This time last year, Florida coach Jim McElwain was still figuring out who his quarterback was, still implementing his scheme on a roster filled with players he was handed and preparing for the unknown.
Twelve months later, and with two weeks until the season opener against Massachusetts, the Gators have a quarterback in hand, an offense that knows what’s expected of it and a sense of certainty after going through the motions.
“I think just the comfort level that they have from an expectation standpoint,” McElwain said. “The piece that I see is them establishing a certain, I don’t know, the word standard. I don’t know if that’s what it is. A certain way that we expect to go about our work. I’ve seen that.”
McElwain announced Thursday that redshirt sophomore Luke Del Rio separated himself from the pack enough to be named the starting quarterback.
And with that announcement, the Gators can spend their final two weeks of camp focusing on honing the nuances of the offense before the season begins.
“It definitely helps the team kind of unify and settle around one guy,” said Del Rio, who sat out last season after transferring from Oregon State. “It's not just because I got named the starting quarterback that doesn't mean I'm the guy of the team. I'm the quarterback. There's still 10 other guys on offense, and there's a lot of guys on defense. But to be able to have it sorted out I think does help."
To his teammates, Del Rio commands the huddle. When he leads a play, calls an audible or simply makes a suggestion, they listen.
“We feel like Luke is a good leader in my opinion,” offensive lineman David Sharpe said. “He should be the starter. But we have — All our quarterbacks I think can get the job done. ... But I think yeah, definitely Luke, you know, he’s the QB1 guy I feel like.”
Brandon Powell, a wide receiver from Deerfield Beach, added: “He’s been a leader this whole summer. Even with him and [Austin] Appleby fighting for the job, they both have been taking charge, kind of leading everybody in the right direction. He’s been a great leader this whole summer.”
And with a leader to stand behind, the Gators hope to jump-start a passing offense that faltered down the stretch.
The Gators finished the season 86th in the country in passing offense with an average of 207.1 yards a game. In the final seven games of the year, the Gators threw for more than 200 yards just once.
But with Del Rio at the helm and four capable running backs to keep the offense balanced, McElwain remains optimistic that will change this season.
“Luke’s command on everything we’re trying to do has been good,” McElwain said. “Now, he’s made some mistakes. He knows that this is by no means, ‘Now I have it’ and it’s there for good. There’s constant competition going on as there is in a lot of the spots. He’s done a heck of a job. I’m excited to roll him out there.”