“It’s been a wild winter to get to this point.”
This time a year ago Austin Appleby was throwing passes in Old Gold and Black as the starting quarterback for Purdue. A lot has changed for the passer from North Canton, Ohio in a very short time. First and foremost the weather is nicer. Appleby had to get used to the stares from students in Uggs when he was walking around campus in a shirt and shorts on a 45-degree day.
“Everyone was losing their minds,” he said. “I can’t complain.”
The weather was an added benefit, but it’s not the reason Appleby is spending his final season in Gainesville. Appleby played in 19 games, making 11 starts and is 19th all-time on Purdue’s passing list (2,777 yards). However, Appleby lost his starting job in 2015 and when he graduated from the university he began thinking about where he would have an opportunity to continue playing.
Appleby asked for and was granted a release from his scholarship. The days following are now a blur, with a whirlwind of calls and a short time to do his homework, Appleby needs to really think about what he was looking for in a new school.
Competing for a championship was important. The Boilermakers won 12 games during Appleby’s four years there and half of those were during his redshirt season in 2012. The chance to be apart of a winning organization was important. Appleby also knew that Florida had a lot of talent on the team and the prospect of being able to practice against guys that have the ability to push him and make him better was another box checked for the Florida Gators. Finally, and most importantly, Florida has a great sports management program and Appleby has aspirations of becoming a coach when his playing days are done somewhere down the road. He’s not ready to trade his helmet in for a whistle just yet, which brings us to the biggest reason Appleby wanted to come to Florida — playing time.
It seems that Florida’s well-documented quarterback problems made their way up to Big 10 country and Appleby was well aware that Jim McElwain and Doug Nussmeier were in need of arms in a bad way, something both coaches made clear to Appleby.
“There’s obviously a lot of quarterback issues and there’s an opportunity to come in here and compete to be the guy,” Appleby said of McElwain and Nussmeier’s recruiting pitch. “That’s an opportunity that’s hard to pass up and I’m excited to be here.”
Appleby is the most experienced player in the quarterback’s room. At 23 years young, he’s the old man in the group and battling for starting reps with Luke Del Rio. The two are acutely aware that they play a position that only has room for one guy to start but have built a good relationship in the short time they’ve been together at Florida and bonded over shared experience.
“He and I have kind of gone through similar situations. I’d say we’re very similar in a lot of ways,” Appleby said. “He’s been great. He and I both help each other out a lot and we’re also bringing along the young guys.”
Competing for a job isn’t new but the talent level that surrounds him in. The biggest knock on Appleby is his propensity to throw picks. He had 19 touchdowns and 19 interceptions at Purdue, a number that simply won’t cut it at Florida. Not one to make excuses, Appleby said the interception number was simply him being young and trying to do too much. Purdue’s defense was in the bottom third of the B1G every year Appleby was there and, at times, he felt that he needed to do more than what was asked of him if the team was going to win. That mentality quickly went out the window when he stepped on to the practice field in Gainesville.
“We’ve got dudes here that will go makes plays for you. A check down here will go for 60, and it does,” he said. “Then, if it doesn’t work, punting’s fine because we have the best defense in the country and we have a punter who’s one of the best in the country. So, just learning to play within yourself, learning to play within the system, you don’t have to do too much.”
This is undoubtedly the best team that Appleby has ever been on. He’s happy to be in the SEC, even though he admittedly still holds a B1G bias, but he didn’t come to Florida for the weather or to be a cheerleader. He only has one year of eligibility left and he didn’t come down to Florida to retire, he wants to compete.
“I didn’t come here to not play,” Appleby said. “I came here to compete and earn this starting job.”