Gator News

by Lisa Gallo and Robyn Jones

Coming off an 11-2 season and just missing the chance to play for the SEC Championship, the University of Florida Gators have their eyes set on Atlanta in 2013. Media outlets across the nation have picked the Gators to finish third in the SEC East race, but that isn’t going to deter Head Coach Will Muschamp’s team. Leading the Gator offense this fall is second-year starter and junior, Jeff Driskel (Oviedo, Fla.). In Driskel’s rookie season in 2011, he saw action in five games for the Orange and Blue and completed 16-of-34 passes for 148 yards. The 2012 season was Driskel’s first taste of the spotlight as Florida’s starting quarterback, making in 11 starts at the position for the Gators. Driskel completed 63.67 percent of his passes and rushed for 413 yards, which ranks seventh in the school’s history for rushing yards by a quarterback. Driskel has emerged as the unquestioned leader of the Florida offense and will be expected to prove his maturity on the field this season.

The Gator offense will be looking to strengthen itself around Driskel. With the loss of Florida’s top rusher, running back Mike Gillislee, Muschamp is focusing on the assets he has this fall, starting with sophomore running back Matt Jones (Seffner, Fla.). Jones, after playing in 12 games as a true freshman, is ready to rise the occasion after having a phenomenal spring. He rushed for 275 yards (third in team statistics) and three touchdowns last season. Florida will also have a lot of young talent coming in, including running back Kelvin Taylor (Belle Glade, Fla.), son of former Jacksonville Jaguar and Florida Gator star, Fred Taylor. Taylor ran for 2,423 yards and 41 touchdowns as a high school senior.
The offensive line will have three returning starters – Jon Halapio, Jon Harrison and Chaz Green – and will also see improved depth from three transfers. Tyler Moore (Clearwater, Fla.) played a year at Nebraska before coming to Gainesville, while Max Garcia (Norcross, Ga.) spent time as a starting tackle at Maryland and Trenton Brown (Albany, Ga.) is a mammoth 6-8, 361-pound lineman that played at Georgia Military College.

Florida will see a return of redshirt junior Quinton Dunbar (Miami, Fla.), who had 36 receptions for 383 yards and four touchdowns last season. A notable new asset to the Gators receiving corps is the hire of former Kentucky Head Coach Joker Phillips, who takes over as the new wide receivers coach for the Gators. Muschamp, known for his defensive prowess, has led the Gators defense to back-to-back top 10 rankings. Although the star players of 2012 are gone to the NFL, including first-round draft picks Sharrif Floyd and Matt Elam, the Florida defense should be just as strong for 2013.

Although questions circled around him about leaving for professional football, senior lineman Dominique Easley (Staten Island, N.Y.) remains on the roster for the upcoming season as the defensive leader on the field. In 2012, Easley started 11 games for the Gators, missing only two due to injury. He led the team with four sacks and collected 26 tackles on the season. Easley will likely begin the season at tackle to strengthen the interior of the line.
Along with Easley, redshirt junior Ronald Powell (Moreno Valley, Calif.) returns to the game after missing last season and the spring due to a torn ACL. Powell is a huge plus for the Gator defense, leading the team with six sacks as a sophomore in 2011. Sophomore Antonio Morrison (Bolingbrook, Ill.), a promising young player at middle linebacker, will look to have a breakout season for the Gators in 2013.

D.J. Durkin will take over for Dan Quinn as Florida’s defensive coordinator this season after Quinn took the same position with the Seattle Seahawks in the NFL. Entering his fourth year with the Gator program, Durkin spent three years as the special teams’ coordinator and the coach of the linebackers. Former players under Durkin include standout linebacker Jon Bostic, a 2013 second-round pick of the Chicago Bears who earned All-SEC honors his senior season, and kicker Caleb Sturgis, a two-year All-American who was picked up by the Miami Dolphins in the 2013 NFL Draft. Assistant head coach and defensive line coach Brad Lawing will make his debut at Florida this year. Lawing coached the defensive line at SEC-foe University of South Carolina from 2006-12. His 2012 USC team set a school record with 43 sacks on the season.