Gators’ offensive line ready to prove themselves

Since the start of spring practice just last month, the offensive line is a unit that continues to improve and challenge themselves every day.

With the spring game just a week away, Coach Darnell Stapleton and the offensive line aren’t taking any shortcuts.

“We’ve got a group of guys that are willing to come to work every day,” Stapleton said. “I know when you got some new faces in the room, you want to know that those guys are gonna put their hand in a pile and go to work every day no matter what position we put them at. And that’s what we got right now, a bunch of hungry guys that want to prove themselves. So, every day we’ve challenged them to go out there and be better than they were the day before.”

Players have been placed in different positions and situations throughout the course of spring practice. Coach Stapleton and Coach Rob Sale are still evaluating key areas to find the best five players in this group.

“Damieon played some guard today,” Stapleton said. “Again, we want to keep trying to find the best five that can go out there and play. I’m sure Coach Sale said it, we’re looking for the best five to play and those five will play.”

Stapleton and this staff are great at getting the best out of their players. Both Damieon George and Kiyaunta Goodwin have real potential but are still new to this team and its system.

“They’re stepping up,” Stapleton said on George and Goodwin. “Like, again, they’re a little bit not behind but they have some things to learn. Like Austin’s in year two in the system. These guys are in their first two months of really being out there and executing it. So, there’s still some things that they have to kind of lock in from a mental standpoint to be out there and do it at the same level as Austin, but again, competition, you know, is what we’re trying to create in that room at both those positions so that we get the best of each player.”

Austin Barber continues to prove that he’s one of the best offensive linemen on this team. His work ethic and leadership skills are on a different level.

“He’s smart, he’s athletic, he plays with the right mindset. And so, again, we try to train guys that can do more than one thing that are not one trick ponies, and he’s excelling right now,” Stapleton said on Barber. “He’s taking a step forward into being a leader for us and that’s something that we needed”.

Every team has a player that just does things the right way; Richie Leonard is a perfect example. The junior has been around the program for a long time and has a lot more to prove.

“He’s not prototypical. But from a standpoint of how he goes out there and plays and his instincts, he plays big,” Stapleton said on Leonard. “He might not be the biggest in stature but when he goes out there and plays, he knows exactly what to do, exactly how to do it and he’s effective. That’s what this comes down to. Can you get in front of your guy and block him? It’s all about your mentality.”

Kingsley Eguakun is once again the presumed starter at center this year for the Gators. The redshirt junior takes his work seriously and has only improved since last season.

“Kingsley works at his craft,” Stapleton said. “Talking about guys that care and it matters to them, he’s one of those guys so he’s going to work at it and then we’re going to do things to help with snapping the ball and cadence and stuff like that. That’s on us as coaches as well to put him in a situation to help him with that and I fully expect that to not be an issue with him this year.”

Two redshirt freshmen that are standing out at practice early on have been Jalen Farmer and Christian Williams.

Farmer’s work ethic off the field has caught the attention of Florida’s coaching staff.

“Jalen Farmer has been doing awesome. That first year of college is rough,” Stapleton said. “You’re away from home, you get academics, you got football and the last couple months after having surgery, he’s really turned the light switch on in terms of being a pro. Day-in and day-out, he’s coming in and getting extra film. He understands that he’s not getting the physical reps that everybody’s getting so he has to double down on the mental reps. I’m very proud of his approach. He’s changed his body and lost quite a bit of weight. He leaned out. He’s probably down to the 320’s and he was probably close to the 350’s last year, but he looks better. He’s leaner, he’s getting stronger even though he doesn’t have full use of that arm yet, he’s going to get it in a couple days. I’m excited to get him back out there rolling and put him in the mix to compete for a job this fall.”

In just one more week Gator fans will get a great glimpse at what they can expect from this offensive line in 2023.

The Florida Gators will play their spring game on Thursday, April 13th at 7:30 p.m.

Gentry Hawk
Gentry Hawk is a student at the University of Florida studying sports journalism. He is a writer and reporter for GatorCountry. You can find most of his work on Twitter @gentryhawkgc, or right here on Gator country.