Treon Harris’ freshman season at Florida was a rollercoaster ride bumpier than Space Mountain.
The former Miami Booker T. Washington standout didn’t come to UF expecting to play immediately ‒ much less start six games ‒ but after beleaguered starter Jeff Driskel continued to struggle Harris was thrust into the spotlight in front of nearly 103,000 people.
The 19-year-old quarterback rallied the Gators to a 10-9 win over Tennessee in Neyland Stadium, briefly saving Will Muschamp’s job and sparking a listless offense.
Harris didn’t know the playbook, and it didn’t matter. He was a playmaker and had what teammates and Muschamp called “the it factor.”
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“It shocked me, you know, coming in as a freshman and Jeff was a redshirt junior. I didn’t think I’d play,” Harris explained.
“And when Coach Muschamp just called me and was like ‘Get ready,’ everything just seemed unreal to me. … I knew what I had to do, but I had never stepped on a field in front of a crowd like that.”
But less than 48 hours later, a different crowd was screaming at the quarterback, as Harris went from star to suspect. The freshman was accused of sexual assault by a female student and was immediately suspended.
Days later, he was reinstated when the accuser withdrew her claim, but Harris’ reputation was stained and his career potentially sidetracked.
Harris’ personal struggles were “tough,” but losing became the hardest part.
“It was a tough situation for everybody,” he said.
“I just stayed focus, stayed poised and let God handle everything. Me and my coaches, they trusted me, I trusted in them and I just kept my head up and kept everything going right. … It was my first time losing and I [didn’t] know how it felt.”
Slowly, Harris overcame the adversity on and off the field.
He was named Florida’s starter before the Georgia game, piloting the Gators to their first victory over the Bulldogs since 2010 and a 4-2 record down the stretch.
He finished his freshman campaign passing for 1,019 yards, nine touchdowns and four interceptions. His accuracy (just 49 percent) labored late in the year, but a persistent thumb injury has finally healed and he’s ready to take his game to another level.
Harris has worked on his mechanics this offseason, focusing on his release and footwork. He’s more inclined to study the mental aspect of the game, and the undersized signal-caller is also learning how to take snaps under center in new coach Jim McElwain’s hybrid offensive scheme.
But despite a résumé that includes two state titles in high school and last season’s trial by fire, Harris must prove to a new coaching staff he can lead Florida’s revamped offense.
He will battle redshirt freshman Will Grier, the nation’s top quarterback recruit in 2014, for the starting job, with the sophomore hoping to parlay his playmaking prowess and experience into an advantage.
“Everyone has to compete for a spot,” he said.
“Me and Will are just going out there every day, just getting better, getting each other better. … I’ve got the speed. I’ve played in big crowds and tough situations. I’ve been in the game and done what I had to do.”
Harris characterized his relationship with Grier as “very friendly,” saying “we’re brothers.”
The two have such a close bond Harris insists a cutthroat competition won’t sour the relationship or force one player to seek a fresh start elsewhere. Harris wants to be a Gator, also dismissing the notion he’s a poor fit for McElwain’s system.
“Nobody is thinking about leaving, transferring schools ore anything like that,” he said.
“We’re just competing every day to get better.”