Impact juniors for Florida’s football team

South Carolina quarterback Ryan Hilinski, bottom, fumbles the ball after being sacked by Florida's Zachary Carter in the second half Saturday in Columbia, S.C. Defensive tackle Kyree Campbell recovered for UF. [Mic Smith/Associated Press]

/ Gator Wire

Entering Year 3 of the Dan Mullen era, the Florida Gators appear primed to compete for a Southeastern Conference East Division title and a spot in the College Football Playoff.

The 2020 Gators must move forward without several contributors from last year’s squad, however. Center Nick Buchanan, wideouts Tyrie ClevelandJosh HammondVan Jefferson, and Freddie Swain, linebackers Jon Greenard and David Reese II, tailback Lamical Perine, and defensive linemen Adam Shuler and Jabari Zuniga are pursuing careers in the American workforce or the National Football League.

Led by redshirt senior quarterback Kyle Trask and two senior safeties, Shawn Davis and Brad Stewart Jr., Florida returns numerous upperclassmen leaders.

Previously examining impact freshmen, sophomores, and seniors, the final installment of our four-part Gators Wire original series breaks down juniors who figure to play significant roles for Mullen, co-offensive coordinators Billy Gonzales and John Hevesy, and defensive coordinator Todd Grantham.

Including true juniors in their third year on-campus and redshirt juniors in their fourth, here are four players who fit the criteria, listed in alphabetical order.

Defensive end Zachary Carter (Redshirt junior – Tampa)

Splitting time with Greenard and Zuniga a year ago, Carter started only two games but managed to post 4.5 sacks, good for second on the team.

Showing the ability to burst into the backfield and disrupt opposing run games, he also posted six tackles for loss, the fourth most on defensive coordinator Todd Grantham’s unit.

Grantham is tasked with replacing production at all three levels of his defense, but such is life in major college football. Given Grantham’s blitz-heavy packages, Carter should have plenty of opportunities to attack quarterbacks and ball carriers off the edge this fall.

Rated as the No. 3 strong side defensive end in the 2017 class coming out of Hillsborough High School, 2020 could be the year Carter breaks out and establishes himself as one of the Southeastern Conference’s most feared defenders, much like Greenard in 2019.

Linebacker Ventrell Miller (Redshirt junior – Lakeland)

Starting 38 games in his Florida career, Reese II racked up 324 tackles, 11 shy of tying Alonzo Johnson for 10th on the program’s all-time list.

Like the situation Elam finds himself in on the perimeter, this will be a tough act to follow but Miller has given Gator fans a lot to be excited about over the last two seasons after serving a year-long suspension in 2017 for felony fraud charges.

Playing in 25 of the team’s 26 games over the 2018-19 seasons, Miller has totaled 70 tackles (7.5 TFL), four sacks and an interception, which he returned 82 yards for a touchdown against the Idaho Vandals on November 17, 2018.

Strongly built at 6-foot and 222 pounds, Miller’s 2020 campaign will be an opportunity to establish himself as one of the team’s leaders, particularly on the defensive side of the football.

Tight end Kyle Pitts (Junior – Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)

The good news about Pitts? He is quite possibly the best collegiate tight end in America.

The bad news? 2020 will likely be his final year in Gainesville.

Already projected to be a first-round selection in the 2021 NFL Draft by many experts, including ESPN’s Mel Kiper, Jr., Pitts finished the 2019 season with 649 receiving yards, just eight behind Jefferson for the team lead.

Averaging 12 yards per catch and scoring five times last season, his 6-foot-6-inch, 239-pound frame makes him a tough matchup for defensive backs and linebackers alike.

With the high level of attrition in the team’s receiving corps, Pitts’ familiarity with Kyle Trask should result in even more red-zone targets this fall.

Cornerback Marco Wilson (Redshirt junior – Fort Lauderdale)

The younger brother of former Indianapolis Colt and current New York Jet Quincy Wilson, who played at Florida from 2014-16, the younger Wilson became just the fourth true freshman in program history to start at cornerback in Week 1 in 2017, joining Joe Haden (2007), Janoris Jenkins (2008) and Marcus Roberson (2011).

Earning Freshman All-SEC honors from the coaches that year, Wilson appeared to be in line for a big year in 2018 but suffered a torn left anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) against the Kentucky Wildcats in just the second game of the season.

Working his way back through the grueling rehabilitation process, he played in all 13 games a year ago, registering the first three interceptions of his collegiate career. Perhaps most encouraging, he showed a knack for making plays in big games, recording his interceptions against Tennessee, Auburn, and Missouri.

Factoring in Wilson, Elam, sophomore Jaydon Hill and junior Trey Dean III, cornerbacks coach Torrian Gray has four players with extensive experience to help the position group overcome the loss of C.J. Henderson.

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