GAINESVILLE — When quarterback Luke Del Rio showed up unceremoniously last summer, his new Florida teammates didn't know what to think."I thought he was a freshman," running back Jordan Scarlett said, "but he wasn't.""I thought he was a walk-on something," offensive lineman Martez Ivey said.Over the next year, the No. 25 Gators learned bits and pieces about the 6-foot-1, 213-pound redshirt sophomore who makes his first career start tonight, against Massachusetts at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.They learned he had an accurate arm and threw a perfect spiral. They learned he was a two-time college transfer joining his sixth school in seven years.Eventually they learned their "walk-on something" had a rich NFL pedigree — and might be the long-term solution to a problem that has plagued the program for years."I had no idea," Ivey said. "And I look at him now, about to be the face of the program."And about to finally make a name for himself.• • •Del Rio grew up in the kind of environment you would expect for the son of Jack Del Rio, a Pro Bowl linebacker who's now coach of the Oakland Raiders.Del Rio got his first game ball the day he was born, Nov. 6, 1994, after his dad's Minnesota Vikings earned a last-second win over New Orleans. UF offensive coordinator and former Saints quarterback Doug Nussmeier remembers him "knee-high to a grasshopper," lingering around the team's facilities as his dad began transitioning to coaching.When his father became the Jaguars' coach in 2003, Del Rio hung out with kicker Josh Scobee and played pingpong with All-Pro running back Maurice Jones-Drew."He'd skunk me," Del Rio said. "I always appreciated that, though, that they kind of played with me like I was one of their own."Aside from the figurative lumps he received at table tennis, Del Rio took some literal ones along the way. He and Scobee were playing catch in the stadium when an errant throw skipped into his face and bloodied his nose."He's a rookie," Del Rio said, "and he starts freaking out. 'Your dad's going to cut me. He's going to cut me.' "When his dad asked about the black eye, Del Rio lied and said he fell. Even then, Del Rio understood how to protect a teammate.• • •The hours Del Rio spent with NFL players began to show in high school.After two years on the bench at Jacksonville prep powerhouse Bolles, he transferred to Episcopal as a junior. He impressed then-coach Dave Hess with his intangibles and drew comparisons to another famous Jacksonville/Gators quarterback."His work ethic, all of that, was very comparable to Tim Tebow," said Hess, who coached Tebow as a child. "He's one of those kids you knew would land on his feet somewhere."Del Rio showed that resilience in a loss that still resonates with UF receiver Ahmad Fulwood. Del Rio threw four interceptions against Fulwood's Bishop Kenny team but rallied his team from a 20-point deficit to a respectable 36-26 loss."He put his team in position to win," Fulwood said. "So I know he's got some fight in him."His transfers have been well chronicled: the move to Colorado when his dad joined the Broncos' staff; the walk-on shot at Alabama; the 18 passes he threw as Oregon State's backup.But Del Rio said most people don't realize the stressful months that accompanied each transition. While his dad was immersed in coaching and his mom took care of his sisters, Del Rio was left in limbo, alone."Lot of lonely days and just trying my hardest to stay focused," Del Rio said. "Just having the support system that I did really helped keep my head on straight and stay positive."And, eventually, arrive at UF.• • •After spending most of his life known as Jack Del Rio's son, Del Rio joined UF with a clean slate.He said his new teammates thought of him as just another transfer, which he liked. The Del Rios' wandering path made it harder for the Gators to connect the dots. Because he had to sit out a year due to the NCAA's transfer policy, there were no expectations — until he started gaining some buzz on the scout team."I (was) just trying to figure out why he wasn't playing," Ivey said. "He looked pretty damn good to me."As the weeks wore on, the Gators learned about his past. And one by one, they learned about Del Rio's famous father (and started asking for NFL gear). Jack stopped by practice this spring and plans to be at tonight's game."You really can't tell because he acts like a normal guy," said Scarlett, who didn't realize his quarterback's NFL ties until he saw Jack on TV. "But if you sit down and talk to him, he definitely knows a lot about ball."That knowledge of ball, partially honed through his dad, is one of the two biggest reasons he beat out Purdue transfer Austin Appleby to become UF's ninth starting quarterback since Tebow.The other reason also comes indirectly through his father's career: leadership.After moving 20-plus times, Del Rio learned you can't make friends in new locker rooms if you're trying to be someone you're not. Staying true to himself allowed him to mesh immediately at Episcopal (where he led his team to the playoffs in his only year), at Colorado's Valor Christian High (where he won a state championship in his only year) and at UF (where he earned the starting job in his first season of eligibility).Del Rio said spending years watching NFL quarterbacks up close reinforced the value of sincerity. Teammates don't follow leaders who seem fake."You try to take some pieces (from NFL stars), but you are who you are," Del Rio said. "I'm just trying to be myself. Hopefully it's good enough for everybody else, because that's what it's going to be."So who is Luke Del Rio?"I don't know," he said. "You're going to have to see, I guess."Starting tonight. Times sports columnist Martin Fennelly contributed to this report. Contact Matt Baker at mbaker@ tampabay.com. Follow @ MBakerTBTimes.