It took only a few minutes into that very first practice in the spring to realize that the two new receivers on the Florida roster were going to potentially have a big impact on the Gators’ passing game.
The only question was when?
Would it be this fall?
Or would the Gators have to wait until 2019?
Finally, the long wait to find out the answer ended Thursday, the day before the opening of preseason camp.
Transfers Van Jefferson and Trevon Grimes were ruled eligible by the NCAA. They will start making their impact now, in the 2019 season.
“I called my mom and told her the news, and I actually shed a little tear I was so excited to get on the field and be able to play this season,” Grimes, a transfer from Ohio State, said Saturday. “I was pretty nervous. I put my faith in God. I know if he wanted me to play, I’d play. Of course, I was granted the waiver and I’m excited to play.”
Jefferson, a transfer from Ole Miss, has not been totally cleared yet. He still needs approval from the SEC, but that is a mere formality after the league changed its transfer rule in the spring. The favorable ruling from the SEC is expected any day now.
“There’s one more step, so I’m praying it still gets cleared quick,” Jefferson said. “When I transferred I already knew what could happen, I could come in and sit. But I wanted to leave anyway, so there was no doubt. I prayed about it, my family prayed about it, I had people in my corner just praying to God, just believing in God and things could work out in my favor.
“Right now I’m just focusing on camp and just going out there with my teammates.”
While Jefferson and Grimes are happy and relieved about becoming instantly eligible, the Gators seem almost downright giddy.
The players have seen, and continue to see, what these two highly rated receivers are capable of doing.
“I’m super excited,” redshirt sophomore quarterback Feleipe Franks said. “They’re both really good weapons for us. Both are going to be utilized.
“They’re both just super-good players. They both work hard on and off the field and are really good people, which is more important. They’re just great assets to have on our team. They’re naturally gifted.”
In Grimes, the Gators are getting a former five-star recruit from Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas who is big (6-foot-5, 214 pounds) and fast and has already emerged as perhaps UF’s best deep threat.
In Jefferson, the Gators are getting an already polished and accomplished SEC wide receiver. In his two seasons with the Rebels, he combined to catch 91 passes for 999 yards and four touchdowns.
Since he’s been at UF, Jefferson has shown the ability to separate from defensive backs and make plays, many of them down the field.
Grimes was asked Saturday what he likes about Jefferson’s game.
“Everything,” he said. “He’s smooth, flowing. He’s one of the best receivers I’ve ever been around. He’s a phenomenal player.”
Jefferson is the son of former standout NFL wide receiver Shawn Jefferson, who is now an assistant coach with the Miami Dolphins. By all accounts, Jefferson looks and plays a lot like his father.
If so, it’s not by accident. Shawn Jefferson has been coaching his son for as long as Van can remember.
“My dad deserves a lot of credit,” Jefferson said. “He taught me everything I know. Down the line, I learned things from other coaches as well, but my dad instilled in me everything I know. Getting out of breaks, creating separation. … I owe it all to my dad.
“He’s been a great influence on my life. We talk every day. What can I do to get better?”
Jefferson is taking some of the things he’s learned from his father and imparting them on his new wide receiver teammates, including Grimes.
Grimes said his overall game has improved dramatically since he arrived at UF in January and he started taking tips from Jefferson.
“He’s taught me a lot,” Grimes said. “Just the little things, like showing me how to get in and out of my breaks, how to be smooth with the route running.
“Being around such a good receiver like him, it kind of rubs off on you and you learn your own little rhythm being around guys like him.”
Grimes is a big receiver who is starting to play like a smaller receiver in terms of quickness and fluidity. He credits Jefferson for the makeover.
“First coming in, I wouldn’t say I was stiff, but I just wasn’t as fluid as I wanted to be,” Grimes said. “Working with him, he’s taught me a lot of things with drills I can do, with stretches I can do, with rehab and stuff I can do.
“I give him the biggest props for helping me transition from being a 6-5 receiver that’s kind of stiff to being a 6-5 receiver that plays fluid and smooth. He’s taught me a lot with that.”
Jefferson said he’s also been learning from Grimes and the other wide receivers.
“I was helping over the summer and they were helping me as well,” Jefferson said.
This is a wide receiver group that probably would have been pretty solid even if Grimes and Jefferson had not been ruled eligible.
But throw them in with Tyrie Cleveland, Josh Hammond, Kadarius Toney, Freddie Swain and others, and the potential is there for this to become a special group.
“I think this receiving corps is going to be top-notch this season,” Jefferson said. “Ole Miss has three receivers who are going to be very good. And I think all three of those guys are going to play a long time in the NFL.
“But I think we’ve got guys here who are going to do the same thing as well. When you put all the pieces together, I feel like we are going to be unstoppable.”