Some of the confetti that fell on Alabama at the conclusion of the SEC Championship Game two years ago also rained down on Florida tight end C’yontai Lewis.
He decided to bring a sample back to Gainesville to keep as motivation.
“I’ve still got the confetti in my room that they dropped,” said the senior from Eutaw, Ala. “I got it in the bathroom on the wall. I look at that every day. Like that was a special moment for us to be able to make it to the SEC Championship, but it hurt me bad not to win, especially playing against Alabama.
“Every year I want to play against Alabama. Every year. That’s just like a big moment that I think about every day. Like I just want to get back to Atlanta and win in Atlanta.”
For the Gators to have a chance to return to Atlanta in Dan Mullen’s first season, it might take some unprecedented production from Lewis and UF’s other tight ends — Moral Stephens and Kemore Gamble.
The tight end position is a pivotal one in Mullen’s spread offense. And when it’s producing, it’s usually a sure indication that the overall offense is operating at peak efficiency.
“Any time you have an offense like we run, a lot is put on their table from a standpoint that they have to know protections, run calls, pass routes,” tight ends coach Larry Scott said. “Next to the quarterback, they are the guys on the field that have to know the most. With that comes a great sense of responsibility and accountability — make sure you are prepared and studying, and with that also comes, ‘I really have to know the game.’
“I’m excited about it. We all are.”
Being a featured position in the offense is something new to the tight ends. And it is a welcome change.
Last season, the tight ends were not significant contributors. DeAndre Goolsby, Lewis and Stephens combined for only 26 receptions for 288 yards and two touchdowns.
In Mullen’s offense, the tight ends are go-to guys in the passing game. That was evident and obvious in the spring.
During every practice, detailed statistics were kept on all the players. Lewis said all the tight ends were credited with 55 receptions or more over the course of the spring.
“This year is going to be a big year for us,” Lewis said. “We’re getting a lot of action. They’re using us a lot. We’re a more important piece of this offense.
“All of us have caught over 55 balls. If you look at all of our career catches, all of us have caught more balls than we have our whole career. That should tell you a lot right there.”
It tells you the tight ends are a big part of Mullen’s passing attack. In this offense, they have a lot of responsibility and are lining up in different spots — attached to the line, detached, in the slot, sometimes even out wide. And they are running more than one or two simple routes — like a year ago.
“Oh yeah, man, it’s totally different from last year because now they’re trying to do a lot more with us,” Stephens said. “More in the passing game and just getting us out in open space.
“Just the way we practice, how we line up. We do a lot more, a lot more spread out stuff.”
Given how little the tight ends have been used in the past, they are obviously hungry. And they’re going to have a chance to eat in this offense.
Knowing they are going to be an important part of the offense, there has been a sense of urgency among the tight ends to learn their roles in it.
As the spring went along their confidence — and production — grew, according to Scott.
“Confidence is one of those things you gain through performance,” Scott said. “What we have to do is stay in the moment, and do what you have to do and do your job, then with performance will come confidence.
“You’re starting to see more. They’ve caught some balls, they’ve made some blocks, they’ve done some good things fundamentally and technique-wise and you have started to see the confidence come on. We want to keep that going with performance.”
The tight ends are all in.