Jake McGee was injured for the season last year in the early parts of the first quarter of the first game. Technically, that was enough for the then fifth year senior to have ended his college career altogether. But, that is why the NCAA has an appeal process.
McGee set out for the appeal as soon as he could and as late as January of this year, things weren’t looking so good.
“I didn’t expect it to happen,” McGee told the Florida media on Monday as the Gators prepare for an SEC showdown with Vanderbilt. “At first, it didn’t happen. It got switched, but it was really something that came down to the middle of January and I was pretty packed up and didn’t think I’d be here. It was something that worked out, and I really want to thank everybody from Mr. Foley down that it did.”
“It didn’t look good at first, and then I think the way the NCAA has been trying to do more and more for the student-athlete. My situation, one that I don’t think they’d had put in front of them before, sort of the first of its kind, they sort of sided with the athlete, which was fortunate for me.”
This year has been a blessing for McGee. He transferred to Florida for the 2014 season expecting to be a huge target for the Gators and that is the way things were going before his setback. Then the team struggled once again, especially on offense, the head coach was fired along with almost the entire staff, and here he is now with a new staff and a completely new outlook on things.
The things that have changed for him have come from growing into being more of a Gator. After spending four years at Virginia, when he arrived and began to start playing last season he never really got into being a Gator. That has been a big part of the great experience of having another year on campus and in the program.
“I didn’t expect to be here,” McGee said of this 2015 season. “And last year I expected it to go well and to be a part of it. But that extra year to really get into the culture of the University of Florida and to get to know the guys better, to be accepted in and to really feel as if I’ve been here for a while has been pretty special.”
“There have been a lot of positives that have come out of it. You can look at the negatives that happened last year but there's been a lot of fun moments this year and a lot of things that have sort of come full circle that I'm glad I've been able to be a part of."
Now McGee is a huge part of the offense and maybe THE leader on that side of the ball. He has made huge and difficult catches and key blocks all season and has the admiration and follow of all of his teammates. He knows the guys are counting on him to step up and make plays and he has delivered.
"It's something I have sort of said a few times and sort of my charge when I'm out there play-wise, when my number is called,” McGee said. “I've got to make the play. If the ball is close enough and you can get your hands near and you can catch it, you do your role for the offense and make plays and do what they want."
"We really just need to keep getting better at that each week. I think this week was a little sluggish. I thought LSU went all right. With Treon in there, we just have to make the most of the opportunities and really just keep taking steps forward to help the defense out. When you're playing with those guys on the other side of the ball, you really don't have to do as much as some teams have to. But it still needs to be our job to score as many points as we can to help them out."
And he loves being a part of an offensive system that really is tailored to the tight end position and making that position a real threat on any given Saturday. Big plays from McGee, sophomore DeAndre Goolsby, and redshirt freshman Cyontai Lewis have been integral in the overall success of the team in a year that has gone so much better than expected.
“It’s a position that coach Mac and coach Nuss (offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier) really like in their offense and we’re able to have a talented position group there right now. They’re trying to make the most of it and capitalize on it and we’ve got a hungry position room that wants to make as many plays as we can and do as much for this team as we can.”
Lewis was back this week after missing several games with a hand injury. He quickly made his presence felt on the first series of the game against Georgia and the future is bright for the young man.
“Yeah, it was good to see him back,” McGee said of Lewis. “I know he’s been waiting to get back out there and he’s been trying to be as patient as he can, but it was good to see him back. We were able to get into some three tight end sets, some two tight end sets and really put guys in a lot of positions to succeed. But he’s a guy that loves football and he’s been around and he’s just fun to be playing with out there. I was glad to have him back.”
The offense is so much different than we have seen around here lately, a great deal of adaptation with the personnel, putting play makers in a position to succeed. The tight end position alone is a part of the offense that was terribly mismanaged for the last few years. McGee just thinks the current offensive staff just gets it.
“I think one of the special things about coach Mac and the whole offensive staff is I really think each week, they look at what the other defense does and we put our game plan around it,” McGee said. “They don’t get stuck on having to do one thing, there’s something they try to beat into the ground. If it’s a new wrinkle they think will find success, they put it in and we use it. They’ve shown that they’ll put in new plays and use them that week, so it’s something that’s pretty cool to see. Going into Monday and Tuesday meetings and practice, you don’t really know what to expect, but it’s fun to see what they’ve drawn up over the past couple of days.”
Now the focus is back to this team and what they have to do to continue on taking care of their goals. Focus is the key word here and McElwain preaches it every single day.
"He's right,” McGee said of the team keeping tunnel vision on the next game. “There's too much fun stuff going on around here right now to really want to look ahead. I mean, every game has been a blast. There have been electric stadiums and fan support has been great. It's something that I don't see why you would want to look a month ahead when there's a lot of fun and a lot of football left to be played.
“Every game is important. I mean, we can accomplish something each week and it really doesn't matter who you are playing. We as a team have really from the beginning wanted to show people what we are made of and what we can do. I think regardless of the opponent that needs to be our focus and our goal."