Logan Bowles / USA TODAY Sports

Del Rio’s maturity will lead the way for Gators

He still has a lot to prove on the field, but when you talk to Luke Del Rio, you get a sense that his age and life experiences will push him toward excellence in his Florida career.

Luke Del Rio has far surpassed the normal route for a college football player. The expected starter at quarterback for the Florida Gators in 2016 walked on at Alabama for the 2013 season. Then he transferred the following year to Oregon State and was put on scholarship. The next year (2015) he transferred to Florida and walked on. He is now in his second season and on scholarship and is the guy that most believe will be the signal caller for the Gators when the first offensive play starts on August 3.

None of this has been easy for the fourth year sophomore who left the previous schools for different reasons.

“It was tough going to three different schools,” Del Rio said Wednesday in front of a Florida media contingent that was crowding around his seat in the interview room. “I went to Alabama because it was a dream of mine. I wanted to play for Coach Saban and play with the best in the country. They were the national champions at the time. It was a mixture of things at Alabama (why he left). At Oregon State it was pretty much strictly the coaching staff changes and I couldn’t be happier to be here.

He has been asked why he keeps doing it, this likely before he became the front runner at Florida.

Everybody sees that you are still going and chasing the dream. It’s not like I woke up every single day fired up about the situation I was in. When I got told I wasn’t going to play somewhere… that hurts. I put a lot of effort and time in trying to be the best player I can be and then someone tells you that you can’t play here it’s not easy.

“But, I had a great foundation and great family, and they helped me through it.”

That family includes his father, Jack Del Rio. Jack is the current head coach of the Oakland Raiders and former coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars of the NFL.

Del Rio has spent his entire life surrounded by professional athletes, which is something that his current head coach Jim McElwain says is invaluable in the making of the Gator quarterback. His father is a defensive guy by nature, but just surrounding himself with all the NF: experiences has molded him

“I think the big thing there has more to do with growing up around the game,” McElwain said Wednesday when asked if Luke had a different perspective with a defensive father. “And you know what, probably seeing it from a little bit different perspective; I think understanding how you can help your team win, sometimes by throwing the ball away and allowing your defense to be successful. You know, there (are) certain things in playing the position, I think that help.

“I think the fact that he grew up around it, is something that obviously helps him. Whether his dad being a defensive guy or not, you know, that's probably an interesting study right there.”

Del Rio has a feel for the things he has picked up during his youth about the sport and the correct way to go about things.

“It helps a lot,” he said. “Outside of just knowledge of the game, just seeing how guys interact in the locker room, how they prepare, how they handle themselves as a professional. You see guys learn from their mistakes in the NFL because they don’t have people holding their hands. It’s been really valuable and I’ve been extremely fortunate and blessed.

There is some advantage to having a defensive minded father, especially one as well respected as Jack.

“I actually used to play defense, but my dad always kind of wanted me to play offense because quarterbacks touch the ball every play and you’re the guy,” Luke said. “Him being a defensive coach and a coordinator and a linebacker when he played, it helped a lot learning coverages and schemes. I actually prefer that he’s a defensive coach.

He often times finds himself strategizing with and against his dad.

“Usually on long plane rides, we’ll go back and forth,” he said with a laugh. “It’s kind of fun when we do that because he always has an answer for whatever I throw at him. He says, ‘no, that won’t work.”

Expectations for a new season…

Because of transferring Del Rio had to sit out last season. Now he is eligible and the anticipation is growing. But, the young man says he has a bead on what is important ahead.

“(Playing) is definitely something I looked forward to, but the biggest thing I am trying to keep focused on is just one day at a time,” he said. “The first game is going to be right out there and at night and a great time. But, I can’t focus on that right now because then I won’t be at my best.

As for the offense, he really believes they have some weapons to use this season.

“I’m really excited,” he said. “The guys did an amazing job working over the offseason really building chemistry. The offensive line is all back besides Trip Thurman. I think it really comes down to chemistry between the groups, whether it is quarterbacks and linemen or quarterbacks to receivers and tight ends. It is really about the cohesiveness.”

That chemistry and cohesiveness will get the biggest boost from the experience among the players that are back for the second year in the offense.

“Everyone is more comfortable in the offense,” Del Rio said. “People say it a lot. But, it really does matter. If I taught you something and expected you to do it perfectly, but if I taught you a couple of times and you do it and do it again, it will be better.

“It is really comfortability in the same offense that we can tailor to our offensive weapons and we are very excited for it.”

And he and his teammates don’t worry about the pundits that don’t believe the Gators have what it takes.

“It kind of goes back to the ‘control what you can control’,” he explained. “I can’t really control what people think we are going to do. Obviously they don’t think we’re going to do very good. We are excited to prove them wrong.”

And there will be 90,000+ in The Swamp on September 3 that hope he proves that very thing.


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