Jake McGee’s career at the University of Florida nearly ended before it ever began.
The graduate transfer tight end from Virginia played just nine snaps at UF last season, and all he had to show for it was a metal rod from his knee down through his tibia, six screws and an autumn full of dark days.
The 6-6, 250-pound playmaker who led the Cavaliers with 43 receptions in 2013 broke his leg early in the Gators’ season opener. He was carted of the field. His season was over and quite likely his college career, too.
But after a lengthy and exhaustive rehab process, a coaching change, a fortuitous decision by the NCAA and a fourth offensive system in as many years, McGee can finally smile again.
“I feel great, and I’m excited,” said the senior, who was granted a medical hardship and rare sixth year of eligibility in January.
“I’ve been patient with it. … I was really down [at first]. It’s nothing you wish on anyone, and it’s not something you expect to happen to yourself. You just got to live with it and keep going.”
Last summer, McGee was touted as UF’s savior at tight end. Now, he’ll have the opportunity to truly showcase his skills.
“We like to use tight ends,” coach Jim McElwain said.
“Tight ends really need to be able to function in a lot of different roles with the shifts and motions and things we do with them. He’s a guy who will be able to handle that. He’s a guy who’s done a great job leading his group.”
Added offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier: “I’m very excited about Jake. We’re thrilled that we got him back. … He’s a very good receiving tight end.”
McGee, who practiced without contact this spring, offers a rare blend of size, speed and soft hands at the position. He can stretch the field, serve as an end-line blocker or split out and act as a safety valve for UF’s inexperienced quarterbacks.
Even better, he thrives on third down.
The Gators converted just 36 percent of third downs last season — good for 97th nationally — but McGee might be the answer to their third-down woes.
The tight end has 71 career receptions — with 38 catches for first downs. He has seven career touchdowns — with six on third down.
“I’ve always sort of been known as a clutch player,” he said.
“Third down, big situations in the game, you always want the ball. It’s something you want to help the team with moving the chains or game-winning touchdowns, whatever it is. It’s one of those things when you want to step up and make an impact.”
McGee isn’t just eyeing a comeback on the field. The senior has willingly embraced a leadership role with a unit with plenty of potential (underclassmen DeAndre Goolsby and C’yontai Lewis) but zero production.
McGee is UF’s lone tight end with a college catch, so he has accepted the responsibility as the unit’s older brother and veteran voice.
“He helps out a lot,” Gooslby said.
“We can learn from him because he’s been there. It’s just beneficial being around somebody who’s done this already, helping me grow as a player and become a better person on the field.”
“He’s a guy that’s really been accepted by his teammates,” McElwain said. “You could tell just the year he was here and what he went through and having him back is huge at that position especially.”