GAINESVILLE (AP) — The University of Florida’s four-man quarterback competition will stretch into fall camp, and it’s anyone’s guess who will emerge as the starter.
The Gators don’t even seem to have a front-runner anymore.
Sure, college journeyman Luke Del Rio opened spring practice with the advantage of having been in Florida’s pro-style system last season. But he has done little to distance himself from graduate transfer Austin Appleby or highly touted freshmen Feleipe Franks and Kyle Trask.
Coach Jim McElwain said this week that the four “took some steps back” in the team’s latest scrimmage.
“It’s an open competition,” Del Rio said. “We’re all competing for the job. We’re all doing everything we can do in our power to earn the starting job. I’ve been here, but I don’t think that makes me above or No. 1 right now. I have to earn it.”
Del Rio and the other three get a chance to bounce back and make an impression during Florida’s spring game Friday night. Although the scrimmage at Florida Field could provide some clarity, the competition likely won’t get sorted out until August or even September.
Last year, McElwain had quarterbacks Will Grier and Treon Harris split snaps in the first two games of the season before settling on Grier.
Neither is even in the mix now.
Grier was suspended one year in October for violating the NCAA’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs and opted to transfer. Harris, who started the final eight games in 2015, has been suspended for violating the university’s student conduct code. Even if Harris returns to the team, he likely will switch to another position.
That leaves Del Rio, Appleby, Franks and Trask vying to become Florida’s ninth starting quarterback since Tim Tebow graduated in 2009. None of the previous eight did enough to get the Gators’ offense out of the depths of the Southeastern Conference.
One of the four newcomers — maybe two or three — will get a shot in 2016.
Here’s a look at each:
— Del Rio: The son of Oakland Raiders coach Jack Del Rio, Luke Del Rio grew up playing football in nearby Jacksonville before finishing his high school career in Colorado. He started college at Alabama in 2013 and then transferred to Oregon State the following year. He spent one season with the Beavers before moving back to Florida.
A third-year sophomore, the 6-foot-1 Del Rio has yet to start a college game. He completed 8 of 18 passes in spot duty in 2014 and finds himself in the same offense in consecutive seasons for the first time since high school.
“The longer you’re in a system, the more comfortable you are,” he said. “That’s what playing football is all about: being comfortable and confident in what you’re doing. … I’m getting more and more comfortable every day.”
— Appleby: Graduated from Purdue last year and chose to transfer to Florida for his final year of college eligibility. After going 2-24 in the Big Ten the last three years, Appleby was looking for a place he could compete for a starting job and vie for a championship.
At 6-4, Appleby is bigger and more mobile than Del Rio and has considerably more experience than any of the four.
“Once you’re out there and it’s live and you’re in front of 100,000, there’s no pretending,” Appleby said. “I think the only way you can gain that experience is by being out there. So it’s not new to me. I understand what it takes to prepare. I understand what it is to be under the lights. I understand what it is to stand in there.”
— Franks: The 6-6 freshman from Crawfordville has arguably the most upside of the group. He threw for nearly 7,000 yards and 81 touchdowns in three years in high school and ran for eight more scores. He also served as the team’s kicker and punter. But at 216 pounds, Franks might be best served sitting out a year and putting some weight and muscle on his lanky frame.
— Trask: Considered the dark horse in the race, the 6-4 Trask has impressed teammates and coaches with his natural passing skills. He threw 16 TD passes and no interceptions in his final two years, both as the backup, at Manvel High in Texas.
“He has the prettiest ball,” Gators cornerback Jalen Tabor said. “It’s different when you get under the live bullets in the SEC. … Can you still step up in the pocket and deliver a ball to help your team win? That’s the only question I have for him. But as far as just the eye test, the kid is big and he can throw.”
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