When Emory Jones signed with the Florida Gators on the first ever early signing day in December 2017, it looked like Dan Mullen had his quarterback of the future. Nobody could’ve ever imagined that the future would take this long to arrive.
It was as if the world had conspired against Jones. First, incumbent starter Feleipe Franks improved enough to comfortably hold onto his job. Then, when Franks suffered a gruesome ankle injury against Kentucky early in 2019, Mullen opted to go with Kyle Trask instead of Jones. All Trask did was go on to become one of the greatest quarterbacks in school history and a Heisman Trophy finalist.
In today’s instant gratification world where it’s common for college athletes to transfer if they don’t play right away, Jones opted to stick it out at Florida, much like Trask before him. And now, he’s about to be rewarded for his loyalty and commitment to the program. Barring something unforeseen between now and September 4, Jones will make his first career start in the Gators’ 2021 season opener against Florida Atlantic.
“It has been hard, but it’s all been for a reason,” Jones said. “That’s what I’ve realized over the past years. I have been playing a little bit, so that keeps me going. I’ve just been watching the guys in front of me do their best and watching how they move and how they operate, and it’s definitely just helping me. It definitely helped me out throughout the way.
“I’ve been waiting for this time right here. I’m really just glad to be back out there for the spring and being around the guys. I’m really just glad that we’re having a spring this year.”
Jones said he isn’t placing any additional pressure on himself now that he’s “the guy.” He’s excited to finally get his opportunity to start, and he believes that the past three seasons have prepared him for this moment. He’s played in some of UF’s biggest games, such as three Georgia games, the 2018 Peach Bowl, the 2019 defeat of Auburn, the 2019 Florida State game and the 2020 SEC Championship Game. He won’t be overwhelmed or rattled like some first-year starting quarterbacks.
He also got the chance to learn from Trask, who by all accounts worked at a Tom Brady or Peyton Manning-like level. Jones plans on taking the things he learned from Trask and applying them to his own game.
“Just how he conducts himself every day, how he walks around the building, how he takes notes in the meeting rooms and how he translates everything from the classroom onto the field,” he said of what he learned from Trask. “I just really learned all that from him, and then obviously it’s him being patient waiting on his time to come. I definitely learned a lot of that just watching him.”
Though it was challenging to watch the majority of games from the sideline, he tried his best to remain patient and do the best he could with the snaps he was given. That was something that Mullen instilled in him from his first day on campus.
“When I first got here, the first thing he always said to me was, ‘Development, development, development,’ and I always tried to keep that in the back of my head,” Jones said. “It was tough going through all the years just playing a couple plays. It definitely was tough, but just going in made me confident. So, I’ve just been working my tail off every year just trying to get better. That’s all I’m focused on.”
UF’s offense will undergo a bit of a shift this offseason. Trask did many wonderful things for the program, but he’ll never be confused for a dual-threat quarterback. He was a pocket passer who excelled at identifying advantageous matchups and getting the playmakers the ball at the right time.
Trask’s departure, along with that of the top-3 pass catchers, means that the 2021 offense should look more like what you’ve come to expect from a Mullen offense. That means designed quarterback runs, read option plays and more carries by wide receivers. If all goes according to plan, you probably won’t see the Gators throw it 40 times in a game next season.
“You look at guys like Anthony [Richardson] and Emory with cannon arms, their ability to improvise and extend plays,” Mullen said. “All of a sudden, the field is spread. I think we saw even a couple glimpses of it in the bowl game, that the field’s spread out and someone loses a rush lane. That turns into a 20-, 30-, 40-yard play with those guys on the field. With Kyle [Trask], it might not have been. They bring a very different skillset to the table.”
While Jones is excited about the possibility of what next season might hold, he’s not taking anything for granted relative to playing time. He knows from personal experience how hard it is to win the starting quarterback job at UF, and he knows what Richardson is capable of. He’s focused on taking advantage of every opportunity he gets to win the job.
“It’s always a competition here at the University of Florida,” Jones said. “Like I said, Anthony is always trying to compete with me. He definitely gets me better every day and pushes me, and I push him. That’s what we are focusing on, competing.”
Still, it appears from the outside that this is his job to lose. Mullen has groomed him for three years for this moment.
It’s been a long 38 months, but Jones’ time to shine is finally here.