Luke Del Rio looks like he is on his way to becoming Florida's starting quarterback. But if you were to have asked a young Del Rio if he would ever play ball in The Swamp, he would have had a different answer.
“Didn’t ever think I’d go to Florida when I lived in Jacksonville,” Del Rio told reporters on Wednesday. “My dad went to USC, my sisters went to LSU. We were never really Florida fans."
Del Rio had a few stops to make before landing in Gainesville. His family moved from Jacksonville, Florida, to Denver, Colorado, when his father, Jack Del Rio, was hired as the Denver Broncos defensive coordinator. The younger Del Rio's talent saw him receive plenty of interest from college programs, but it was Jim McElwain that first showed confidence in the signal caller.
“It was May 1, my first offer,” Del Rio said about McElwain offering him a scholarship at Colorado State. “I went up to Fort Collins, and he offered me.”
But their first meeting, was when McElwain still a coach in Alabama.
“Jack brought him to camp when we were in Alabama when he was in eighth grade,” McElwain said. “You could tell some of the things that he kind of just grew up with and had as a quarterback. In fact, we moved him up to the big group because he understood how to take drops, he understood timing, knew how to get the ball out of his hands."
Del RIo, however, decided to head to Alabama as a preferred walk-on because of Doug Nussmeier. The Florida offensive coordinator was at that point coaching in Alabama. The Nussmeier and Del Rio families have known each other for years. When Nussmeier was playing his final season as a quarterback for the New Orleans Saints, Jack Del Rio was the assistant strength coach.
After one year in Alabama, Luke decided to transfer to Oregon State. However, Del Rio would be searching for a new home one year later.
“It’s a very unique situation," he said. "If anybody told me you’d go to three colleges, I’d probably tell them they were crazy when I was a freshman.”
Del Rio is strongest as a pocket passer, which fit perfectly with Mike Riley's offense at Oregon State, however, Riley left for Nebraska and new head coach Gary Anderson brought in a spread offense.
“It was kind of a journey to get here,” Del Rio said. “When I decided it was for my best interest to leave Oregon State, I made a couple calls and coach Nuss said he was going to be here. I knew coach Mac. He recruited me at Colorado State and Alabama. I knew they were going to run this offense, so I felt really comfortable coming here.”
Due to NCAA's transfer rules, Del Rio had to sit out a year and wait his turn.
“It was kind of an awkward situation in the sense that all I could do was focus on helping the defense get better,” Del Rio said of his scout team role. “They show you a card and you throw it to a guy, so all I could do was focus on footwork and accuracy and being the best teammate I could. You don’t want a transfer quarterback who’s on the scout team trying to be the outspoken leader when you can’t play that year.”
But now playing in a system he is comfortable with, playing for two men he knows very well, del Rio is ready to start fighting for the number one spot.
“The longer you’re in a system the more comfortable you are,” Del Rio said. “The timing of the plays, that’s what playing the position and football is all about. You’re comfortable and confident in what you’re doing. I’ve been fortunate enough to have been in this offense for a year or two. I’m getting more and more comfortable every day.”
“He’s got a lot of football savvy,” Nussmeier said. “The guy’s been around football. He grew up around it. I think he’s got great demeanor, great confidence in his ability and it’s really good in the locker room. The guys believe in his effort and know every day that he goes out, he’s going to give his best.”
“There’s something special about him,” McElwain added. “I just like the way he goes about his business. … There’s a real confidence when the guy takes the field and takes command of the huddle. It’s kind of those little things that you notice.”
His journey to The Swamp was a little unconventional, however, Del Rio believes he was always meant to be a Gator.
“It all worked out for me. Like I said, everything must be meant to be. I played with Nuss. I’ve been around Mac a lot. I’m really happy that they’re on the team that I’m on.”