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Gators’ Kyle Pitts lobbied to play against LSU, expects to be 100 percent for SEC championship

UF’s star tight end said it’s “always difficult” being unable to play. He was a late scratch from the Gators’ loss to LSU.
Florida Gators star Kyle Pitts missed the LSU game with an injury but is expected to return for Saturday's SEC championship.
Florida Gators star Kyle Pitts missed the LSU game with an injury but is expected to return for Saturday's SEC championship. [ JOHN RAOUX | AP ]
Published Dec. 14, 2020
Updated Dec. 14, 2020

Although Kyle Pitts didn’t practice last week due to an undisclosed injury, Florida’s star tight end went through warmups against LSU expecting to play in the rivalry game.

He did not; UF’s medical personnel advised against it.

“They told me it was best that I don’t,” Pitts said Monday. “I went along with the decision.”

Related: Six random thoughts on Florida-Alabama in SEC championship game

That decision was undoubtedly costly for the Gators. With Pitts stuck watching from the sidelines, UF lost a 37-34 shocker at home to the Tigers, almost certainly ending the Gators’ hopes of making the College Football Playoff.

The absence of the 6-foot-6, 240-pound mismatch was glaring. Coach Dan Mullen pinned the defeat on an offense that clearly didn’t click without its best player. The Gators scored touchdowns on only four of their eight trips inside the red zone; one of them included a would-be touchdown pass that hit the hands of backup tight end Keon Zipperer and fell incomplete.

“It’s always difficult being on the sideline without my pads on,” Pitts said.

Although Pitts (unsuccessfully) lobbied Mullen and the training staff to try to get on the field, he understood the decision to protect him from potential long-term harm.

“That was a big part I had to realize, they’re looking out for the future, not just this one game,” Pitts said. “Although we do have more games to play, I have more football to play after I leave the university. Like I said, I trusted their judgment. They knew what was best for me.”

Without knowing more details on Pitts’ injury, it’s unfair to second-guess the decision. But it is clear that he has a long, lucrative football career ahead of him.

Pitts’ 11 receiving touchdowns rank fourth nationally and are tied for the eighth most in a single season in UF history. They’re also the most by a Division I-A tight end since 2017. His 641 receiving yards are second most among tight ends this season.

Related: Why Florida’s Kyle Pitts is the perfect mismatch maker for Dan Mullen

He is already the best player at his position in program history. Few others have been comparable in recent years, aside from O.J. Howard, the Bucs’ 2017 first-round pick out of Alabama.

“I think you probably mentioned one of the guys we’ve had here that has sort of been that kind of player,” Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban said.

“Kyle Pitts, he’s a fantastic player. His size and speed and athleticism, all those things make it very difficult to guard the guy. He’s a very versatile player. He can play tight end. He can play on the line. He can play off the ball, out as a receiver. They move him around a lot. Creates a lot of issues and problems for you, no doubt — probably as well as anybody we played against for a long time.”

The good news for UF is that Pitts does plan to play against ‘Bama this weekend in Atlanta. Mullen expects Pitts to be cleared by the training staff. Pitts said he feels “pretty well” and that he should be 100 percent for the Gators’ first appearance in the SEC title game since 2016.

As for his absence against LSU and the loss that followed, Pitts isn’t dwelling on it.

“It’s not something I kind of beat myself up about,” Pitts said. “I trust their judgment.”