Daily Football Fix: Walk-ons ready to contribute for Gators

Florida's Tyriek Hopkins (37) gets dropped by linebackerJahim Lawrence (58) at the spring game in April at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. [Alan Youngblood/Gainesville Sun]

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  1. 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.


  1. Thanks, Robbie, for this series, which you and Pat, sometimes along with Graham, are keeping varied and interesting. As usual, you guys are helping us bide the time until more active stories arise and this year keeping it even more interesting with the inclusion of videos. As for the walk-one, we’re overdue for a breakthrough guy akin to Oliver, Doering or Moorer.

  2. Ditto Clyde….I look forward to every new release for the same reason, and while some may consider it fluff and filler, I’m damn happy to get it (especially way out here in Texas). Walk-ons are a great tradition in college football….sometimes our own rags to riches story even.

    • Gator-6. An original story on walk-on players is neither fluff nor filler, and I never indicated such at thing. The story I did associate with those two terms was just that. Fluff and filler about a player that had been covered before and was multiple weeks old information from many other sites. I have not seen a two-paragraph story on a repeated storyline since then. Thank you.

      • What the hell are you taking offense at now? Nothing in my post was even remotely directed at you. If you used the term, “fluff and filler” before, which is about the only thing I can think of that might have gotten you all riled up, I assure you that I either did not know that or had forgotten it. It’s a mouse turd either way, let’s not begin pole vaulting again.

  3. Gator-6, I’m in Raleigh, where interest in SEC sports is as thin as a smashed leaf. People here commonly ask us, as they have for over 20 years, “Aren’t you the ones who do the tomahawk chop?” So any and all coverage about the Gators I can find is consumed. They live in their own provincial ACC and North Easterners’ bubbles around here. Have a great day, Gator-6!

    • Clyde, I am in Indian Trail, just southeast of Charlotte. While there are a great number of Florida transplants living in the Charlotte area, you are right about the ACC dominance here in NC. But with 4 ACC schools, all up your way, it is understandable. I don’t think FSU gets much love and attention here either. As Gator-6 and I have both stated, thank heaven for the SEC Network and our Gator Sports website. The Charlotte Observer newspaper is mostly worthless, nowhere close to the old St. Pete Times (now called the Tampa Bay Times).

    • I was just fixin’ to say that Dan F and several other Gators live up there, but Dan beat me to it. Man, we got it tough sometimes……Rog in Knoxville, you guys up there in ACC country, GatorG somewhere on the east coast, and worst of all, Tim in New York City of all places. Not so bad for me in Texas unless I venture into Austin, they don’t take kindly to any other team but Texas, no matter what the conference is.

      But quality of life is where you find it, so small price to pay, huh? Thank God for the SEC Network tho…..otherwise I’d probably think Florida dropped football!

        • “Good Lord they did it again! FSU got a commit over the weekend from Curtis Fann, a 4-star DE that was also considering us, UGA, and Bama. What’s going on? We’re losing out on so many good players and have dropped even further in the recruiting rankings.” -Tim

          Just one of hundreds of your posts over time that consistently mention FSU and how good FSU is doing vs. how bad Florida is doing. A wolf in sheep’s garnet and gold clothing best describes you, Tim.

          • Tampa, I have two degrees from UF and certainly don’t need you to confirm my allegiance. Here’s a thought — prove to me that my concerns are unjustified (some of which by the way you seem to share given your recent posts) and stay away from the personal attacks. They get you nowhere. I admit to mentioning FSU a lot but it’s only because i’m sick and tired of them getting the upper hand on virtually everything. We need a fire lit under Mullen and his staff if our fortunes are to change. In the bottom of your heart you know i’m right. Just doing my part to keep our collective eyes open. Ignoring problems is never good strategy.

          • Tim. OK. Then drop the almost every post FSU drool then. I talked about Georgia/Florida and Mullen/Smart as a comparison in response to one article on recruiting and comparing two similar programs in the SEC. I do not go on and on about Georgia the way you go on and on about FSU on here. I did that on one article. And yes, like you, I am disappointed so far in the recruiting results by the Florida coaches under Mullen. Too many on campus visits without getting commitments in comparison to our competition so far. I read such a story on 247Sports this morning about how Florida is lagging behind with recruiting so far this year. But I have not given up on the Florida staff getting a top class yet. They need to if Mullen expects to compete for championships in Gainesville. Getting 3-star after 3-star is not going to get it done.

          • Tampa, you need some serious help. You’re really telling Tim, “Then drop the almost every post FSU drool then”? As in when you once told me to, “stop conversing c known trolls then” or words to that effect? Then what? You’ll bless me or something?

            You have an amazing level of football knowledge and savvy, Tampa. I’m sure I don’t just speak for myself when I say I enjoy and get a lot out of your posts. Those about football, anyway.

            But who died and made you the self appointed arbiter of what has merit here? Or, for that matter, who should be allowed to post and who should not? Even at your mildest you’re always talking down to people, as though they should be sitting at the feet of you, the master, who will deign to grant them audience or not. Why does that matter? Because of all the sites about the Gators available, this one is hands down the most collegial and hands down populated by the greatest bunch of regular guys around. Guys who can take a joke, and guys who can discuss just about everything freely, within appropriate bounds. Guys who probably feel like they have to walk on eggshells if you get miffed or something.

            How about a little self monitoring? Either that, or sign up for a personality bypass operation. Absent those, speaking only for myself, I’m getting pretty damn tired of it. At a minimum, you owe Tim a major apology. Throw in one too for GatorG and every other good man you’ve probably run off this site.

          • Tim, Tampa I’m the new guy in here but have enjoyed reading and have gained a lot of insight from everyone here.
            Tim there may be regions where gators are outnumbered. Or maybe they are quiet and not watching the flag. But it appears to new guys you are a nole. There are some recruits that have gone elsewhere so far. Some will change their minds. The recruiting boards we have that been shown don’t show some of these guys.
            Tampa, wish my written abilities were on par with yours. Your research is as solid as I’ve read.
            I’m with both of you in we need to be a better team. But the cart doesn’t come before the horse. The next is speculation but consider this. Opening day we trounce the cupcake, the next week we execute well. QB play is better not ideal. Week three is solid and some of those commits change their mind.
            Keep on having your opinions. Don’t be like the media and spinning the down side.

          • Gator 6. I don’t need you to tell me what I need or do not need to do on here. Or tell me what I cannot do on here. That would be Arnold’s job. And so far, he does not have the same issue with me that you seem to have. And I certainly do not need your personal insults. I post my opinions freely on here. If you do not like them or me, then do not read or address them. And especially when they do not address you and are not about you. Tim handled my challenge to him just fine on his own (much better than you ever have by the way in my opinion), and I addressed him directly in return. And all is good. Then here comes you with your personal insults. Go monitor yourself and your own personality. Thank you.

          • Gator65. Love your enthusiasm and interest in the Gators. My issue with Tim was that he was throwing out how well FSU is doing and how poorly Florida is doing without seemingly to have a purpose behind his views other than to promote FSU’s success. I addressed that and we had a good back and forth and moved on. My references to how well Georgia is doing in recruiting was to compare and state what I think Mullen needs to be doing at this point and what he needs to be doing on an ongoing basis if he is going to return Florida to being a championship contender year in and year out. I, for one, think that there is enough talent on the Florida roster this year to compete with Georgia for the SEC East title….if the QB and OL play improves dramatically. But a not great recruiting year this year will set this program behind Georgia for several years to come. Simple as that. Go Gators.

        • “I don’t need you to tell me to do…or what I cannot do on here…I do not need your personal insults…., etc, ad finitum”.

          Well, I certainly will give you this much, old boy: You revise events and project better than any ten people I’ve ever run across. But, then so do most fragile narcissists I’ve ever dealt with too. You make a good victim, all the while doing the very thing you rail against. You take the cake, in other words, with candles on top that spell “hypocrite” in capital letters. But I’ll tell you what–I’ll take your deal. You stay out of my way, and I’ll stay out of yours.

          Until such time as you cross my path by taking offense at something I posted that wasn’t in any way directed at you. Then, I’ll call you on it again just like I did before. You deserve to know it when you’ve crossed the line in your paranoia, don’t you think? And, I’ll call you on it when your narcissistic personality leads you to bully somebody without warrant and unjustifiably call them a troll. Fair enough, I surmise.

          Gator-6 Out.

    • I always find it interesting here in K-Town when the sports talk guys get wind of something happening in Gainesville. They talk down EVERYTHING related to the Gators with an unbelievable arrogance. You’d think they had been beating up on the Gators for 15 years in a row. So I too, am very glad to get this daily dose of news, even if it is filler. Come on SEC Media Days!!!

  4. Since this is summer and there is a lot of unknowns and anticipation is building I’ll as one more football funny. I had to go to Columbus for work in winter. Was 70 in Florida was mid 20s on landing. We had just beat Ohio in BCS. Only cold weather gear I had was Gator jacket. Did you know in Columbus airport they have a Buckeye bar? If TSA wasn’t there (nothing happened) i believe there could have been an issue. When the Ohio games started throwing verbal jabs I had to let go with a Go Gators! With a chomp.

    • I sometimes think, 65, that God did not choose to bless us Gators with frontal lobes…..but it sure is fun, isn’t it?

      My Dad, mild mannered CSM by day and monster Gator by night, would have been proud of you. Many was the time that as a 13 year old I had to drag some Georgia, Alabama, or FSU female off him, lest he be beaten to death by her high heeled shoe………all because we were sitting in the wrong section of the stands when he decided to sound off with a Go Gators. As they say, the apple doesn’t fall to far from the tree–I’ve got the knots and bruises to prove it!

        • 600 meters or less! As in, “…damnit, the little bastards are in the wire….”.

          You belong to a very select fraternity of men and red legs who know what that term means, 65. I’m not even sure we use that term anymore, what with all the modern, stand off technology and all. But just like at the end of the day it still takes an 11B c fixed bayonet to stand on a piece of terrain and say, “This is ours, we own this”, it might be a term we’d better not forget in the next war!

          • Football team needs that kind of mentality. WE OWN THIS FIELD, NO ONE IS GOING TO TAKE THIS FROM US. NOT Charleston S, KY, not Colorado St. Someone here mentioned aggression. There is a time and a place. Gridiron, battlefield. Gridiron is better everyone gets to go home.

          • Explains everything 65, ’nuff said. You got some diversified MOS skill sets there.

            “The Swamp is OUR house–Come and take it if you can!”.

      • There may have been a lone Gator fan in San Diego. During the SEC game when we beat Alabama. Of course for the first half those noisy jokers were annoying. But that line Gator fan stood in the table and gave them Go Gators shouts and doing the chomp. They were leaving in droves as game went on. I have em all a Chomp on the way out. Drank way too much that day. Only Gator fan in bar. Best game I’ve ever watched while traveling.

  5. When I lived in Raleigh in the late ’80s I often saw Gators tags, flags, and decals on cars. I told a friend of mine that outside of schools from North Carolina, I saw more Gators stuff than any other school. A few days later he brought it up again and said that he thought that I was right, as he had started paying more attention. Saw a lot of West Virginia stuff as well, but not as much as Gators.

  6. I love articles like this, these are the kind of guys you need, that just work, no credit ever, everyone looks past them, I’m rooting for every one of these guys. Recruiting Stars are great for newspaper articles, but there is no substitute for someone who is willing to ignore all the geniuses and figure out a way. And you never know, sometimes players physically mature, sometimes there is an opportunity problem, sometimes injuries, love life troubles, homesick whatever, not every recruit is going to fit, so really I wish the list had been ten guys! I hear the arguments about reps, etc., ok, sometimes the other guys need a reminder that reps are earned by what you do, and there is no substitute for really wanting it .