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Luke Del Rio gets Florida Gators' nod at starting QB

Florida quarterback Luke Del Rio points out defenders during the Orange and Blue Debut Spring Game at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, Fla. Del Rio, the son of Oakland Raiders coach Jack Del Rio, is the front-runner to win the starting job despite throwing just 18 somewhat meaningful passes at Alabama (2013), Oregon State (2014) and Florida (2015). (Matt Stamey/The Gainesville Sun via AP, File)
Florida quarterback Luke Del Rio points out defenders during the Orange and Blue Debut Spring Game at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, Fla. Del Rio, the son of Oakland Raiders coach Jack Del Rio, is the front-runner to win the starting job despite throwing just 18 somewhat meaningful passes at Alabama (2013), Oregon State (2014) and Florida (2015). (Matt Stamey/The Gainesville Sun via AP, File)
Published Aug. 19, 2016

Despite two transfers and three lost seasons, Florida quarterback Luke Del Rio never doubted his ability to become a starting quarterback.

"I wouldn't be here if I didn't think I could play, and start," he said last week. "I didn't come here to sit on the bench."

Finally, he won't have to.

The Gators announced Thursday that Del Rio will make his first collegiate start in the Sept. 3 season opener against UMass. The 6-foot-1, 213-pound redshirt sophomore beat out graduate transfer Austin Appleby and early enrollees Feleipe Franks and Kyle Trask to become UF's ninth different starting quarterback in the post-Tim Tebow era.

"Luke is going to work as the starter the rest of camp and start in the season opener, barring any unforeseen development," coach Jim McElwain said in a statement. "Our other quarterbacks remain in the plans and are ready to move forward and help the Gators any way they can."

For now, that means backing up Del Rio as he completes his long road to Division I-A starter.

Del Rio, the son of Oakland Raiders coach Jack Del Rio, initially committed to Oklahoma State before deciding to walk on at Alabama in 2013.

"Basically I went to Alabama because it was a dream of mine," Del Rio, 21, said before the start of Florida's fall camp.

The dream didn't work out; he spent one season there as the emergency quarterback before transferring to Oregon State.

Things didn't work out there, either. He appeared in three games as the Beavers' backup in 2014 and completed 8 of 18 passes. When coach Mike Riley left that offseason for Nebraska, Del Rio learned that he wasn't in the new coaching staff's plans.

"I got told I wasn't going to play somewhere," Del Rio said before camp. "You know, that hurts."

So Del Rio moved on, again.

He transferred to Florida, where he was reunited with his offensive coordinator at Alabama (Doug Nussmeier) and the coach who gave him his first scholarship offer (McElwain, when he was at Colorado State).

The familiarity with both the coaching staff and the offensive system was Del Rio's biggest advantage over Appleby this spring. While Appleby was trying to learn a new scheme, Del Rio had already spent a season immersed in it, plus his time at 'Bama.

That all came together in the spring game, when he led the Gators to scoring drives on all four of his possessions against the second-team defense. He finished 10-of-11 (the incompletion was a throwaway) for 176 yards and a 285.3 passer rating.

The competition narrowed over the summer before Del Rio pulled away this week. McElwain likely will explain his decision today during his scheduled media availability.

"I thought I've had a pretty good camp," Del Rio said last week. "I think it's the best camp I've had in my college career. It's my fourth camp — it makes me feel old."

But that age and experience paid off Thursday, when Del Rio learned that he had finally earned the title he had spent years working toward.

Starting quarterback.

Times staff writers Roger Mooney and Martin Fennelly contributed to this report. Contact Matt Baker at mbaker@tampabay.com. Follow @MBakerTBTimes.