GAINESVILLE — Valdez Showers sat in a corner of the Gators' south end zone meeting room after Saturday's victory over Toledo and the smile on his face spoke volumes. He had just finished playing a significant role for his team for the first time since high school. He was happy. It felt just like old times.
"I felt good, really good," Showers said. "I wasn't nervous at all. Offense always seemed kind of easy to me, so it was just a matter of making sure I got the concepts down. The more we install, the more I need to learn."
One month ago Showers, a redshirt sophomore, was battling for a starting safety spot and talk of him playing offense was, well, just that.
But when starting running back Matt Jones was lost to a viral infection in early August and the depth chart took a hit, Florida coach Will Muschamp and his staff implemented a change they had discussed many times before, including last season when Mike Gillislee was injured.
"Watching his film from high school, I always had that resonate in my mind," Muschamp said. "He was a guy that was pretty special with the ball in his hands, could do a lot of things that are very natural to him. When I approached him in fall camp about possibly moving over … he was all for it. He's all about helping the team. 'Whatever I can do to help the team' is exactly what he asked me. I said, 'Right now I think you can help us more at running back. There's no question you would help us compete for the starting job at safety, but we are going to create a role for you on our offense. Give it a couple of days.' After two days, he was very natural with it."
With good reason. As a senior at Madison Heights High in Michigan, Showers rushed for 2,024 yards and 29 touchdowns. His scatback position is similar to that of former Gator Omarius Hines, and Showers flourished in the role Saturday at the Swamp.
"Having him on our side is great," quarterback Jeff Driskel said. "He's definitely a threat out there. When he was on the field in the backfield, the defense was kind of calling him out, and they didn't really know how to handle him, whether to treat him as a running back or a receiver, so he's a utility guy who can play all over the field. He's only going to get better week to week because he hasn't been on offense that much. He played a great game in his first game on offense, and I'm really glad he's on our side of the ball."
Showers had two carries for 31 yards and four receptions for 23 yards. More important, he has given the Gators both depth and versatility.
"He's a really good athlete," offensive coordinator Brent Pease said. "You put the ball in his hands, he's going to run. He can catch the ball. … He's got a great awareness of just being natural and having football intelligence on the field."
Showers had impressed his teammates with his willingness to sacrifice for the good of the team.
"It's pretty impressive because he came probably halfway through camp," senior receiver Trey Burton said. "He didn't get all spring, he didn't get all summer, he was on defense that whole time. So it's really impressive to see a guy like that be able to transition over to offense really fast."
Showers, who wears No. 10 to honor his late grandmother's birthday (Oct. 10), is looking forward to seeing how his role evolves with the return of Jones to the lineup this week. Showers is not necessarily looking to be the star. He just wants to help his team whatever way he can.
But that feeling? The one he remembers from his days in Michigan? It's back.
"It's always a good thing to have the ball in your hands, that's not a bad thing at all," Showers said. "That's something you can't let go. Even when you're on defense and you got those INTs, you want to score. I just never expected it to be this way for me."
Antonya English can be reached at [email protected]