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While it is nearly a universal assumption at this point that redshirt sophomore Luke Del Rio will ultimately wind up as the Florida Gators’ starting quarterback to open the 2016 season, it is still an assumption. And it’s one that is highly unlikely to come to fruition anytime soon unless head coach Jim McElwain shocks by making that decision at the end of spring practice.
In fact, it would not be a surprise for Florida’s quarterback battle to last through the summer, especially considering the others going after the job have no plans on just handing it over.
Count redshirt senior graduate transfer Austin Appleby in that category.
Asked on Wednesday whether his expected role when transferring to UF was to push Del Rio and offer a form of competition among the quarterbacks, an affixed smile on Appleby’s face waned a tad.
“I didn’t come here not to play,” he began. “I came here to compete and earn the starting job. The way I do that is just be me. If I take care of the things that I need to take care of, control what I need to control, I believe that everything will take care of itself.”
With all due respect to Appleby, he was not necessarily the most sought after signal caller on the transfer market this offseason. A former three-star prospect out of Canton, Ohio, Appleby started the first three games of the 2015 season for Purdue before being benched. He completed 57.5 percent of his passes last year, amassing 1,260 yards (6.1 per attempt) with eight touchdowns and eight interceptions. For his career, Appleby has posted 19 scores and 19 picks.
Not set to start his final year with the Boilermakers, a team that has gone 6-30 over the last three seasons and only has one winning campaign dating back to 2008, Appleby looked for a better opportunity and believes he found it with the Gators.
He stresses that McElwain and offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier are “unbelievable teachers” who have an offensive system that “fits me very well” and “really brings out what I do well.” Though the offense is similar to the one he ran at Purdue, he notes that learning it the “Florida way” has made all the difference. “They might be the same plays, but the reads are a little bit different, learning your personnel is a little bit different,” Appleby explained. “The game has definitely slowed down a lot since I got here back in January.”
Appleby has been able to adapt quickly to his new surroundings due in large part to his teammates, which he say “have been wonderful” and “quickly welcomed me into the family.”
He continued: “From the moment I got on this campus and got acclimated, they welcomed me with open arms. It’s been like I’ve been here the last four years, and I’m very [grateful] for it.”
Appleby’s fellow quarterbacks – Del Rio plus freshmen Feleipe Franks and Kyle Trask – have been great competition, but he stresses that their relationship off the field is even more important. “It’s a really tight [position] room. It’s a lot of really, really good guys in there. It’s been very supportive from freshmen to me. It’s a very special room and there’s not many rooms like it, I would say.”
Asked to boil down his decision making process, Appleby pointed to two specific reasons why he is now wearing orange and blue: competing for a championship by playing at the highest level and preparing himself for an opportunity to play professionally. It doesn’t hurt that Appleby, who has coaching aspirations, is able to get a graduate degree in sports management at one of the best programs in the nation.
With just one week of spring practice remaining, time is running out for Appleby to make a lasting impression with the coaching staff before they shift their focus to short vacations and recruiting. But he makes certain to note that the Gators as a whole are not so worried about starting jobs as they are victories on the field.
“This team is expecting to win a championship [corrects himself] championships. That’s reflected in the weight room; that’s reflected out here each and every day,” he explained. “That really gets me going. That’s awesome. That’s something I’m really excited to be a part of, and I’m happy to be here.”
First-team reps at the 2016 Orange & Blue Debut are seven days away. Kickoff is five months from Saturday. Appleby, as one would expect, hopes to be the first one to take the field for Florida.
“The best quarterback will be the best quarterback at the first game, that’s the guy that will be out there,” he said.