Photo: Antonio Valentino (Shelton); Credit: University of Florida athletic association
As head coach Dan Mullen has acknowledged since the beginning of the offseason, the Florida Gators are now a young football team. Losing 16 players to the NFL Draft process and several transfers out of the program will often lead to that conundrum.
Thus, Mullen and his coaching staff secured four veteran transfers throughout the year: Defensive tackles Antonio Valentino (Shelton) and Daquan Newkirk, cornerback Jadarrius Perkins, and kicker Jace Christmann. The Gators also remain in pursuit of SEC-experienced cornerback Elijah Blades in hopes that he will join arms with the team before the 2021 season begins.
Not only is Mullen optimistic that these players will contribute to wins and post meaningful production, but also that their experience will rub off on the young members of his team in the right way.
“I am really happy with the experience those guys have brought to the table,” Mullen said on Thursday. “Not just their talent and their ability to kinda create the depth that comes in and fills some gaps with some over-positions, if you will, but I do think they also – because I talked to them coming in about not just coming in as a player but coming in as a leadership role as an older guy.”
Mullen admits that it wasn’t an easy task to place upon four new members of a program, but noted that each of the transfers welcomed the challenge and rose to the occasion.
For example, Valentino and Newkirk joined what was set to be a very young defensive line rotation following the departures of Kyree Campbell, T.J. Slaton, and Marlon Dunlap Jr. Beyond stuffing the run and rushing the passer, Valentino and Newkirk are tasked with showing young linemen the ropes as they continue to develop.
Perkins, although he’s played two years of college football at the JUCO level, is expected to do the same within the Gators’ secondary. He stills brings starting experience and time within a college development program to the table.
“JD, I feel like he can bring a lot to the room, junior cornerback Jaydon Hill said about Perkins. “He’s a great athlete. He’s a good-sized guy, has good speed. I know he’s capable of doing it. Just with the little stuff that we have done, I can tell that he’s a good player.”
Only time will tell how big of an impact these transfers will make, whether it be on the field in games or in practice, workouts, and non-football activities. One way or another, each transfer has a responsibility in Mullen’s eyes to help his young football team grow, mature, and develop.
And they’re all meeting Mullen’s expectations, if not exceeding them.
“[It] is sometimes hard to say, ‘You’ve been here six months but you’re kinda counting on me to be a leader,’” Mullen said. “But I talked about that when we brought them in, that’s kinda a role also they have to be ready to fill, and I think they’ve done a really good job of that.”
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