Fullback Ajagbe shines when number is called
Published: Monday, September 2, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, September 2, 2013 at 12:02 a.m.
His last name is pronounced uh-JOB-ee.
You won't hear his teammates saying it, though.
They call him the 'Nigerian Nightmare.'
“He's African,” Mack Brown said, “and he's a nightmare.”
The Florida running back faced Gideon Ajagbe in practice for three years when he played linebacker for the Gators.
This past spring, Ajagbe moved over to the offensive side of the ball at fullback. According to Brown, the 6-foot-2, 244-pounder gave his old position group nightmares throughout fall training camp.
“All linebackers felt some pain from Gideon at some time during camp,” Brown said. “He's a strong guy.”
In Saturday's 24-6 season-opening win over Toledo, Ajagbe showed off his physicality — and some pass-catching skills as well.
On Florida's scoring drive in the third quarter, quarterback Jeff Driskel found him open in the flat on second-and-10 at the Toledo 22-yard line. Ajagbe was immediately met at the line of scrimmage by a Rockets defender, but broke the tackle with a spin move and rumbled ahead 12 yards for a first down.
“He made a guy miss,” Driskel said. “It could have been an easy two-yard gain. Instead, he turned it into a big play.”
Two downs later — on third-and-goal — Ajagbe hauled in a four-yard touchdown reception on a play-action pass from Driskel.
“He did a good job on the touchdown of really stretching the defense and creating a good window for me,” Driskel said. “He's a big body, he has good range and he has good hands. He's a target I like throwing to.”
With Hunter Joyer still slowed by a hamstring injury, Ajagbe made the first start of his career.
“I haven't really played much these last three years,” he said. “So for me to be a starter, it was a blessing. It just felt good to know the coaches trusted me. The opportunity to play with my teammates and be a big contributor, it was fun.”
Moving forward, Ajagbe feels he can continue to be a factor through the air and not just a blocker.
“I believe I can be a double threat,” he said. “I have pretty good hands. I've been practicing and doing real well catching balls in camp.
“I think when the coaches saw that, they thought, 'OK, we can use him in the passing game.' It just added more dimensions.”
Fullbacks haven't scored many touchdowns for the Gators in years past, but Ajagbe may shake up the status quo this season.
“He's done an outstanding job blocking, protecting and catching the football,” UF coach Will Muschamp said. “He'll throw his face in the fan. He's a guy that's really blossomed in the position. That's why you always try and cross-train guys at different spots and see what they can do, and he did a fantastic job.
“We've got a lot of confidence in Gideon. As good of a player as we think Hunter is, we think Gideon is a good player as well.”