The Gators have held just one spring practice, but Luke Del Rio is already separating himself in the quarterback race.
“[Del Rio] is just real cool,” linebacker Jarrad Davis said Wednesday following the team’s first spring practice. “He’s not a guy that’s really going to panic. He’s real laid back and he’s dropping back in the pocket real smooth with everything that he does. His reads are perfect. He does a lot of things to separate himself from other guys on the team.”
It’s early, but Del Rio (6-1, 213) is considered the front-runner to win the starting quarterback job. The redshirt sophomore is competing with Purdue graduate transfer Austin Appleby, and freshman early enrollees Feleipe Franks and Kyle Trask for the position.
The hope is for one to lead an improved unit in 2016. Florida finished last season ranked 111th nationally in total offense.
What sets Del Rio apart from the other quarterbacks in the competition? For one, he’s the only one of the four who was with the Gators during the 2015 season.
However, Del Rio was ineligible to play for the Gators last season after coming in from Oregon State due to NCAA transfer rules. Appleby, Franks and Trask arrived to Florida in January.
“I love Luke Del Rio,” Davis said. “I’ve been watching him work out throughout the winter and I’m watching him do his thing out there (Wednesday). He looked natural and very comfortable. I’m excited to see how the competition is going to play out this spring.”
But Del Rio has not had much of a chance to show what he can do on the college level.
Del Rio — known as a pro-style quarterback— started his college career as a walk-on at Alabama and later transferred to Oregon State. He has played in just three college games, completing 8 of 18 passes for 141 yards.
“I think there are a lot of intangibles there,” coach Jim McElwain said of Del Rio. “Not only is he a good quarterback, but (he has) the qualities you want at that position. You can tell he spent a lot of time around the game.”
It helps that Del Rio is the son of Oakland Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio. Jack played 11 seasons as an NFL linebacker before becoming a coach.
“I think [Del Rio] can be special,” Gators wide receiver Ahmad Fulwood said. “He’s smart. He’s accurate. He can put air under the ball. I like the way he plays.”
McElwain confirmed Wednesday that Del Rio is still a walk-on despite being the early favorite to be Florida’s starting quarterback this upcoming season. Appleby is also a walk-on.
“Good walk-ons,” McElwain made sure to point out. “I wish we could get a lot of walk-ons that good.”
McElwain has been intrigued by Del Rio since he had him in camp as an eighth-grade quarterback. Now, Del Rio could end up being his college starting quarterback.
“You could just tell, the guy has got something to him,” McElwain said. “There’s a lot of things that have to go along with that. There’s a real confidence when the guy takes the field and takes command of the huddle. It’s kind of those little things that you notice. Just maybe I kind of notice more (that he knows) how to play the position. It’s good to see.”