GAINESVILLE — The last time University of Florida quarterback Will Grier stood at a podium at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, he was the Gators' hero.
Grier, 20, overcame the flu to key UF's 38-10 blowout win over then-No. 3 Ole Miss, returning the Gators to national prominence in a year of mediocre expectations.
Nine days later and three floors up, he clutched a lectern and bit his lip as he tried to explain how he landed a mandatory, yearlong suspension for failing an NCAA drug test — and how he potentially dashed his undefeated team's chances of competing for the Southeastern Conference championship.
"I'm really, really sorry to everyone," Grier said. "Just really sorry."
Grier's 47-word apology came after UF announced his positive test for performance-enhancing drugs. Grier said he didn't check with team officials before taking an unspecified over-the-counter supplement, which contained a banned substance.
"You have to know what you're putting in your body," first-year coach Jim McElwain said. "That's an important thing here, obviously, we didn't do. Will admitted he didn't do it. I think that speaks for him. He's not putting it on anybody else."
But Grier and his No. 8 Gators will have to deal with the consequences, starting Saturday in a prime-time game at unbeaten, sixth-ranked LSU.
For failing the NCAA's random drug test, Grier will miss the rest of this season and the first six games of next season, pending the result of UF's appeal. The Gators do not expect to forfeit any games as a result of the ruling.
McElwain said he found out about the failed test Sunday from the school's athletic director and compliance staff. He and Grier told the team about the suspension Monday afternoon.
"When you have an opportunity to sit down and visit with him and see the remorse and the sorrow, that's hard," McElwain said. "That's really hard."
Especially considering what transpired in the previous months.
After sitting out last year during his redshirt season, Grier battled sophomore Treon Harris for the starting job throughout the spring and summer and into fall. Eventually, Grier emerged as the starter and was one of the biggest reasons why a team that finished 7-5 last year has won its first six games and jumped into the national top 10.
Grier, a North Carolina native, earned his first career start in last month's 31-24 win over his father's alma mater, East Carolina. Two weeks later, he capped off a 13-point comeback over rival Tennessee by throwing the game-winning, 63-yard touchdown pass with 1:26 left.
No Gator freshman has ever completed more passes (106) or had a better completion percentage (65.8) through his first six appearances than Grier. His 10 touchdown passes are tied for fourth in the SEC and are one reason why a team picked to finish fifth in the SEC East turned into favorites to advance to the conference championship game in December.
But reaching that goal became a lot harder Monday.
The Gators will now turn to Harris, a Miami native who is 5-2 in his career as a starter but has thrown for only 1,288 yards in 13 games. UF suspended Harris for the Tennessee game for what ESPN said was a drug-related issue.
Former Armwood High standout and converted receiver Josh Grady becomes the team's backup.
"It's a loss," McElwain said. "But we also have other guys, and we've got to move forward. Hopefully guys will learn from this and see, as he said, it's an opportunity through his choices, hopefully some guys will learn from it."
Contact Matt Baker at [email protected] Follow @MBakerTBTimes.