Saturday, April 21, 2018
Colleges

Florida Gators fullback Hunter Joyer grinds for other's glory

GAINESVILLE — The sports highlights shows on Saturday night repeatedly showed Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel breaking loose for a 37-yard touchdown run, but what may have been missed was the celebration that No. 41 was having by himself just past the line of scrimmage after his block helped free Driskel.

When Mike Gillislee rushed for one of his two touchdowns at Texas A&M last month, that same No. 41 was taking out multiple defenders to spring the running back loose.

Sophomore fullback Hunter Joyer might be the most obscure player on the team when it comes to position and public recognition, but the former Tampa Catholic standout's unselfish play makes him one of the most valued and respected Gators.

"He definitely doesn't get near enough credit," Driskel said. "He doesn't want the credit. Fullbacks get two or three touches a year and that's it, but he springs big plays all the time, and he's always sticking his nose in the middle of it. He's definitely a big part of our offense."

His role now is a far cry from the days when he helped Tampa Catholic reach the 2009 state final.

"Because I played running back before, you're just running the ball, all eyes are always on you and you're really big in the team's success; how good they do," said Joyer, who graduated from Wesley Chapel after starring for two seasons at TC. "It's different blocking. You're not really focused on that much, you're not really game-planned for. It's just a little different. It's kind of like a smaller role, but it's not like a worse role, or a bad role or anything."

Last season, Joyer was a valuable short-yardage runner. He played in all 13 games, with one start. He was a member of the kick-return team and scored a touchdown on his first career rush, a 3-yard run against Alabama-Birmingham. He finished the season with 82 yards on 18 carries and two touchdowns.

During the offseason, coach Will Muschamp challenged Joyer to become a better blocker. For a young man who benches more than 400 pounds, squats more than 550 and can clean and jerk 315 pounds, strength was never the issue.

"I just felt like I needed to become more of an actual fullback," Joyer said. "I never really played it before I got here to college, so it's something I was still adjusting to, and something I needed to work on was blocking. I just felt like that's the reason that I'm here. I'm not here to get touches, get carries. So I just focused in on that."

As the No. 3 Gators prepare for Saturday's matchup against No. 9 South Carolina, their ability to run the ball is expected to have a key impact on the game. That means Joyer will, too.

"Half of the runs for Gillislee is because of Hunter," receiver Frankie Hammond Jr. said. "He doesn't get in the spotlight but us as a team, we understand what he means to us."

His unselfishness is an example of the new Muschamp-style Gators, a team-first concept the coach believes has led to Florida's resurgence this season. Joyer has two carries for 1 yard and two catches for 10 this season.

"That's not a very glamorous position," Muschamp said. "The fullback position is a lost art in college football. Everybody is going to all this spread stuff, nobody plays with a fullback anymore. But we will.

"He's a guy that catches the ball well out of the backfield. We really challenged him in the offseason to become a more physical blocker at the point of attack. He's done that. He adjusts well to different looks, different fronts. Some of the things we ask him to do he's got to block on the move, so he's moving at a target and sometimes the target changes based on how we block up front and he adjusts to those things extremely well.

"He's extremely bright, extremely intelligent on and off the field. He's a very unselfish player and epitomizes what we want here at Florida."

Antonya English can be reached at [email protected] Follow her coverage at gators.tampabay.com.

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