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Is Dre Massey Florida's secret weapon on offense?

Dre Massey was limited to contact-free returns during the spring game at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, when he was working back from a torn ACL sustained in the 2016 opener that ended his season.
Dre Massey was limited to contact-free returns during the spring game at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, when he was working back from a torn ACL sustained in the 2016 opener that ended his season.
Published Aug. 30, 2017

GAINESVILLE — One of Florida's biggest positives from preseason camp happened in its second scrimmage.

After weeks of waiting, receiver Dre Massey finally made a few big plays — enough to show he was fully recovered from last year's knee injury and provide confidence that he could be a breakout player this fall.

"It was kind of like, 'Oh, there it was,' " coach Jim McElwain said.

It will have to show up Saturday, if the No. 17 Gators hope to top No. 11 Michigan and revive a long-dormant offense at AT&T Stadium.

While UF's ongoing quarterback concerns populate message boards, the rest of the offense hasn't done much on its own to help out. Consider the Gators' glaring lack of explosive plays.

Through McElwain's two seasons, UF ranks 97th nationally in plays that covered at least 30 yards. Antonio Callaway was responsible for 21 such plays (including special teams). That's almost as many as the rest of the active roster combined (26). But Callaway is among the eight Gators suspended for the season opener, which means UF's best hope for game-changing plays won't be in Arlington, Texas.

While Tampa Bay Tech alumnus Daquon Green, sophomore Tyrie Cleveland and senior Brandon Powell are among the candidates to replace that production, Massey is the most intriguing option.

The 5-foot-9, 186-pound speedster put up ridiculous numbers as a prep quarterback at Mauldin (S.C.) High. He accounted for 11 touchdowns (seven rushing, four passing) and 567 total yards in one game, earning looks from Clemson and East Carolina before eventually landing at Holmes (Miss.) Community College.

Massey totaled 1,000 yards in his second junior college season before signing with the Gators as a four-star recruit, and he was expected to contribute last year to an offense that desperately needed an infusion of versatility and explosiveness. McElwain even teased to a specialty package starring Massey as a change-of-pace quarterback.

Then the season began. On his first cut of the first kickoff in the first game, Massey felt his right knee turn inward. His ACL tore.

"It was very hard, going through winter workouts, spring, summer — then the first play, I had all that taken away from me," Massey said. "It's tough."

It was tough for the rest of the Gators, too. When Massey was sidelined for the rest of the season, an undisclosed chunk of the playbook disappeared with him.

"I don't know what it could have been," offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier said. "You had a vision and a thought. It never materialized."

It didn't materialize in the spring, either.

Massey was limited during practice and didn't feel fully healthy until just before the spring game. UF shielded him then, too, restricting him to fielding contact-free kicks during the exhibition.

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"It was frustrating," Massey said. "I kind of didn't want to do it, you know, but then again, I was like, 'I might as well just show everybody that I'm ready, as much as possible.' "

Almost five months later, Massey believes he's ready. The flashes he showed in the scrimmage seemed to confirm it. He has even been keeping a picture of AT&T Stadium as his screensaver as a reminder.

All that's left is for Massey to prove it in a game — and perhaps help rescue the Gators' offense in the process.

Times correspondent Matthew Brannon contributed to this report. Contact Matt Baker at mbaker@tampabay.com. Follow @MBakerTBTimes.

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