators will feel Massey’s loss, too.
A junior college transfer from Holmes (Miss.) Community College, Massey is a versatile receiver with a valuable combination of speed, route running and soft hands that could have served as a valuable complement to sophomore Antonio Callaway and junior Brandon Powell. Powell and Callaway combined for 15 catches, 145 yards and both receiving touchdowns on Saturday. No one else cracked the 40-yard barrier.
In Massey’s absence, a foursome of freshmen in Josh Hammond, Freddie Swain, Tyrie Cleveland and Rick Wells will look to get extended playing time.
Hammond (five catches, 38 yards) and Swain (two catches, 12 yards) both saw action on Saturday and impressed UF coach Jim McElwain in their debut.
“For as many plays as they played, they played pretty darn good,” McElwain said. “And, you know, they caught the ball in tough conditions even early, and I was really proud of them for that. There’s a lot that they’re going to learn as far as the speed and pace that you need to play at the collegiate level, and I’m looking forward to seeing them now.”
Fellow freshmen Cleveland and Wells were suspended for Saturday’s win because of an offseason arrest after shooting BB guns at a UF residence hall. They still face felony charges for the crime. McElwain said they will both rejoin the team for this weekend’s SEC opener. The two also had dealt with hamstring injuries leading up to the season.
“The biggest thing with them is just getting comfortable,” Del Rio said. “They both had hamstrings, so just getting them comfortable and reintegrated back into the offense. It’s really good to have them back, especially with Dre being down.”
Junior C.J. Worton could also return to the mix this week. The former South Dade High standout has been sidelined since mid-August with a high-ankle sprain.
Massey can apply for a medical redshirt and would have two years of collegiate eligibility left should it be accepted.
“I know it was disappointing for him, and yet he’s got a lot of ball in front of him,” McElwain said. “He’ll get this thing handled. He’s a guy that will work at the rehab piece and I think it has shown.”