UF coach Jim McElwain excited about start of spring football

GAINESVILLE — He begins by talking about the women’s tennis team.Then baseball. Then he talks about the basketball team’s win on Tuesday, during which he took selfies and greeted fans five rows behind Florida’s bench in the O’Connell Center.Finally,...

UF coach Jim McElwain excited about start of spring football

GAINESVILLE — He begins by talking about the women’s tennis team.

Then baseball. Then he talks about the basketball team’s win on Tuesday, during which he took selfies and greeted fans five rows behind Florida’s bench in the O’Connell Center.

Finally, during a news conference intended to preview spring football practice, Jim McElwain talks about his team.

“What we've been able to build in the two short years we've been here has been outstanding,” he said with a broad grin. “The excitement is there.”

About a week before spring practice begins, McElwain met with reporters on Thursday, wearing a pale orange button-down shirt.

He likes this time of year, he said. He spoke about how he felt before his first season coaching at Colorado State in 2012, when he went 4-8, an “absolutely miserable” year. He talked about his time as offensive coordinator at Montana State in the late 1990s, when snow forced the team to miss three days of spring practice.

“You’re optimistic, you’re pessimistic, you get a little nervous,” McElwain said. “That’s the fun part.”

But more than anything, McElwain looked refreshed. Entering his third year as Florida’s coach, he has a 19-8 record, a 13-3 SEC record, has made two trips to the SEC Championship Game and has a 1-1 record in bowl games.

He enters the spring with a talented receiving corps, featuring rising junior Antonio Callaway and rising sophomore Tyrie Cleveland returning to lead a position McElwain called one of the strengths of this year’s team.

McElwain will have a new-look defense after seven starters declared for the NFL Draft, including both of his starting cornerbacks.

And, maybe the most intriguing storyline of spring camp, McElwain will supervise a fresh competition at quarterback. With Luke Del Rio out for the spring as he recovers from shoulder surgery, McElwain said sophomore Feleipe Franks, Kyle Trask and incoming freshman Kadarius Toney will compete for playing time.

With a year of experience in Florida’s offense, Franks and Trask figure to have an advantage. Neither played last season, but both participated in last year’s spring scrimmage in April and learned UF’s playbook behind Del Rio and former quarterback Austin Appleby.

The Gators are ranked No. 15 and riding a seven-game winning streak. But coach Mike White's team suffered a major blow Tuesday at Auburn when center John Egbunu tore his left ACL to end his season.

The Gators are ranked No. 15 and riding a seven-game winning streak. But coach Mike White's team suffered a major blow Tuesday at Auburn when center John Egbunu tore his left ACL to end his season.

The Gators are ranked No. 15 and riding a seven-game winning streak. But coach Mike White's team suffered a major blow Tuesday at Auburn when center John Egbunu tore his left ACL to end his season.

The Gators are ranked No. 15 and riding a seven-game winning streak. But coach Mike White's team suffered a major blow Tuesday at Auburn when center John Egbunu tore his left ACL to end his season.

UF men's golf coach J.C. Deacon had high hopes entering the 2016 postseason. But the Gators fizzled. Deacon and his players feel like they are a closer and better team because of this experiences. 

UF men's golf coach J.C. Deacon had high hopes entering the 2016 postseason. But the Gators fizzled. Deacon and his players feel like they are a closer and better team because of this experiences. 

UF PG Kasey Hill's improvement and consistency has been a big key to the Gators' success. Hill looks to bounce back from an uncharacteristically poor outing vs. Texas A&M (three points, five turnovers).

UF's five-game winning streak was in jeopardy. But following a timeout the Gators came alive against Texas A&M and rode the play of some of the team's veteran players to a 71-62 victory.

UF graduate transfer Canyon Barry has adjusted quickly and become a leader and go-to scorer for the Gators. 

UF graduate transfer Canyon Barry has adjusted quickly and become a leader and go-to scorer for the Gators. 

McElwain said he has been impressed with the development of both Franks and Trask, and raved about how both have bought into the team and respect the coaches’ plan.

“I think the biggest piece we're looking for … is for somebody to step up and say, ‘I’m going to take this and I'm going to lead this team,’” McElwain said. “Every moment means something. Take advantage of it."

McElwain also said Toney, rated a four-star recruit by ESPN.com and a mobile passer, will have the steepest learning curve. But that doesn’t mean Toney won’t get his chances.

“[He’ll get] a lot of reps at the position so we can find out exactly what he can do and see where that fits,” McElwain said.

And with the first of UF’s 15 spring practices scheduled for Tuesday, all leading up to the team’s Orange and Blue scrimmage on April 7, McElwain is curious to see how the quarterback competition plays out.

"I think the excitement and the momentum that we've built, it continues to roll and go forward,” McElwain said. “Should be a lot of fun.”

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