Florida Gators center competition remains wide open

The quarterbacks aren’t the only players competing hot and heavy for a starting spot on the Florida Gators offense this fall camp.

Head coach Dan Mullen said on Wednesday that he and co-offensive coordinator/offensive line coach John Hevesy are still deciding who the starting center will be come September 1.

“That is the most wide-open spot right now on the team, on the offensive line for competition,” Mullen said. “But we also play a bunch of guys there because that’s hard. If you don’t have center, it makes life really hard because you can’t even snap the ball. It kind of starts there so we try to get a bunch of guys reps, but I think that’s a pretty wide-open competition at that spot.”

Hevesy has said he would like to have at least four or five players ready to go in and play center at all times. Right now, there are at least three, as redshirt juniors T.J. McCoy, Nick Buchanan and Nick Villano all battle it out.

McCoy is the only one of those three with any significant experience. He finished the 2016 season as Florida’s starting center after Cam Dillard went down with a knee injury, then started the first nine games of the 2017 season before suffering a season-ending injury of his own.

Now, it is a fresh slate for all and that role is not guaranteed. It could be frustrating to go from being a starter back into a competition, but that is not the way McCoy sees it.

“I love it,” he said. “That’s why you came to the University of Florida. You didn’t come here just to get something handed to you. I’m glad I’m here. I’m glad I’m competing. That’s what I like to do. I’ve competed all my life. Nothing was ever given to me, even when I came here, so it’s not anything new for me. I love competing. That’s what you should want. You shouldn’t want anything handed to you, because if something’s handed to you, you didn’t work hard for it.”

That is a good thing, because competing hard is what he will have to do to earn that spot back. Buchanan, who made the switch from guard to center, seems to be taking most of the first-team reps right now, despite only playing in three games so far in his Florida career.

He definitely has the advantage when it comes to size, as defensive lineman T.J. Slaton pointed out.

“I think it’s a perfect fit for him,” Slaton said of Buchanan. “You know, he’s big, strong. He’s much taller than T.J. is. T.J., I feel like, has the more aggressive side. But I feel like Nick is smarter with it and he just fits the bill, because T.J. is about 5’11 and Nick is about 6’3, so I think it really fits him more.”

Meanwhile, Villano is also in the race. The walk-on has yet to appear in a game, but he has worked hard for this opportunity in his time at Florida and he is not surprised that he is now in a position to get playing time.

“That’s why I came here,” Villano said. “They gave me a shot, I came here, I had to do my job, I did it. I just really focused every day to do my thing and work up in the ranks. And where I am now, I get a shot to start for an SEC program. I’ve just go to run with it.”

The three centers will continue to fight it out until a decision becomes clear. At the end of the day, they are still teammates and want the best for each other.

“We all coach each other,” Villano said. “We’re all friends. When you get on the football field, it’s competition. We all tell each other what we’re doing wrong, a bad step we take or a bad set we take. We criticize each other but in a good way. But we’re not, ‘I hope he messes up.’ We’re all there together. The fight’s the fight.”

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Bailiegh Williams
Growing up the daughter of a baseball coach in a household that revolved around Gators sports, Bailiegh’s future working in sports was her destiny. She played four years of varsity softball at Suwannee High School and one year on softball scholarship at Gulf Coast State College. In her first year she discovered a love for journalism so she packed her bags and moved to Gainesville to finish her A.A. and begin interning for Gator Country. She is now on track to graduate from the University of Florida in 2019. In her free time, Bailiegh enjoys binge watching her favorite TV shows and spending time with her family and her two fur babies.