Moral Stephens’ potential in Florida’s offense was seemingly revealed in Saturday’s decisive sequence.
The redshirt senior hauled in UF’s lone touchdown of the night, a 20-yard grab on a trick play by Kadarius Toney, providing Florida with what would be the decisive 13-6 result in the process.
While Stephens’ improvement downfield is clear, the Perry native cites his improved blocking as a catalyst for his heightened playing time in 2018.
Rather than an overnight realization, Stephens said he’s worked continuously at improving on the line of scrimmage since arriving at UF in 2014.
“Honestly, blocking has always been one of the main things I’ve had to focus on, because coming in everybody knew I could run routes,” Stephens said. “I came in playing receiver, because receiving, I could do that. But blocking has always been my No. 1 focus.”
And it was Florida’s blocking that allowed the trick play, dubbed “Kodak” after Pompano Beach hip-hop artist and renowned Gators fan Kodak Black, to succeed.
“I kind of feel like Coach Mullen had basically set that play up pretty nice because the whole night we had been blocking pretty good on the perimeter,” Stephens said. “I knew that I could get behind them, and Kadarius did the rest, he threw the ball. It was a great ball by the way.”
He didn’t haul in a touchdown in his first three seasons at Florida, meaning Stephens’ first collegiate score came several weeks ago in Florida’s 27-16 loss to Kentucky. Considering he has just over half a season remaining at Florida, Stephens is content with how far he’s come — yet there’s always room for improvement, especially with UF facing a dominant LSU defensive line come Saturday.
“I feel like you can always get better at something. I can get better at blocking. I can better at receiving,” he said. “As of right now, I’m kind of satisfied with where I’m at right now, but like I said I can improve in everything.”
It may have been UF coach Dan Mullen who harped in Spring about the need to create a large role for the tight ends, but Gators offensive line coach John Hevesy hasn’t shied away when it comes time to decide which personnel give Florida the best protection up front. Following Saturday’s victory at his former program, Hevesy praised Stephens’ hands in the pass game while emphasizing it’s Stephens’ ability to block downfield that has stood out in the 10 months since Mullen and Co. arrived in Gainesville.
“You look at Moral as not a big, stout guy, but you see he does a great job running routes, does a great job with his hands. So, you’re in those situations, can he do some movement stuff blocking for us, not necessarily on the line,” Hevesy said, “but to me he functions intelligently and knows what he’s doing. So, at that point he can do some certain things we ask him to do and put him in spots he’s going to be successful.”
As much as UF’s coaching staff has put Stephens in a position to excel, it wouldn’t have happened without embracing the revamped offseason strength and conditioning program. When Mullen arrived on campus, he sought to use the tight ends more if the unit put in the necessary work. Now, Stephens is seeing his preparation pay dividends.
“The first big stride I would say I made was probably when Coach (Nick) Savage came in the spring. I would say I lost a lot of body fat and turned into muscle,” Stephens said. “And Coach Mullen, he gives me more opportunities to make plays. He gives me more opportunities, and I’m just making them count.”