Ja’Juan Seider saw a familiar face in Jordan Scarlett when he arrived in Gainesville and met his running backs for the first time.
Seider was one of the first to recognize Scarlett’s talents back in the day, with the coach recruiting the running back and giving him a college offer to West Virginia when Scarlett was in eighth grade.
Scarlett ultimately chose the Gators over the Mountaineers, a decision Seider understood and respected.
“It's hard to beat Florida. I've won a few battles, but it's hard to beat Florida,” said Seider, who was named the Gators’ running backs coach in February. “You understand that coming down here recruiting, but if you're doing things the right way with the coach and player, those relationships don't go away.”
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Seven years since that initial offer, Seider and Scarlett are reunited in Gainesville and will have the chance to have the coach-player relationship for at least one year.
“He was like 'Yeah I kinda told you I was always coming for you,’” Scarlett, now a junior, said. “It's crazy how it worked out.”
Scarlett, a St. Thomas Aquinas alumnus, is expected once again to be Florida’s workhorse in the backfield. Seider, who coached a pair of 1,000-yard rushers in Wendell Smallwood and Charlie Sims during his time at West Virginia, expects a big year from his top position player. His first glimpse of how far Scarlett has come will be Friday night, when the Gators play their spring game to wrap up practice until the summer.
“I see him taking off,” Seider said. “He was a kid who always had natural ability. He was always big. He was always fast. He was always strong.”
Scarlett showed glimpses of that last season, his first as Florida’s lead back. The 5-10, 213-pound bruiser posted a team-high 889 rushing yards. Scarlett also recorded a rushing touchdown in six straight games in the heart of the season.
“He knows who he is as a running back,” Seider said. “He's not a guy who's going to sit there and juke and try to make a lot of people miss. He's going to put his foot in the ground and go forward and I think as a running back, when you find yourself early you play to your strength. Right now, he's playing to his strength."
This spring, Seider is focusing on making Scarlett push himself even further. Scarlett didn’t necessarily have to be the most dominant force on the offense to make an impact in high school and throughout his first two seasons at UF.
He won’t have that luxury this year. With Florida set to start yet another new quarterback -- this time one of freshmen Feleipe Franks and Kyle Trask -- the running backs are going to be even more valuable this season in order to take pressure off the young signal caller.
And it’s not just running the ball. Pass protection, catching passes out of the backfield and better execution on pass-read options all come into play as well.
Scarlett won’t have to do it alone, though. Lamical Perine and Mark Thompson, who recorded 720 rushing yards between them last year, both return. Florida also has a pair of freshmen in Malik Davis and Adarius Lemons enrolling this summer.
“You only got so many hits in your body at that position,” UF coach Jim McElwain said. “Really everywhere we’ve been we’ve kind of done that, as far as being able to get guys in there and guys going and produce when their number’s called.”
Regardless, Scarlett is doing whatever he can to make sure his number is called often.
“He's been the alpha in the room,” Seider said. “He's bringing it every day.”