Jim McElwain wants to build a fence around South Florida, hoping to stockpile the Florida Gators with the area’s host of elite athletes.
It’s easy to see why, too, as the fertile hotbed is already paying dividends jump-starting UF’s dormant offense.
The Gators’ two-deep offense is littered with underclassmen playmakers who hail from the 305, 786 and 954 area codes.
In UF’s 61-13 rout over New Mexico State, Brandon Powell (Deerfield Beach), C.J. Worton (South Dade), Jordan Scarlett (St. Thomas Aquinas) and Jordan Cronkrite (Westminster Christian) all scored touchdowns.
Former Booker T. Washington stars Treon Harris, a sophomore quarterback, and Antonio Callaway, a freshman wideout, started the opener.
“It’s awesome having [so many] guys from down south up here because you know I feel like we’re all a family,” Worton said.
“We’re all pretty much in this together. I played with Antonio [Callaway]. We’re both from Homestead. We played against each other in high school. [Jordan] Cronkrite. We played 7-on-7 together. …We’re all connected in a way. It’s good to have guys up here who you already have chemistry with off the field. It just translates onto the field.”
It certainly did in UF’s opener.
Worton, a sophomore wideout, recorded his first career touchdown against NMSU, and Powell reeled in a 37-yard score off a deep pass from Harris. The two freshman tailbacks — Scarlett and Cronkite combined for 60 yards and two touchdowns — also acquitted themselves nicely, quickly forging a three-headed monster at running back with junior Kelvin Taylor.
“They didn’t let the scene get too big for them and they went out there and produced,” Taylor said. “They both scored a touchdown apiece, so that’s pretty good for your first game in The Swamp.”
Meanwhile, Callaway earned the start at wideout, and had five touches for 53 yards in his first career game.
“He deserved that start because he’s a guy who proved that he can make explosive plays,” McElwain said.
“He did what was right. The attention to detail. He caught the ball. This is a guy that’s going to be a good player for a long time for us. … I’m sure glad he’s a Gator. He helps us.”
They all do, and the Gators’ contingent of South Florida standouts should continue to earn opportunities as the season progresses.
The freshman ‘backs will see plenty of carries, Powell should grow into his redefined receiver role, and Callaway is an explosive weapon outside and at punt returner.
“I told you there would be a lot of new faces for you guys to look up their jerseys numbers,” McElwain said.
“The good thing was the game wasn’t too big for them. There were some bright eyes coming out of that tunnel for some of these young guys, which should have been [expected] with that environment. But I thought they settled in and did some good things. There were a lot of correctable things they saw on video [too] that can help us get better.”
Worton is another intriguing option. The 6-0, 195-pound receiver, known for his crisp routes and underrated quickness, was poised to make an impact as a freshman, but Worton finished last year with just two catches and a wasted season after breaking his hand at a party.
The sophomore learned from his mistake, dodged a potential ACL injury during training camp and has quietly emerged as a rotational player at multiple spots in the offense.
“They give everybody opportunities to make plays in this offense,” he said. “Having all these young guys, [Jordan] Scarlett, Cronkrite, myself, Callaway, even [Brandon Powell]. It’s just a lot of opportunities for us to make big plays.”