Regarded as one of the funniest and most well like and respected players on the team, replacing Jake McGee’s presence off the field will be a challenge for the Florida Gators in 2016.
On the field, McGee was a first down machine for the Gators in 2015. His 41 receptions were second to only Demarcus Robinson in 2015 and his four touchdowns tied Antonio Callaway for most.
With McGee gone, C’yontai Lewis and DeAndre Goolsby are being asked to fill that void, after the two combined for 21 catches and three touchdowns a year ago. Both players see the opportunity in front of them and are trying to make the most of it this spring. For Goolsby, that has meant a maturation process. Without having McGee in front of him, Goolsby senses the urgency to take the next step in his development.
“The only thing I would say he has done remarkably better than what he had done in the past is he has come to work and actually gone out to get better every day,” head coach Jim McElwain said of Goolsby. “Where sometimes he may take some practices off a little bit, you know what I’m getting at?”
Going from the man in high school to a backup or role player at the next level is a hard adjustment that each individual handles differently. This year there is nobody in front of Goolsby and that realization seems to have hit home with the talented pass catcher from Kansas.
“Goolsby’s had a good spring,” special teams coordinator and tight ends coach Greg Nord said. “He’s made some plays for us, has a good grasp of the offense as you would think he would with the number of plays he got to play last year.”
Competing with Goolsby is Alabama native C’yontai Lewis. It seemed that 2015 would be a breakout season for the athletic tight end after catching two touchdowns against New Mexico State, but a hand injury sidelined Lewis for five games and he caught just one pass (25 yard reception vs. Georgia) the rest of the season after returning to the lineup.
Lewis continues to make strides as a blocker, something both of Florida’s tight ends will need to continue to improve upon, but his ability as an offensive weapon is undeniable. A high school basketball player, Lewis understands how to use his size and length to his advantage. He has the ability to play on the line or split out wide and Florida’s offense looks to try and take advantage of that.
“It’s definitely a tight end friendly offense. A good offense for tight ends,” Goolsby said before being asked to explain further. “Keeping the tight end involved [in] a lot of areas, being on the field, being split out wide, inside, on the line, in the backfield. Of course getting the ball and all. Just doing a lot with the tight ends all over the field.”
With the search for playmakers on offense still underway, Florida will need the two big tight ends to step up and fill a void left by McGee and give the Gators’ offense an added dimension.