The collision between Georgia safety Lewis Cine and Kyle Pitts resembled a high-speed car crash, leaving both players on the TIAA Bank turf and ending both of their games.
Pitts, to that point of the season, was proving to be one of the best players in the entire country. His eight touchdowns are tied for eighth most in the country, despite missing the Florida Gators’ last two games. Pitts had become the Gators’ best player and their go-to guy on the field. Without Pitts, could Florida’s offense still be prolific? Would they still run like the high-performance race car, moving and scoring at will or was this a flat tire that would derail the season?
Behind Pitts were unknowns. Kemore Gamble, a redshirt junior, has been on campus since 2017 but had just nine receptions in that time leading up to the Georgia game. Behind him, is sophomore Keon Zipperer, who, while highly touted as a recruit, caught just three passes as a freshman. Those are numbers Kyle Pitts could put up on a drive, how would these two fill in for a player that is the front runner to win the John Mackey Award?
“Those guys you know they get as many reps in practice as Kyle does, and, you know, so they’ve just prepared to be ready for their moments and you know they’re pretty talented guys and you know I mean we just, you know, we run the offense,” Dan Mullen said. “I think, possibly you know they, they probably benefit from the fact that as people are looking and said, ‘Hey, Kyle Pitts is not in, we’re gonna focus on the other guys and not focus on the tight ends as much’ and they get advantageous matchups and they’ve taken advantage of it.”
Benefit they have.
Gamble, who had never caught more than two passes in a game and only nine passes in his career has six catches and three touchdowns in his last three games. Zipperer has added four receptions and two more scores as the Gators continue rolling though the 2020 season.
For Gamble, the past three weeks have been a realization of everything he’s worked towards at Florida. Leaving Miami to come to Gainesville four years ago he knew there would be a process and that it would take time to get on the field and produce. Even as he sat behind guys like DeAndre Goolsby, C’yontai Lewis and eventually Kyle Pitts he never wavered. Even when his first coach, Greg Nord was fired, and then his second coach Larry Scott, left to take the head coaching job at Howard, he didn’t think about leaving Florida.
“My dad always taught me never run from competition, you always got to sit down and face it and never just run,” Gamble said. “My dad and my stepdad used to always tell me that. I was brought up hard and nothing comes easy.”
Gamble’s past shows his unselfish nature but it was on national display in Florida’s win over Arkansas. The tight end was held catch-less, but he was a key blocker for Florida’s running backs that carried the ball for more than 200 yards.
“He’s a real good teammate,” Zipperer said of Gamble. “He never like downplays nobody or me or Kyle or nothing. He just likes to get it whenever it comes because you never know when it’s going to come. It might be my game but the next one might be his. And it might not be mine, so you just gotta get it whenever it comes.”
He would be rewarded the following week with three coaches and two touchdowns. His second touchdown was made possible by, guess who, Zipperer setting a block 15 yards down the field to provide the path for Gamble to the end zone.
That’s the tight end room and credit that to new coach Tim Brewster as well as the young men in the room. There are no egos. Pitts was playing well enough that there was non-ironic talk about him being a Heisman hopeful, something only two tight ends have done in history and none since 1949.
Gamble is just as content setting the edge and blocking for Damoen Pierce as he is catching a pass in the end zone from Kyle Pitts and the Gators have benefitted from that attitude in the tight end room.
Even as Pitts is set to return this weekend against Kentucky, rather than sulk in what will be a diminished role, Gamble tweeted to his teammate welcoming him back.
And, maybe, just maybe, the duo of Zipperer and Gamble won’t be relegated to the bench with Pitts back in.
“You can never say enough about what those guys have done. Hats off to Coach Brew making sure they were ready to go,” offensive coordinator Brian Johnson said. “But very similar to what we just talked about with Kyle (Trask). Injuries are a part of the game. They’re a very unfortunate part of the game. You have to put yourself in the position to be prepared when you’re number’s called. Certainly, those two guys were able to do that and continue to play well in Kyle’s absence.”