GAINESVILLE — When the Florida Gators conducted their first spring practice under Billy Napier on Tuesday, Emory Jones was still there.
Two hours later, last year’s starting quarterback gave his first public account of just how close he was to being somewhere else for his fifth college season.
“I was really close,” Jones said.
Some of Jones’ reasons for considering the transfer portal were obvious. The coach and quarterback guru (Dan Mullen) who handpicked him out of high school is gone. Jones watched Anthony Richardson dazzle and supplant him at times, making his path to the starting job look daunting. He also dealt with a fanbase that’s quick to glorify quarterbacks who succeed and vilify ones who struggle.
But there were other concerns, too.
“Basically things that went on last year that I wasn’t really comfortable with, and I didn’t want to be around that anymore,” Jones said.
Jones said some (but not all) of the people at the center of those uncomfortable issues have left. He didn’t elaborate further, nor did he reveal what schools he was considering when he told at least one national news outlet that he planned to enter the portal after the Gasparilla Bowl.
Richardson said it’s hard for a team to embrace two quarterbacks because only one plays at a time.
“But as a team, I guess we could’ve embraced each other a lot better,” Richardson said.
The issues collectively led Jones to decide “I didn’t want to be here, honestly” — something he told Napier and quarterbacks analyst Ryan O’Hara directly during a meeting early in the offseason.
“I kind of wanted a new environment to start with,” Jones said, “but he kind of preached to me that what was happening here, they were planning new environment, a new culture. I just trusted him and bought into it.”
That’s because Napier sold him on it. Napier and O’Hara said they watched his film and went over everything he had done. They praised his talent and told them what they could change about his past performances.
Jones watched film of Louisiana Lafayette quarterback Levi Lewis, who broke the school’s career passing touchdown record under Napier. Multiple phone calls with Lewis helped convince Jones to stay.
“Basically I just wanted to give them a chance,” Jones said.
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That chance began fully Tuesday at UF’s indoor practice facility. Jones was out there throwing alongside Richardson, Ohio State transfer Jack Miller and redshirt freshmen Jalen Kitna and Carlos Del Rio-Wilson.
“I think he’s learning a new system, and there’s a lot to be learned out there, not only for him but the entire quarterback group,” Napier said.
A brief media window into the first practice is too early to yield any significant takeaways about Jones and his future. He remains a great, elusive runner with some similarities to what Napier had in Lewis. But his 13 interceptions last season will remain a concern until the fall. Assuming Jones is still here then.
He’s on track to graduate this spring with a telecommunications degree and said that was “a big factor” in his decision. That, and his offseason concerns, lead to an obvious question: Is he committed to UF through the fall?
“I mean, I’m here,” Jones said. “I’m committed. I’m here.”
And that’s something no one expected him to say three months ago.
Richardson was medically cleared Monday after recovering from knee surgery. He was not wearing a brace Tuesday and is practicing with few limitations.
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