When he walked into the tight end meeting room for the first time, Jake McGee’s status was still uncertain as he was in the process of appealing the NCAA for a sixth season. Nord asked the group who else in the room had played in a game before, and only one hand went up.
It belonged to Deandre Goolsby. However, he didn’t make a catch during his limited playing time as a true freshman in 2014, which Nord estimated to be around 20 plays with the Florida offense. Even when McGee was granted his sixth year, Nord knew he was starting from scratch at the tight end position.
“I’m looking at a room where half of them didn’t even dress for games,” Nord said. “It’s a very inexperienced group. So they’ve come light years from when I first got here as far as learning how to play.”
Goolsby heads into this weekend as Florida’s leading receiver with 132 yards and one touchdown. He made three catches for 94 yards and one touchdown over the weekend against East Carolina, giving the Pirates issues on wheel routes and showing he could make plays after the catch. At 6-4, 234 pounds, his elusiveness can surprise defenders in the open field, but he also has reliable hands that can be a favorite target for Florida’s two inexperienced quarterbacks.
“I think he’s just comfortable,” Florida tight end Jake McGee said. “Now he knows that he’s a big part of this offense and he sees his opportunity. He’s a guy that’s getting more and more comfortable every day and a heck of a football player. I’m excited to see him grow, and I’m excited to see him perform.”?
Nord added, “He continues to get better every day as well, and maybe (we’ll) expand his role and be able to utilize him in some different capacities as well.”
C’yontai Lewis is 15 pounder lighter than Goolsby, but Florida coach Jim McElwain said the redshirt freshman “might be our best point of attack blocker” on the team. He has the frame to bulk up and become an even better blocker before his time at Florida is over.
He turned heads in the season opener against New Mexico State, making two catches for 44 yards and two touchdowns. He made just one catch for six yards against East Carolina, but Nord emphasized that was only because the Pirates’ defense was dictating that the ball should go in other directions.
Lewis has already proven his athleticism can be a problem for teams, and Nord sees a bright future for the redshirt freshman.
“I’m not going to put a ceiling on the kid -- he’s got a great chance to be a great player before he leaves here,” Nord said. “C’yontai gets better every day. He’s a tough, hard-nosed competitor that loves football, which allows him to just be like a sponge. Every day he learns something different and improves on the things that he already knew.”
McGee is still the unquestioned leader of the position because of his experience, but the two freshmen are the ones standing out as the Gators open Southeastern Conference play this weekend at Kentucky.
“They run very well for tight ends,” Nord said. “I’ve been fortunate in my career that I’ve had a chance to coach a lot of great tight ends, and they compare favorably with some of the good ones, I think."