Wednesday, April 25, 2018
Colleges

Malik Zaire excited about competing for UF quarterback job

GAINESVILLE — Malik Zaire said and did all the right things Wednesday in his first major appearance with the Gators.

The graduate transfer quarterback from Notre Dame sipped from a cup of orange Gatorade during media day. He praised Florida's last dual-threat lefty, Tim Tebow. He talked about the potential for a dynamic offense and putting UF back on top of the SEC.

"Who doesn't want to be a part of the Gators?" Zaire said.

Zaire clearly did, which is why he passed on opportunities at Texas and Harvard to join UF.

In his first extended public remarks since becoming a Gator, Zaire said his courtship with Florida began with a phone call from offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier. It didn't take long before Zaire was watching film on his own, calling Nussmeier to grill him on specific plays from last season.

"Those are the kind of guys you want on your team," Nussmeier said.

Zaire said his decision didn't become official until the SEC tweaked its grad transfer rules in early June. But the potential of UF's best set of skill players since the Tebow era was enough to bring him more than 800 miles south from his hometown of Kettering, Ohio.

"If you think about it, I think this offense is the best offense in the country," Zaire said.

Except the Gators haven't been anywhere close to that since Urban Meyer left, which is why they wanted Zaire in the first place. UF had the nation's No. 107 scoring offense last year and finished 86th in passer rating and 87th in yards per attempt.

The 6-foot, 225-pound Zaire showed enough flashes of success at Notre Dame to think he could contribute immediately at UF. He never lost a turnover in 17 appearances, rushed for 96 yards in a bowl win over LSU and threw for 313 in a 35-point rout of Texas.

But he never stuck in South Bend. An ankle injury ended his 2015 season after only two games, and DeShone Kizer beat him out for the starting job last year.

"He's obviously on a mission," coach Jim McElwain said. "And he's here to help us win a game and win a bunch of games."

That doesn't necessarily mean Zaire will be the starter, although teams typically don't bring in grad transfers to sit on the bench.

Redshirt freshman Feleipe Franks was UF's top option coming out of spring practice and remains in the mix as the potential quarterback of the future.

"Just bringing him in, it makes you want it more," Franks said.

McElwain and Nussmeier continue to insist that Luke Del Rio could be in the mix, too. He was 5-1 as a starter last season and is fully recovered from offseason surgeries to both shoulders.

But the wild card is Zaire.

He's a skilled runner who doesn't fit the mold of a typical McElwain quarterback. His only experience at UF has been in offseason workouts, at least until preseason camp begins today. McElwain said that doesn't put him at a disadvantage to become UF's 11th different starting quarterback since Tebow left for the 2010 NFL draft.

Zaire doesn't seem worried about it, either. After spending his entire Notre Dame career in quarterback battles — with Everett Golson, then with Kizer — this is nothing new. The only differences are the Florida heat, the colors of the jerseys and Gatorade.

"I know I haven't been able to show as much as I wanted to, but I know there's still opportunity," Zaire said. "I know there's still a lot of time left."

And there's a chance for Zaire and his new school to finally make the most of it.

Contact Matt Baker at [email protected]

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