In one tweet, Florida Gators kicker Eddy Pineiro simultaneously went viral and stripped himself of any excuses for ever missing a field goal.
The former soccer star posted a video from Tuesday’s practice of him belting an 81-yard field goal — 17 yards longer than the NFL record, 14 past the NCAA’s historic mark. Granted, it was an uncontested kick, but it happened with pads on, wind blowing and … oh yeah, 81 yards (!) between him and his target.
For any skeptics out there, Gators coach Jim McElwain said Pineiro’s 81-yard boot was “a real deal.”
“It’s actually something he did back during spring ball,” McElwain said, via SEC Country. “I don’t know why it took so long to get out here, but it was real. All right? So there wasn’t any doctoring up the yard marker or whatever.”
McElwain said he’s more concerned with what Pineiro does on game days, but that’s also a strength of the Miami Sunset High product. He made 21 of 25 field-goal attempts and all three of his tries from 50-plus yards last season, earning second-team All-SEC honors in the process.
The redshirt junior started his collegiate career as a soccer player at ASA Community College. Once he settled on football, he committed to the University of Alabama but decommitted after several months and signed with UF a day later.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Luke Del Rio, the leader in Florida’s open quarterback competition entering preseason camp, heard along with everyone else last week the strong endorsement he received from former Gators coach and newly minted ambassador/consultant Steve Spurrier.
And he was no doubt ready for the inevitable question Wednesday at the Gators’ media day on the eve of the team’s first practice.
“That kind of blew up,” Del Rio said playfully of Spurrier’s comments. “I appreciate the insight, but it’s still an open competition.”
In talking with reporters last Friday about returning to his alma mater, Spurrier made headlines by inadvertently declaring Del Rio the Gators’ new starting quarterback.
Florida head coach Jim McElwain and offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier have yet to make the same declaration, though, and didn’t offer anything new Wednesday while saying they want to see how the team’s offensive players feed off both Del Rio and Austin Appleby, a graduate transfer from Purdue, during camp.
“We’ll make the decision when we’re ready to make the decision and when we think the timing’s right,” Nussmeier said. “I don’t think you can sit here today and say it’s this day or that day.”
Said McElwain: “I really believe, to play successful football at the quarterback position, the people around you, A, have to believe; and B, they have got to trust in everything you’re doing; and C, their play is elevated based on how you go about playing the position. …
“So I’ll see how the guys respond to them when they are in the huddle, when they are into the situations that we, you know, set up during practice. That really is kind of, to me, the key to success at the position.”
Pressed for any further commitment to Del Rio’s grip on the job, McElwain wasn’t biting.
“Has anything ever changed here?” he joked, keeping whatever deeper opinions he has to himself.
So the competition continues as the Gators look to find stability at quarterback. They’ve struggled to find any such stability since Will Grier’s season ended with a suspension for a positive PED test, and Treon Harris was inconsistent in replacing him. Both Grier and Harris have since transferred out of the program.
Del Rio, meanwhile, is about as well traveled as a redshirt sophomore can be.
The son of Oakland Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio, he spent the 2013 season at Alabama as a walk-on, before joining Oregon State in 2014 and then sitting out last season due to NCAA transfer rules after arriving at Florida. But he had that year to absorb the Gators offense
On Wednesday, he thought back to the circuitous path that has brought him to this opportunity now.
“It was tough. It definitely was, going to three different schools,” he said. “I basically went to Alabama because it was a dream of mine. I wanted to play for Coach [Nick] Saban, I wanted to play with the best in the country, they were the national champions at the time. It was a mixture of things [causing me to leave] Alabama, and then at Oregon State it was pretty much strictly coaching staff changes. But I couldn’t be happier to be here.”
Del Rio recounted how he was told during spring practice in 2015, after Oregon State head coach Mike Riley had left for Nebraska and a new staff had taken over, that he was not part of the Beavers’ future.
“It was a Tuesday, it was like 6:50 in the morning when they told me and I still had to go practice because it was during spring practice. It hurt a lot,” he said. “I asked them, ‘So you want me to transfer?’ And they basically said, ‘Look, we’re not telling you to do anything; we’re just telling you you won’t play here. …
“Alabama was more complicated, but Oregon State was very difficult. I had a good thing going, I was settled, but once again, I’m happy to be here.”
Del Rio said McElwain had recruited him “very hard” when he was the head coach at Colorado State. He didn’t want to play in the altitude of Colorado, though.
Instead, they find themselves together now in Gainesville trying to jumpstart an offense that averaged just 12.8 points over the final six games of last season.
Del Rio has only thrown 18 passes in college — all in 2014 with Oregon State — but he’s had that extra year in the program to get up to speed with the offense here. Now he has this preseason camp to finally prove whether he’s indeed the best option.
“I’m confident in my ability,” he said. “I can really only control what I can control. I feel if I play to the best of my ability then I’ll have a good shot at winning the job.”
As for Appleby, he said he had far easier paths to playing time when he decided to leave Purdue for his final year of eligibility.
He started 11 games and played in 17 over three seasons with the Boilermakers, passing for 2,777 career yards, 19 touchdowns and 19 interceptions.
Appleby said he had about two weeks to find a new home in-between getting his release from Purdue and a recruiting dead period, but that was enough time to drum up considerable interest — including several schools that could have offered him a better guarantee of playing time.
“There was a number of them. People in this conference, people in MAC-level conferences, all the way in between, but for me, I want to be the very best I can be,” Appleby said. “And Coach Mac, Coach Nuss, these teammates, for me there was something about this place that I couldn’t pass it up. …
“It didn’t take long for me to be 100 percent sold on what the Gators were offering and what a special thing we have brewing here and how I can be a part of that.”
While Del Rio exited the spring as the leader in the quarterback competition, Appleby says he’s had the best summer of his collegiate career. He said he has come a long way in terms of his understanding of the offense and his chemistry with the receivers.
“I have a world of confidence. I had one of my best summers I’ve ever had since becoming a college football player, really taking the opportunity to learn and develop my plan within the plan — not just understanding the plays, but understanding why we’re calling them, what we’re trying to accomplish, who runs it the best, where do my eyes need to be …,” he said.
“Those were things I was a little behind in the spring time, trying to catch up. I didn’t even know where to run from drill to drill in practice. Now I’ve got my feet under me, I understand what we’re trying to accomplish as an offense, I understand the coaches and I can just go be an extension of them and affect my teammates in positive ways.
“I’m right where I need to be. I couldn’t be more confident.”
Between those two options, Nussmeier said he feels good about the depth the Gators have this year at such a crucial position.
“Obviously as we came out of spring, we talked about Luke had a slight edge, and we’re going to let them compete and see where we end up,” he said.
And eventually somebody on the current coaching staff will make a declaration as to who will actually get the first shot at the job.
It depicts an incident at Keys Residential Complex, involving freshman Gators receivers Rick Wells and Tyrie Cleveland, who appear to be shooting pellet guns into the building at freshman wide receiver Joshua Hammond, who appears to place a broom in the door during the video.
The video, which contained two different camera angles, can be watched here.
Wells and Cleveland were arrested following the July incident, and were both charged with criminal mischief for damaging property worth $1,000 or more (third-degree felony) and shooting a missile inside an occupied dwelling (second-degree felony).
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The Florida football team begins fall training camp Wednesday, exactly one month from the season opener against UMass.
When the Gators take Steve Spurrier Field on Sept. 3, they could be one of few reigning SEC division winners to start a year unranked. But with a total of 11 starters gone from 2015, it’s understandable why prognosticators have their doubts about UF.
“There are a lot of unknowns,” Florida coach Jim McElwain said at SEC Media Days. “And yet, it’s kind of part of the fun of it.”
McElwain won SEC Coach of the Year last season after his team won 10 games and played for the conference title for the first time since 2009. But UF will have to beat the odds — and preseason predictions — to make it back to Atlanta this year.
The Gators were picked to finish second in the Eastern division behind Tennessee, and only one media outlet (Athlon Sports) has them in the top 25. Phil Steele, Bleacher Report, Sports Illustrated, Sporting News and Lindy’s Sports all left Florida out of their preseason rankings.
Since the first SEC Championship Game in 1992, the conference champion has always been ranked the following year. Only four division winners on the losing end of the title game (Arkansas twice, Auburn, Mississippi State) entered the next season unranked in the AP poll, and it hasn’t happened since 2003.
UF would be the first defending SEC East champion to miss the top 25. The AP poll comes out later this month.
While the Gators can’t control where they start the season, they’ll determine how they finish. To exceed expectations, several new faces in the starting lineup will need to set up.
Florida has to replace its starting quarterback, running back, tight end, team-leading wide receiver, kicker and six of 11 starters on defense.
“It will be interesting to see how this year’s team responds,” McElwain said. “We lost some really, really fine players, and I’m excited for them to move on into the National Football League.
“I think we learned a lot of lessons (from 2015). And yet, we’ve got a bunch of new guys. In fact, I think the happiest people on our campus are the people that are going to sell programs, because there’s a whole bunch of new jerseys out there. That will be a lot of fun for people to figure out who they are.”
Week 1 rankings of reigning SEC division winners:
*Conference champion in bold, AP ranking in parenthesis
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — It’s important for a quarterback and his position coach to be on the same page.
Florida commit Jake Allen has developed that kind of rapport with Gators offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier over the past year. Allen, who pledged to UF last summer, worked with Nussmeier and Florida coach Jim McElwain at this past weekend’s Friday Night Lights event.
“Nuss was talking some trash to me,” Allen said. “We were doing the first drill when you have to throw it through the net, and he told me I couldn’t do it. He goes, ‘Jake, don’t throw it to the ground.’ It was funny. But of course I made it.”
The nation’s No. 10 pro-style quarterback also recruited some offensive skill players during his trip, such as 4-star wide receiver Jerry Jeudy and 4-star running back Adarius Lemons, who committed to Florida on Monday. Allen threw a long touchdown pass to Jeudy after he shook a cornerback to the ground on a juke move that went viral.
“You have to find little niches in their recruitment,” Allen said when asked how he approaches other prospects. “Everyone has something that they want to hear and they want to have in a college. So you have to find that out and keep stressing it.
“It’s not easy going to random guys and talking to them. But I like doing that and I enjoy it.”
Unless otherwise indicated, ratings and rankings come from the 247Sports Composite.
Zach Abolverdi is the Florida beat writer for SEC Country and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
The talk throughout the SEC East this offseason has been a sort of coronation of Tennessee.
The Volunteers are the team of destiny to get over the top finally and reach the SEC Championship Game, break the streak against their hated rivals and become players on the national championship picture. It all seems pre-ordained.
“Well, even if we don’t know who Florida’s QB will be in 2016 — my money is on Luke Del Rio — Jim McElwain has had plenty of success with his QBs in his coaching career,” Fornelli writes. “Then there’s Florida defense, which is really good. It was good last season until the end of the year when it just gave out after having to support a team with absolutely no offense. Seriously, the loss of Will Grier completely derailed Florida’s season, even if it wasn’t immediately obvious.”
The Gators offense was derailed when Grier went out. Florida trounced Ole Miss in Gainesville before the Grier suspension. This was a team threatening the top of the SEC. And obviously had enough to win the SEC East even after that loss.
Indeed, no one is talking about Florida right now. The conference has pretty much been handed to Tennessee by overwhelming margins.
That narrative will change if Florida tops Tennessee on Sept. 24 in Knoxville. Then no one will be sleeping on the Gators anymore.
Unfortunately for coach Jim McElwain, his ESPN Car Wash was tainted Tuesday by having to repeatedly address what happened.
“I spend a day at ESPN talking about that rather than the fact that we were SEC East champions,” McElwain said of the Paul Finebaum Show.
McElwain said Tuesday that Tyrie Cleveland and Rick Wells “will be dealt with,” but he also used the discussion to highlight the importance of player conduct and preparation in the offseason.
“I’m of the belief that this team’s record is already been shaped based on what they did from the day we got back from our bowl game,” McElwain said. “Not that there aren’t things that are going to go on during the season. However, I do believe your destiny is a little bit based on the work that you put in when no one’s looking.
“It’s really the truth. The idea that I can flip a switch and go — no. We play Week 1, but guess what? We’ve already been working towards that. … I don’t have a lot of mottos and that kind of stuff. I believe you work hard, you do your job and you do it to your fullest. If you do that on a daily basis, you’ve got an opportunity to be successful.”
The key to success is not just the players’ work ethic in the weight room or at practice, but their behavior and decision-making off the field — especially during the offseason when they have a lot of free time on their hands.
Renowned motivational speaker Eric Thomas spoke to the Florida football team Tuesday.
Phenomenal session. S/O to the Gators coaching staff for the opportunity to help the guys development as men today! pic.twitter.com/Jw7VWLpTWH
“Not only do we have our mental conditioning coaches, but also the speakers that we bring in on a consistent basis,” McElwain said. “It’s actually something that we do on a weekly basis, even before we come back. We’ve got wonderful people in the how-you-think department (to help with) how you choose to react to situations and how you deal with situations.
“Jeremy (Foley), our athletic director, is fantastic about seeing the value of the mental conditioning piece. It’s not a line item that a lot of people have in their budget. It’s OK to go buy a new weight machine because you can touch that. It’s tangible. Yet, the most important thing is the intangible way in how we affect our players.”
McElwain said he has a “pretty good handle” on what kind of team he’ll have in the fall by the way his players handle themselves during summer break. The Gators report for training camp on Aug. 3.
“I think teams are made over the offseason,” McElwain said. “Now, sometimes you catch fire or somebody steps up. This is something set in stone. But ultimately, the work that was put in, how your locker room has come together in that time … when you see the unity that comes from that, now you know you got a chance.
“We’ve had a great summer. Since we’ve been there and how we’ve handled discipline, knock on wood, we haven’t had a lot of incidents. And that’s been really good.”
Zach Abolverdi is the Florida beat writer for SEC Country and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.