University of Florida

Inexperienced linebackers play pivotal role in Florida’s Outback Bowl Win

The Florida Gators celebrate after the Outback Bowl against the Iowa Hawkeyes on Monday, Jan. 2, 2017 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla. The Gators beat the Hawkeyes 30-3.
The Florida Gators celebrate after the Outback Bowl against the Iowa Hawkeyes on Monday, Jan. 2, 2017 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla. The Gators beat the Hawkeyes 30-3. TNS

Walk-on UF linebacker Cristian Garcia had to make a call to his mom before Florida’s 30-3 Outback Bowl win on Monday.

He wanted to tell her he’d be starting his first game for the Gators.

"She was just so emotional about it," he said. "... It was just awesome."

With the Gators thin at linebacker heading into the Outback Bowl, Garcia -- as well as true freshman Vosean Joseph -- played from the opening snap against Iowa and both held their ground.

Joseph, a former standout at Miami’s Norland High, ended the game with a career-best six tackles.

Garcia, a walk-on who is more well known for stopping a sexual assault behind a Gainesville bar than his play on the field, finished the game with five tackles.

“I had a big opportunity, a big task, but I thought I managed it well,” said Garcia, a fourth-year junior who played at Belen Jesuit Prep.

It was a big step for Garcia.

The 6-0, 233-pound linebacker walked onto the Florida team last season after spending a year working with the program’s video team.

He was relegated to practice squad work for most of that year before getting a short appearance in the Citrus Bowl.

This year, he found himself playing on special teams and became more valuable in practice and on the field after injuries to senior Jarrad Davis and redshirt junior Alex Anzalone.

“It’s been an awesome story and I hope it’s not over yet,” Garcia said. “I have one more season and I hope I get to play a lot more and make some more big plays for the Gators.”

DRAFT TALK

UF coach Jim McElwain said he will talk with his draft-eligible juniors about their NFL options on Tuesday.

The Gators have five players who seem likely to declare early: cornerbacks Jalen Tabor and Quincy Wilson, fourth-year junior linebacker Alex Anzalone, fourth-year junior defensive tackle Caleb Brantley and offensive lineman David Sharpe. Nickel corner Duke Dawson could also leave early.

“We've got all the reports from all the NFL stuff, all the general managers, all their ranks, all the insurance that they can have, all that kind of stuff,” he said.

CONSISTENT KICKING

Eddy Pineiro, a former soccer standout at Miami Sunset Senior High, made all three of his field goals on Monday to finish the season going 21 for 25, with 11 of them coming from at least 40 yards away. His 21 made field goals are tied for the fifth-most in a single season in UF history.

Pineiro, a redshirt sophomore who had not attempted a live field goal heading into the season, also finished the year making 12 consecutive shots, which stands as the fourth-best mark in school history.

Last season, Florida made just seven of its 17 field-goal attempts.

THIS AND THAT

Davis Anzalone, Brantley and senior wide receiver Ahmad Fulwood served as Florida’s team captains.

Representatives from four NFL teams -- Pittsburgh Steelers, Indianapolis Colts, Tennessee Titans and Buffalo Bills -- were credentialed for the game.

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