Two-time transfer Luke Del Rio has finally found a home with the Gators as the starting quarterback for the first game of the 2016 season. The 6-foot-1, 216-pound former Alabama walk-on turned Oregon State scholarship player turner Gator comes into this season as one motivated individual.
There wasn’t a lot of drama involved when Del Rio was named the starting quarterback, but the redshirt sophomore is remaining focused on the task at hand, which means beating a UMass team that comes in with not a lot to lose.
“Having sat last year I'm definitely excited,” Del Rio said. “I'm focusing on the game plan the coaches are putting together and looking forward to executing it."
Although it would seem to be every player’s dream to run out of the tunnel opening day as a starting quarterback, Del Rio says that actually has not been the first thing on his mind recently.
“You kind of think that's all you're going to think about but there's bigger things to worry about, such as the game plan,” Del Rio said. “UMass has a very talented defense. The coach uses a multiple scheme and they do a really good job with their players. I'm more focused on executing the game plan than anything."
Since Del Rio has been named starter, Coach Jim McElwain says that not only Del Rio, but the team, has really settled into the new quarterback change.
“There seems to be a real kind of settling in there as far as that voice in the huddle, which is a good thing,” McElwain said. “I think as time goes that's one of those deals that you've got to continue to move forward with that leadership and that voice.”
Coach McElwain said that based off of Del Rio’s maturity, it’s easy to forget this is actually the redshirt junior’s first go-around.
“It's almost like we expect him to do things a little bit like a veteran in how he approaches it and the decisions we make,” Coach McElwain said. “And yet we've got to be conscious of the fact that, I don't care who you are, this is the first time being out there and being the leader of the Florida Gators.”
Del Rio’s success will also fall onto the shoulders of the offensive line. After having a very young O-line last season and giving up a league high 46 sacks, Del Rio says that he’s now sure of the progress he has seen the O-line make during camp.
“They’ve done a tremendous job of jelling and working together this camp,” Del Rio said. “It’s always hard when we have youth, like we did last year, across the offensive line. We have a lot of guys that were playing as freshmen last year. But I have all the confidence in the world that they’re going to get it done.”
After a disappointing end to the 2015 season ending 0-3, the Gators are ready to hit the ground running this Saturday. If anything, being labeled as underdogs for the season has been motivating to Del Rio who has a pinned tweet at the top of his Twitter account posted for motivation. .
“I think it’s good not to listen to the hype,” Del Rio said. “But it’s pretty fun to listen to doubters and prove them wrong. I know it’s something as athletes that we try to do as much as possible. And it was just kind of one of those reminders to everybody that maybe a lot of people don’t believe in us, but OK, that’s fine.”
Although Del Rio has been named starter for Saturday, he’s making sure not to keep that in his expectations every week.
“I don’t think you can get as a quarterback too comfortable in your job,” Del Rio said. “I’m a firm believer you have to earn it every day, every practice, every game.”