With the spring semester starting on Monday, the Florida Gators welcomed early enrollees to campus over the last several days.
Currently the No. 12 recruiting class in the nation, the Gators had 12 signees enroll early, along with the addition of a pair of transfers.
As we count down the months to spring football, Gator Country will take a look at how Florida’s early enrollees fit into their new roles, starting with the offensive side of the ball.
Carlos Del Rio-Wilson (QB)
The headlining quarterback signee in Florida’s 2021 class, Del Rio-Wilson has outstanding potential in the coming years. However, he will likely have to wait his turn to get on the field.
Emory Jones patiently sat behind Feleipe Franks and Heisman finalist Kyle Trask over the last three seasons (and showed a few glimpses of greatness when he did see playing time). Barring unforeseen circumstances, he should be the undisputed starter in 2021.
Behind Jones, the competition could get heated. The battle between Del Rio-Wilson and Anthony Richardson will be a fun one to keep an eye on in the spring. Should Jones struggle or suffer an injury, the Gators will rely on either a redshirt or true freshman to lead them the rest of the way.
At 6’3, 215, Del Rio-Wilson has a solid frame to work with and can easily be molded into Dan Mullen’s offense. Though he is listed as a pro-style quarterback, the consensus seems to be that evaluation is misleading.
While he is not a prototypical dual-threat, he is not a prototypical pro-style quarterback either. He ran the ball 40 times and averaged 7.2 yards per carry in eight games as a senior, making him far more than the willing runner Mullen described Trask as.
On top of his rushing ability, he is capable of escaping pressure and extending plays more so than most pro-style passers.
His true upside comes in his incredible arm strength. Though he struggled with interceptions some in high school, the talent is there in Del Rio-Wilson.
He possesses the unteachable qualities Florida needs in a quarterback. Mullen can shape his raw talent over the next few years until his time comes to take the reigns.
In the spring and throughout the rest of 2021, all Del Rio-Wilson needs to do is learn as much as possible and provide depth in the quarterback room.
Jalen Kitna (QB)
Kitna flew under the radar as the second quarterback signee in this class. At 6’4, 200, Kitna is a great game manager with beautiful ball placement, earning him some comparisons to fellow Texas native Trask.
He comes to Gainesville in a similar situation Trask did, essentially an afterthought behind one of the stars of the class.
But, he is the son of former NFL quarterback Jon Kitna, so he already possesses an impressive knowledge of the game. That is evident in his ability to run through progressions, something he has an edge over Del Rio-Wilson in at this point.
Though he is not the perfect fit on paper, he has years to develop in Florida’s offense with the depth mentioned above.
Daejon Reynolds (WR)
There is a lot of playing time to be earned among Florida’s receivers in 2021. As the only wide receiver to early enroll, Reynolds stands a good chance to take some of that for himself.
The 6’2, 210, pass catcher missed his senior season due to injury, but had an outstanding junior campaign with 1,534 yards on 88 receptions for an average of 17.4 yards per catch.
He and Del Rio-Wilson are former teammates at Grayson High School (Loganville, GA) and could be connecting again in the years to come for the Gators. Reynolds should have a chance to get on the field much sooner, though.
Florida returns Jacob Copeland and Justin Shorter, but its top two wide receivers are off to the NFL. With Kadarius Toney and Trevon Grimes gone next season, the Gators will be on the hunt for new weapons to take their places.
Players like Xzavier Henderson and Rick Wells (should he return) might be first in line, but it is not inconceivable that a true freshman could jump in right away.
Mullen will likely throw as many playmakers out there as he can early on until he finds the perfect combination for Jones and the offense. A physical receiver like Reynolds could make an immediate impact.
Nick Elksnis (TE)
It is hard to look to the future at tight end for Florida after witnessing one of the incredible seasons in school history by Kyle Pitts in 2020.
Veterans Kemore Gamble and Keon Zipperer should step in next season, but Elksnis has potential to be a staple in the offense before his time is up. Like Pitts (but in no way comparing him to the All-American), Elksnis has the hands of a wide receiver in the 6’6, 220 pound frame of a tight end.
With some time in Florida’s strength and conditioning program, there is a lot to like about this seemingly underrated early enrollee.
Elksnis is not only an intriguing addition for the Gators on the field, but a scholar off the field. He made his academics a major point in his recruitment. The top notch education Florida provides played a role in getting him to Gainesville.
Whether Elksnis gets on the field early or has to wait his turn, there are big shoes to fill in the upcoming years.
Florida’s tight ends have a lot of work to do to even come close to providing the production Pitts did in 2020. They are not necessarily expected to produce at that level, which makes the aforementioned need for wide receivers that much more vital.
Demarkcus Bowman (RB)
Along with Florida’s early enrollees, transfer running back Demarkcus Bowman is arguably the biggest addition to the roster.
Bowman announced his intention to transfer to Florida from Clemson back in October. The Gators couldn’t quite close the deal on him out of high school, but getting the former five-star on campus was a recruiting win for Mullen and staff.
Florida’s only true home run threat, the 5’10, 190 pound Lakeland native is set to make immediate impact in a crowded running back room.
Spring will reveal a lot about Mullen’s intentions for the future at this position. With Bowman, Dameon Pierce, Malik Davis, Lorenzo Lingard and Nay’Quan Wright all battling for one ball, someone may start looking for playing time elsewhere.
After a subpar season by the Gators on the ground, there is just no logical way to keep a talent like Bowman’s off the field. He had little to show for his short time at Clemson, but finished his high school career with more than 5,000 yards and ran for 70 touchdowns.
Bowman puts Florida’s running attack in its best position in a long time, but the Gators also need to see the offensive line take a step forward in 2021 for that to truly shine through.