After Florida began spring practice Tuesday, quarterback Emory Jones was asked how committed he was to staying with the Gators through the fall.
“I mean, I’m here,” Jones said. “I’m committed. I’m here.”
Jones announced on social media Saturday morning “that after many conversations with my family and after putting a lot of thought into my future, I have decided to enter the transfer portal.”
The news marks a surprising reversal for UF’s 2021 starter. Jones admitted he was “really close” to transferring after the Gasparilla Bowl and that he entered a meeting with new coach Billy Napier and quarterbacks analyst Ryan O’Hara to tell them he “didn’t want to be here, honestly.” They sold him on a fresh start by showing him what they did at Louisiana Lafayette with quarterback Levi Lewis, who broke the program’s career passing touchdown record on their watch.
Jones participated in the Gators’ first two practices, and his accuracy remained an issue (at least in the windows that were open to reporters). It didn’t help that Anthony Richardson — a sky-high talent who pushed Jones last season — was medically cleared Monday to participate after recovering from knee surgery. Richardson, notably, did not look rusty. Napier said “there’s a reason why people think that he has an opportunity to be a good player.” In coach-speak, that’s a higher compliment than it sounds.
Although Jones said he was committed to UF, he did not directly say he’d be at UF in the fall. It was fair to wonder how long his commitment would last. The telecommunications student is on track to graduate this spring. That’s a strong incentive to stick around for another semester, which Jones said he intends to do.
The transfer portal is always open, and coaches across the country expect a wave after spring ball as players learn where they stand — or don’t stand — on the depth chart. Schools routinely add quarterbacks after the spring, like Malik Zaire going from Notre Dame to UF in 2017 or Joe Burrow moving from Ohio State to LSU the next May.
Jones’ move will be a hit to UF’s experience. Though his 13 interceptions last year were a significant concern, he was a strong and capable runner. His departure would leave UF with one career start at the position (Richardson’s game against Georgia last year).
But the Gators have talented depth at the position. If Richardson earns the starting job, UF’s backups include a pair of former blue-chip recruits (Ohio State transfer Jack Miller and redshirt freshman Carlos Del-Rio Wilson), plus redshirt freshman Jalen Kitna.
Assuming Jones’ decision is final, he’ll depart with a complicated legacy at UF. He was one of Dan Mullen’s first major coups by decommitting from Urban Meyer’s Buckeyes to sign in Mullen’s first recruiting class. He was Mullen’s handpicked quarterback of the future, after two holdovers from the previous regime (Feleipe Franks and Kyle Trask) left.
Jones earned the starting job last year ahead of Richardson and, for better or worse, held him off for most of the year. He (like the rest of the Gators) was up and down, ultimately leading to Mullen’s exit and Napier’s arrival.
Though Jones’ play received plenty of criticism — the fanbase soured on him quickly as Richardson starred — the way he handled himself did not. He did not complain about Trask replacing Franks, nor did he transfer. He played his role as a change-of-pace option and waited his turn.
When Richardson supplanted him and outplayed him last year, Jones did not complain then, either. He handled himself with maturity and grace in the face of uncomfortable questions and a year-long controversy.
“Emory has conducted himself with nothing but class and selflessness,” Napier said in a statement. “It is not surprising that he has earned the respect of his teammates, coaches and this entire organization. …
“He is a young man with a bright future and I wish him nothing but the best.”
There don’t appear to be any hard feelings from Jones, either, including toward Richardson.
“He’s still my guy,” Jones said Tuesday.
Richardson now appears to be the Gators’ guy, too. That’s a great sign for the program; he’s the most talented dual-threat quarterback UF has had since Tim Tebow.
And it might end up as a good thing for Jones. He ended last season looking for a fresh start. He’ll finally get one.
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