As a season full of devastating injuries and suspensions continued, several young Florida Gators players got the chance to step up on Saturday against UAB.
None took advantage of that opportunity more than freshman running back Adarius Lemons, who led the team with 89 rushing yards on 11 attempts for an average of 8.1 yards per carry.
“When you come to Florida and you play running back that’s what you’ve got to come with,” said fellow running back Lamical Perine. “He’s an elite running back.”
That’s a pretty huge feat for a guy who looked to be headed for a redshirt year before the Gators chose to make a change on kickoff returns in the sixth game of the season against Texas A&M. After that, he started to a see a little more action with his first career carries in the Georgia game.
While he had a few carries over the last few games, Saturday was his first true moment to make an impact. As the Gators took a substantial lead, Lemons got a bulk of the carries in fourth quarter and impressed with several chunk plays.
He had runs of 22 and 20 yards in Florida’s first drive of the fourth quarter to put the Gators in field goal range.
Later on, he really showed off the speed and agility he brings to the table with a 62-yard touchdown run. He looked overcome with emotion in the end zone after scoring his first career touchdown.
That was until a Jawaan Taylor holding penalty called it back. Then, a couple plays later, he had a 12-yard run called back on a Tyrie Cleveland hold, resulting in 74 negated rushing yards in a single drive.
“It’s awesome to see Adarius kind of let loose,” said junior offensive lineman Tyler Jordan. “He had that one really, really big run that was negated by penalty. It shows how hard they work in practice and how high motor of a kid he is.”
Several of his teammates said after the game that it was no surprise to see him run like that, because that is what they see from him every single day in practice. Lemons worked long and hard to get to this point, and it is finally showing up in the games for him.
He took a while to adjust once he got on campus and into Florida’s offense, and he is still learning, but much of his progression can be attributed to the work running backs coach Ja’Juan Seider has but in with him.
That has not only shown in Lemons’ play, but Mark Thompson’s as well. With the hit this unit took from the Jordan Scarlett suspension, there was no telling where Florida’s rushing attack was headed, but the running backs practically did not skip a beat this season and were even one of the bright spots on the team.
“I think coach Seider is a great coach,” said redshirt freshman quarterback Feleipe Franks. “That’s just my opinion. The way he carries himself, his swag about himself. He can relate to the running backs. They love him, the whole team, we really love Coach Seider. I don’t know. He has that charisma, just has that about himself. The guys can relate to that, especially the running backs.”
Lemons’ performance was by far the most impressive of any young player against UAB, but several others also had their moments. Freshman defensive back Brad Stewart grabbed his first career interception and sophomore defensive lineman Antonneous Clayton got his first career sack for a huge 17-yard loss.
It’s hard to accept, but this year’s struggles may have a small silver lining after all as some players are getting much needed experience for next season that they would not have gotten otherwise.
“It’s great to play young people because once you get in the thick of things and playing, then next year it’ll be even better,” said interim head coach Randy Shannon. “That should tell you something about this program, because we’ve got a lot of young guys playing. It’s going to be tremendous for this program.”