One year after winning the job in a hotly contested battle, junior Jeff Driskel will begin the season as the undisputed starter for the first time in his career. He spent the offseason working on his passing and studying video in an effort to read defenses better and improve his ability to throw down the field.
Sophomore Matt Jones (left) was expected to be the opening day starter, but a viral infection kept the former Armwood standout out of fall camp, and he will miss the opener. His timetable to return is unknown. Junior Mack Brown has stepped into the top role, and former walk-on Mark Herndon and converted DB Valdez Showers also could get snaps. FB Hunter Joyer, of Wesley Chapel, can pick up yards when necessary and is a solid blocker.
Senior starting RG Jon Halapio (left), a former St. Petersburg Catholic standout who has a partially torn chest muscle, will miss at least the first two games. Nebraska transfer and Countryside High grad Tyler Moore, who is highly versatile, will step into that position. Five players with a combined 45 starts return, along with Moore and Maryland transfer Max Garcia, who add 16 games of starting experience.
Junior Quinton Dunbar (left), the Gators' top receiver last season with 36 receptions for 383 yards and four touchdowns, appears poised to live up to his four-star billing out of high school. Freshmen Ahmad Fulwood and Demarcus Robinson have been impressive and will play. Former utility player Trey Burton has spent the fall working mostly at receiver, and DB Loucheiz Purifoy, one of the team's best athletes, will get snaps at this position in special packages.
The Gators have to replace All-American Sharrif Floyd, but speed and athleticism abound. Dominique Easley (left) is expected to return to his natural position at tackle, but he can move outside if necessary. The rising stars at the position are former Lakewood standout Dante Fowler and Jonathan Bullard. Most intriguing is the return of Ronald Powell, who missed last season with an ACL injury to his knee. He will play a hybrid position that could result in extensive time at outside linebacker, allowing Fowler and Powell to be on the field at the same time.
Suspended sophomore Antonio Morrison (left) could be out for two games, but after extensive playing time last season, including three starts, he's expected to be a force when he returns. Darrin Kitchens (strong side), Michael Taylor (weak side) and Morrison possess the versatility to play all three linebacker spots. Neiron Ball is bigger (235 pounds) and stronger this season, and after playing injured most of last season (ankle) he is finally healthy.
Replacing Matt Elam won't be easy, but All-SEC CB Loucheiz Purifoy (left) leads this unit, possessing size, speed and a no-fear playing style. FS Cody Riggs returns after missing most of last season because of a season-ending foot injury in the second game. Junior CB Marcus Roberson played in all 13 games last season with four starts and has earned praise throughout fall camp. CB Jaylen Watkins has been hampered by injury in preseason.
One of the nation's best punters returns — Kyle Christy (left), a Ray Guy finalist who averages 44.3 yards. Returner Andre Debose is out for the season with an ACL injury, but coach Will Muschamp isn't shy about putting his best players on the kickoff and punt return teams, including Purifoy and Roberson. The concern is replacing K Caleb Sturgis.
Antonya English, Times staff writer