Walk-ons are a vital part of every college football program. Not only do they give a team enough players to effectively practice from day-to-day, but some also eventually become productive players, sometimes even stars.
Florida has had a great walk-on program down through the years, one that has produced such stars as All-American safety Louis Oliver, All-SEC wide receiver Chris Doering and linebacker Pat Moorer, to name three.
This fall, almost 40 walk-ons will be on the UF roster, and some of them are going to make contributions on the field in games.
Here are five walk-ons who could have an impact in 2018:
- Umstead Sanders, LB, 6-foot-2, 240 pounds — The 15th-ranked linebacker coming out of the JUCO ranks, Sanders has committed to the Gators and is set to join the program as a preferred walk-on for the start of Summer B. The UF coaches did not recruit Sanders because his brother, running back Trey Sanders, is a five-star prospect among 2019 recruits. They did it because they watched his tape from Hinds Community College. He made plays all over the field, showing the relentless effort Dan Mullen is looking for. He has the size and the speed to bring instant depth to a position of need.
- Tanner Rowell, OL/DL, 6-2, 298 — Speaking of relentless effort, this kid really has it, to go along with great toughness. He plays a lot like his father, Tony Rowell, who may have been the toughest offensive lineman in the Steve Spurrier coaching era. Tony Rowell came to UF as a defensive tackle, but made the move to the offensive line. His son appears to be following the same path. Whether it’s on the offensive line or at defensive tackle, Tanner Rowell has shown he can more than hold his own on the practice field. He can help depth on both sides of the line.
- Danny Weldon, LB, 6-0, 225 — This former Tampa Catholic standout is another relentless effort guy, something he showed throughout the spring with his tenacity and toughness. He could provide depth at linebacker, where the Gators are down in numbers. It also seems almost a certainty that he will make a contribution on special teams, where effort is always a priority.
- Tyriek Hopkins, RB, 5-8, 178 — He’s undersized and the Gators have great depth at the running back position. But if the elusive Hopkins ever gets a chance, he might just make something happen. He’s been doing it on the practice field and in scrimmages the past two years, ripping off gains, sometimes against the No. 1 defense. Even if he doesn’t get any carries (he got one last year, against Vanderbilt), Hopkins could be a standout on special teams, where he played in six games last season.
- Nick Vilano, OL, 6-3, 312 — This preferred walk-on from Wellington has yet to play in a game, but he’s impressed his coaches and some of the UF defensive linemen with his tough, solid play on the scout team the past three seasons. He appears ready to contribute. He helps give the Gators some much-needed depth at offensive tackle positions.