The long rehab process was mostly behind him when McGee had an important decision to make following the 2014 season. He had to decide whether he wanted to start his professional career and begin preparing for the NFL Draft, or if he wanted to return to Gainesville for one final season and play for Florida.
In his heart, returning to play for the Gators is what he wanted. McGee used the NCAA's post-graduate transfer rule, allowing student-athletes to transfer from one school to another without sitting out a year if they have already received an undergraduate degree and can find a post-graduate program that their previous school doesn't offer. The tight end wanted to play his final season for a major college football program like Florida, and after his injury didn't allow that to happen in 2014, he felt like it was worth staying in college for another season to play in Gainesville.
There was still a big hurdle remaining. McGee had to get the NCAA to approve a sixth year of eligibility, and he admitted on Wednesday that he wasn’t sure it would happen.
“That was a pretty stressful situation,” Jake McGee said. “But once it worked out I was pretty set on coming back and excited to get after it. With the new staff coming in it makes it a lot of fun, a lot of positive energy.”
Hiring Jim McElwain as the Florida coach only made McGee more excited about his decision to return. McElwain's offenses always utilize the tight end position, sometimes using multiple tight ends on the field together to gain a matchup advantage. Having a tight end that can attach to the line and still catch passes downfield gives the new Florida coach a toy to help build his first offense in Gainesville.
"To have a guy that can be an on-line guy as well as an effective pass catcher working underneath is something that is really important," McElwain said. "He brings that."
Laying on the field in the first half of Florida’s season-opening win over Eastern Michigan, McGee could feel the frustration building. Post-graduate transfers only have one season to make an impact at a new school, and his looked to be wasted to a severe injury. There wasn't much doubt that his leg was broken, and he could see his leg bending in an abnormal way while trainers tried to put the temporary cast on it.
Eyeing a comeback in Gainesville, McGee spent plenty of time in the training room building up strength in the leg after surgery.
“It’s something you don’t expect,” McGee said. “Playing football you know what can happen, you know an injury is a part of the game. It’s sort of a freak accident and I guess once I went through the doctor evaluations and had surgery that night, it was just moving forward and trying to keep a positive attitude to get healthy. At first you’re really bummed, but you only make it harder on yourself if you get down and don’t have a good attitude. For myself, I’m a pretty positive person, so it was just easy to keep going and support the team and do whatever I could do to help everyone else.”
The surgery put a rod from McGee's left knee through his tibia with six screws holding it together.
He isn’t going through any live team drills this spring, but position work and pass skel drills have been enough to get him back in a rhythm. During the portions of practice open to the media, McGee has shown he still can get open and be a trusted target for the Florida quarterbacks. McElwain commented that quarterbacks like throwing to him because of his big frame.
"I feel really good,” McGee said. “We're being cautious with it this spring, but I'm running around out there. I'm doing all the reps, and I'm getting tackled a few times. It feels good. You fall like on an out route, but you can come up with a smile because you're back running. It's fun to be back out there. I don't really feel any worries in my head."