The Florida Gators enter the 2015 season with just 10 starts returning among their offensive line — down from more than 60 a year ago. Senior Trip Thurman is the possessor of all of those starts so Head Coach Jim McElwain and Offensive Line Coach Mike Summers will need to dig deep to find their five starters and a group of 8-10 linemen that they can count on this season.
Apparently Florida’s recruiting efforts have served them well and the Gators may have found a future star along the offensive line in freshman tackle Martez Ivey.
“Oh my gosh, Ivey, Martez Ivey. The guy’s a freak, dude,” junior running back Kelvin Taylor said. “The guy’s going to be great. He wasn’t a five-star for nothing, trust me. He’s physical, he’s smart, he knows exactly what he’s doing.”
The transition from high school to college isn’t easy for football players. Coaches will tell you that the further you are away from the ball, the easier the transition is. That’s why you’ll see more freshmen impact players at positions like cornerback and receiver. The transition for offensive linemen is particularly tough. Scouting offensive linemen involves more projecting than just about any position. Ivey’s high school ran a version of the Wing-T offense, so the technique in pass-blocking is something new to him and he’s having to learn on the fly, going up against Florida’s defense. That’s no easy feat.
“I feel like it’s tough coming in as a freshman offensive lineman in the SEC,” junior defensive lineman Joey Ivie said. “You’re going against all these older guys but I feel like we’re only making them better.”
Being a younger player in a new locker room can be intimidating. Senior offensive guard Trip Thurman has been there before. He knows what it’s like to walk into a new locker room where friendships have already been established and try to find a place. Thurman says the biggest thing freshmen can do is to not be afraid to ask questions. Everybody wants to get on the field but it’s the little things that you do that make the difference between being a spectator or a participant in your first season.
“A big thing in wanting to be on the field is wanting to learn the offense, meeting with coach individually and meeting with me individually,” Thurman said. “That’s big for the young guys and a lot of the young guys don’t understand that. To get on the field, you have to know exactly what you’re doing. Martez and Tyler have stepped up.”
Despite the steep learning curve, Ivey has come along and impressed the older players on the team. After two seasons in Gainesville, Taylor knows that the offensive linemen will be his best friends on game day and he’s excited about how quickly Ivey has come along in such a short time.
“I feel like him, there’s a couple more of those guys who may impact, but the one when I turn on film, I’m like, ‘Dang, who is that?’ I knew it was him,” Taylor said of Ivey. “He wasn’t a five-star recruit for nothing. He knows something.”
A lot can be said of how freshmen acclimate to the next level. It takes a certain level of maturity to leave home for the first time and handle the day-to-day things that parents or guardians took care of when you were growing up. Not only is Division I football a full time job, but freshmen are now juggling an increased workload in the classroom, laundry, cooking, cleaning all in a new environment. Taylor said he could tell there was something different about Ivey from the first day he stepped on campus. Ivey was less wide-eyed and more determined than most freshmen.
“You could tell, just his demeanor,” Taylor said of Ivey. “Just the way he carries himself around the locker room. He’s quiet, he gets his work done, and he goes about the next play. The guy’s very mature, man.”
Florida needs to identify the five best offensive linemen on their roster and put them in place quickly to establish some consistency at the position. The transition is difficult but the highly touted kid out of Apopka is already turning heads in Gainesville and, possibly soon, will be turning heads around the country. Just remember, who told you first.
“He’s going to be a really good one,” Taylor said. “Just remember I told you that. He’s going to be a really good one, trust me.”