When Will Muschamp says that he is going to play the best 11 men on the field on both sides of the ball, he means it. It doesn’t matter if you’re a sixth year senior or a true freshman, if you’re getting the job done on the field; you’re going to play.
To prove that point, Muschamp has played a combined 19 true freshmen in his two seasons as headman in Gainesville. Those players have a combined 178 game appearances and have a combined 33 starts between them. And that number doesn’t include redshirt freshmen; just true freshmen who have earned playing time under Muschamp.
After an extremely talented signing class in 2013, that trend appears to be one that will continue on into this season.
“We have some guys we feel like can play for us,” Muschamp said of the freshmen this season. “Off the top of my head, obviously we’re counting on Demarcus [Robinson] and Ahmad [Fulwood] to play the receiver position for us. Chris Thompson’s a guy that will rep and stay with the offense as far as practice is concerned. We think he’s also a guy that can play on special teams.”
That makes three receivers alone who will all receive playing time this season. Fulwood and Robinson are expected to be a big part of the offense, as the two of them provide vertical threats in the passing game and are big, tall targets for Jeff Driskel. Robinson in particular has distanced himself from the pack at receiver and expectations are high for the young pass catcher.
“Athletically, when you see him compete in spring. There’s no question [he can contribute],” Muschamp said of Robinson. “Then you’ve got to see it transfer into fall camp. And then when you start game planning, we’ve kind of started on that, a guy that processes information, which he can do.”
Thompson was a track star at Gainesville High School and he should become an impact player on what will be yet again, another strong special teams unit for the Gators.
On the defensive side of the ball, there are even more wide-eyed freshmen that will be expected to contribute this season.
“Jarrad Davis is gonna play. Alex Anzalone’s gonna play. Daniel McMillian’s gonna play, at this point. We plan on playing Vernon Hargreaves and Nick Washington and Keanu Neal. Those would be the guys that would be in the mix, just based off the top of my head.”
Anzalone and McMillian enrolled early and took advantage of the extra time on campus to get acclimated to college life. Anzalone suffered a shoulder injury that kept him off of the field but he was able to learn the play book and get into the weight room with the strength staff. McMillian impressed the coaching staff with not just his playing ability, but also his work ethic. Muschamp praised McMillian during the spring for watching film at the team facility by himself after the third practice. Davis is a player that enrolled this summer but his physicality and football IQ have impressed the staff enough to trust him this fall. The trio will be asked to play a lot and they have the complete confidence of their coaching staff.
Vernon Hargreaves is a player that everyone expected to come in and be able to contribute right away. He was as good as advertised and even though a shoulder injury has sidelined him for a little over a week, he’s still on track to play on both special teams and at cornerback this season.
Keanu Neal is a player that has come on to campus and caught on to things quickly. He’s a violent tackler, has picked up the playbook quickly and is communicating well for a freshman safety. If Neal continues to progress at this rate, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him make a start or two this season.
These are just the players that Will Muschamp could name off the top of his head but other players like Kelvin Taylor (RB), Caleb Brantley (DT), Jay-nard Bostwick (DT), Marcell Harris (S) and Antonio Riles (DE) could also earn playing time as freshmen.
As Will Muschamp continues to turn the program around, the NFL will keep plucking players off of Florida’s roster. That’s fine with Muschamp, as long as the Gators keep recruiting like they have the past two years and those freshmen continue to show up on campus ready to go, the Gators have no problem letting the young bucks earn their stripes on Saturday.