With fall camp underway, Gator Country previews the 2023 football season by breaking down each position group on Florida’s roster.
The Gators have six scholarship tight ends available for the 2023 season as Keon Zipperer suffered a knee injury during spring camp that will prevent him from seeing the field this year. Newly hired tight ends coach Russ Calloway has moved forward with a fairly young and inexperienced position group.
Florida has just 17 catches and 144 yards of returning production from their available tight ends for the 2023 season.
The veteran in the group is redshirt senior Dante Zanders, who spent two of his five seasons (2020-21) at Florida as a defensive end. As a tight end, Zanders has only logged 588 snaps in his career, which is the equivalent of one full season as a starting tight end. The Boca Rotan, Florida native saw the majority of his action last season, recording 10 catches for 75 yards and no touchdowns in 528 snaps.
Zanders’ offensive grade of 45.1 was the lowest on the Gators’ offense in 2022, according to Pro Football Focus. Zanders’ run blocking grade of 53.2 was the third lowest on the team, leading only WR Thai Chiaokhiao Bowman (49.5) and TE Jonathan Odom (50.1).
One promising part of Zanders’ game is his body transformation this offseason. The 6-5, 245-pound tight end has lost 46 pounds since the 2021 season, when he transitioned from a defensive lineman to a pass catcher. Just this offseason, Zanders has lost 17 pounds and looks to be much quicker in and out of his routes.
“My speed to be completely honest with you,” Zanders said on his biggest improvement. “Last year I was heavier, so I was like really sluggish when I ran routes and everything, but losing all the weight, slimming down, and conditioning a lot over the break made me a little bit faster which is going to elevate my game.”
I expect Zanders to be more of a pass catching threat in his final season as a Gator, but there’s certainly younger guys that will push him for playing time.
Redshirt freshman Arlis Boardingham found just seven offensive snaps in his first year in Gainesville as the California native spent most of his freshman year dealing with injuries. Boardingham made his collegiate debut against No. 14 Oregon State (Dec. 17) in the Las Vegas Bowl game, where he didn’t record any statistics.
The 6-3, 245-pound tight end has gained 10 pounds since arriving in Gainesville a year ago. Boardingham is seen as the pass catching tight end in the group, which stems from his varsity days where he played wide receiver for Birmingham High School. The athletic tight end also had a background in track, where he posted a 10.9 100-meter dash and a 23.10-foot-long jump.
Boardingham has been working with tight ends coach Russ Callaway on his blocking this offseason.
“I’d just say versatile, versatile tight end,” Boardingham said on his skillset. “I came in being a receiver at first, just playing receiver in high school. And just coming here, coach Napier told me trust the process playing tight end, just learning how to do the blocking that first year even though I battled through injuries, still learning and going through that. So just being able to block and being able to route run is what I bring to the table.”
“Every day, we’re going through drills, making sure we’re hitting all the right points, definitely through the blocking for sure,” Boardingham said. “And I feel like we’re all growing as a group for sure in the blocking area.”
I expect Boardingham to see the field often, especially in 12-personnel.
In nine games played in 2022, Odom tallied seven receptions for 69 yards and two touchdowns in 209 snaps.
The 6-5, 249-pound tight end collected two receptions for 24 yards vs. No. 14 Oregon State (Dec. 17) in the Las Vegas Bowl before going down with a significant knee injury that sidelined him for all of spring camp.
Odom is back out on the practice field for the start of the Gators’ fall camp, participating in various drills while wearing a non-contact jersey.
The Gators hope to get Odom back to full strength at some point early on in the 2023 season.
“I do think that Odom is anticipated to be kind of right on that line. He’s working extremely hard,” Billy Napier said on Odom’s return. “One thing about Odom, he’s very smart. I think he, when forced into playing time last year at the end of the year he really emerged. There’s something to be said for that experience.”
If the fourth-year junior can work his way back onto the field this fall, he will be one of the few veterans Billy Napier can turn to this season.
2022 Gators’ signee Tony Livingston didn’t arrive in Gainesville until spring of 2023, but the 6-5, 242-pound tight end has all the tools Billy Napier is looking for at the position.
“Now, he’s a developmental player, right. I think he’s got to work really hard this spring and certainly show up, but I think he’s a unique athlete … we’re extremely excited about his potential,” Napier said at the start of spring camp.
Livingston’s background in basketball is something worth noting. The Carrollwood Day High School product led his team to a District Title and Region Semifinals, averaging 17.2 points per game and 8.6 rebounds during his junior season.
“I think Tony’s going to be a versatile player as well,” Arlis Boardingham said on Livingston. “He’s very athletic; he has a lot of similar skills to me. And just coming in, I’ve already seen him grow from day one.”
The true freshman likely won’t be a starter this season, but I expect the Tampa, Florida native to climb the depth chart faster than some might expect.
The redshirt freshman didn’t appear in any games during his first season as a Florida Gator.
Hansen’s 6-6, 261-pound frame will likely be used as a blocking tight end in Billy Napier’s 12-personnel set up. Pairing Hansen with a receiving threat like Arlis Boardingham could be design we see during the 2023 season.
“We’re going to bring something different that you probably haven’t seen in a minute,” Boardingham said on the Hansen-Boardingham duo.
During spring camp, tight ends coach Russ Callaway was impressed by Hansen’s pass catching ability given his size.
“He’s done a tremendous job,” Callaway said. “He’s a former quarterback. He’s a very bright young man. Being a quarterback you wouldn’t think he’d be as physical as he is. But he is extremely physical, does a really nice job in the run. To be a bigger guy, he has smooth and soft hands and can make plays in the pass game.”
OTHER NAMES TO WATCH
Andrew Savaiinaea and Scott Isacks
Like many other positions on the roster, the Gators are going to need production from some of the younger and inexperienced tight ends. With Keon Zipperer out for the season and Jonathan Odom working his way back, the freshmen such as Arlis Boardingham, Tony Livingston, and Hayden Hansen will have their hands full in their first significant number of reps as collegiate athletes.