Austin Appleby aiming to end college career on high note

On January 2 Austin Appleby’s career will come full circle.

The fifth year graduate transfer will start his first ever bowl game against Iowa, the first team he played against as a redshirt freshman at Purdue in 2013.

The North Canton Ohio native has had a dream season. Appleby says he idolized Tim Tebow growing up, ends all of his press conferences with a “Go Gators” and has never once complained about his role. He chose to transfer to Florida with the knowledge that Luke Del Rio had spent a year in Doug Nussmeier and Jim McElwain’s offense. He wasn’t promised the starting job and he didn’t win that job coming out of fall camp either. That didn’t stop him from taking a blue-collar approach to practice each and every day.

“You go through your process. You prepare to be a starter every single day,” Appleby said. “Nothing changes as the process goes.”

Appleby got his first shot when Del Rio went down with a knee injury. He started off hot, torching Tennessee through the air. It led fans to wonder if there was a quarterback controversy brewing in Gainesville. Then, Tennessee scored 38 unanswered points. Appleby led Florida to a narrow win on the road at Vanderbilt before Del Rio returned to action, destining Appleby back to the bench, to fans’ pleasure.

When Del Rio struggled over the next three games the fans jumped back on the Appleby bandwagon and Appleby got the nod over an injured Del Rio against South Carolina.

“I think at a place like the University of Florida, when it’s good, it’s really good and when it’s maybe not going so good, it seems like maybe the sky’s falling from the outside,” Appleby said. “It’s like that for even my position. I think Luke and I can both attest to that.”

Appleby has played well since taking back over. He’s completed 62% (69-112) of his pass attempts for 755 yards, five touchdowns and four interceptions, three coming against the No. 1 ranked Alabama Crimson Tide. During that stretch run Del Rio made his first career start at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, it would be his only start in The Swamp. He silenced LSU on the road and cemented his name in the Florida record books with a 98-yard touchdown. However, the last two times out the Gators were blown out and Appleby is aware of the fickle relationship fans can have with a quarterback.

“I was pretty popular a couple weeks ago. Now I’m not so popular. But you know what, that’s how it goes at the University of Florida. That’s how it goes when the expectations are so high,” he said. “Again, the only guys I have to answer to are my teammates, my coaches. The rest of it is just noise. Because they just don’t know. And it’s not there fault they don’t know, they’re entitled to their opinion. People are going to write what they’re going to write, people are going to say what they’re going to say. That has no effect on the way I go do my job. It has no effect on the way I affect my teammates in a positive way. It has no effect in the way I play. And quite frankly I have no room for it.”

His play over the course of the season has impressed his head coach and he’s been given the nod to start the bowl game despite the fact that Del Rio will be back and healthy by kickoff.

“Austin’s done a good job since he’s started playing,” McElwain said. “Obviously there are some throws that he’d like back but at the same time this late in the year he deserves it.”

Appleby will play his final collegiate game in just 15 shorts days. Those days will go by in the blink of an eye and then his college career will be over. It’s been a long five years with more valleys than peaks but the 23-year old passer has handled it all with grace and integrity. He’ll train and try to continue his football career after the bowl game, but he will relish the opportunity to run out on the field one more time as a Gator and take down an Iowa team that he has yet to beat in three attempts.

“It’s an honor to play at this school, it’s an honor to play this position, this game,” he said. “I’m going to keep pushing to be the very best that I can be.”

Nick de la Torre
A South Florida native, Nick developed a passion for all things sports at a very young age. His love for baseball was solidified when he saw Al Leiter’s no-hitter for the Marlins live in May of 1996. He was able to play baseball in college but quickly realized there isn’t much of a market for short, slow outfielders that hit around the Mendoza line. Wanting to continue with sports in some capacity he studied journalism at the University of Central Florida. Nick got his first start in the business as an intern for a website covering all things related to the NFL draft before spending two seasons covering the Florida football team at Bleacher Report. That job led him to GatorCountry. When he isn’t covering Gator sports, Nick enjoys hitting way too many shots on the golf course, attempting to keep up with his favorite t.v. shows and watching the Heat, Dolphins and Marlins. Follow him on twitter @NickdelatorreGC