SPRING: Youngster Portis Isn't Lacking Confidence

He shouldn't even be here until the summer, yet Josh Portis is a 17-year-old true freshman taking snaps in spring practice with the University of Florida football team. The quarterback from Woodland Hills, California should be going to his prom this month but instead he is throwing to speedy receivers, dodging blitzing linebackers, and making fabulous runs against players who have are typically at least two or three years older.

The fact he's the youngest player on the team doesn't faze him, though. Josh Portis has the confidence and ability to play quarterback at the University of Florida for a long time.

Portis was the only quarterback that Coach Urban Mayer pursued, first at Utah, and then after taking the job at Florida. Portis actually committed to Utah while Meyer was there, but de-committed when Meyer accepted the Florida job. After visiting the Florida campus in late December, he decided that UF and the Meyer offense were the best fit for his talents. The 6-4, 205-pounder has all the tools needed for the Meyer offense. He can throw deep, he can run, and he has size needed by a quarterback to take the pounding when he runs the football.

Saturday, Portis will take the field with his teammates to play football before an estimated 40-50,000 fans in The Swamp, quite a different environment than the one he was in back in November when he was finishing off a high school season that saw him named first team All-City in Los Angeles. Saturday he will play in front of the largest crowd he's ever played before, not to mention the 11 family members who will be coming in from Mobile, Alabama and his mom, who's been here all week from California.

"It is going to be different," he said. "I am just going to have to come out there and be mentally focused and prepared. Obviously there will be more than that when I step on the field for the real season. It's a great stadium to play in, a great atmosphere. That is why I came to the SEC. Everything is all hyped up and intense. I just have to come out and bring my A-game."

Portis brings a dimension to Florida football that hasn't been seen in a long, long time. Gator fans are used to pure, drop back passers who hang in the pocket. Portis is an elusive runner who isn't afraid to take off with the football, and he's shown the ability to handle the option, a staple of the Meyer offense. He's adept at making the pitch forward or to the trailer, or making the decision to turn the ball upfield.

Portis relishes the thought and looks forward to showing the Gator fans what he can do with his legs. He has one goal in mind every time he runs with the ball.

"Touchdown all the way," he said. "I am not going out of bounds. I am cutting back and all of that. Even though they tell me not to cut back, I will. The players they don't want to get me blindsided, but I don't care because I have a knack for scoring touchdowns."

The Meyer offense requires a quarterback to be a good decision maker throwing the ball, too. Florida is loaded with outstanding playmakers at the wide receiver and tight end positions. All Portis has to do is get the ball in the hands of the right player.

"There are a lot of weapons on this team," he said. "I don't know how they can be stopped."

The speed of the game is night and day from high school to college, especially at the level that Portis is seeing at practice every day at Florida. The fact he has made the adjustment so easily is an impressive accomplishment. Each practice the lights in his head are going on and he can feel it.

"The defenders are real good here, you have good corners, the d-line gets a real good push on the pass rush, and the linebackers are real fast," he said. "It is getting easier right now. You have to make your reads quicker and stuff like that. That's what I am doing more of right now. Some coverages are tougher and you have to make more difficult throws. That is the difference between a good quarterback and a great quarterback is great throws. You just have to make great throws. If you have a great cornerback covering, you have to make that great throw."

Although he's only 17, Portis is quite confident and it's obvious when he take the field. Yes, he makes mistakes but the confidence is never shaken, even after a mistake. Portis has run second in the rotation all spring behind the incumbent starter Chris Leak, but ahead of fourth year junior Gavin Dickey and second year freshman Cornelius Ingram. Dickey and Ingram missed the first three practices due to their roles on other sports teams. Portis used the chance to play and made the most of it. He also likes the competition.

"I like competing," Portis said. "I haven't competed since my junior year. I am just enjoying it right now. I have a lot of things to work on, but I am doing pretty well."

Saturday, many Gator fans will get a chance to see Josh Portis perform for the first time. For those of us that have been in attendance at practice, we have seen the bits and pieces of his game that show he has a bright future at the University of Florida. He's a 17-year-old who loves to play football and have fun. Gator fans are going to have a lot of fun the next four years watching him play.

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