UF quarterback Luke Del Rio walked into his first media availability in nearly a month Monday wearing an Oakland Raiders hoodie.
It’s an homage to his father, Jack Del Rio, the head coach in Oakland who is enjoying a successful start to the NFL season.
“Yeah,” Luke Del Rio said. “4-1.”
His team is in the same boat.
Although it hasn’t been pretty, the No. 18 Gators are 4-1 on the year and 2-1 in Southeastern Conference play. With four conference games still to play (five if last weekend’s indefinitely postponed LSU matchup is rescheduled), UF is in the thick of the SEC East race with Tennessee. And now that they have their starting quarterback back after missing two games with a sprained MCL, their chances just got a little better.
UF coach Jim McElwain said Monday that Del Rio will be ready to play when Florida hosts Missouri for its homecoming game on Saturday. And although McElwain did not name Del Rio the outright starter, all signs point to the redshirt sophomore reclaiming the spot as the leader for Florida’s offense so long as he doesn’t suffer another setback to his knee. He took a share of first-team reps during practice last week and would have been ready to play against LSU last weekend had the game not been suspended.
“We’re excited about that,” McElwain said. “Luke is excited and itching to go.”
That’s been the case since the injury happened almost four weeks ago against North Texas, when Mean Green defensive lineman Joshua Wheeler dove into Del Rio’s planted left leg in the fourth quarter of Florida’s 32-0 win on Sept. 17.
“It’s tough, but injuries are part of football and the training staff did such a tremendous job of getting me back quickly,” Del Rio said, adding he knew the injury wouldn’t be season-ending. “We really attacked this thing with constant rehab and constant treatment.”
Del Rio won the starting job over Purdue graduate transfer Austin Appleby before the season and led Florida to three straight wins against UMass, Kentucky and North Texas to open the season. In those three games, Del Rio threw for 762 yards, six touchdowns and two interceptions with a 61.4-percent completion rate.
During Del Rio’s two-game absence, Appleby led Florida’s offense. The Gators went 1-1, falling 38-28 to Tennessee and defeating Vanderbilt 13-6.
“Whether I am [the starter] or not, it doesn’t change the preparation,” Appleby said. “You prepare to be the starter. You prepare to play. My Monday is the same as it was the week before… [and] as it was the week before that. You prepare to play. You prepare to help this team win.”
After a solid first half against Tennessee in his first UF start — throwing for 213 yards and two touchdowns on 10-of-16 passing —Appleby amassed just 227 passing yards over the last six quarters of play.
To Del Rio, the starting quarterback isn’t the sole determining factor for the offense. All 11 players, he said, need to be on point for the offense to succeed.
“It’s going back to really just everybody just doing their job,” Del Rio said. “It’s a block here, getting off of a press here; it’s very little things. … Just do your job on every play and stop worrying about what everybody else is doing and do what you have to do and we’ll be fine.”