With Pitts, others out, ‘huge opportunity’ awaits Florida’s young receivers, tight ends

Zach Abolverdi
Gainesville Sun
Florida receiver Justin Shorter (89) catches a pass from quarterback Kyle Trask during warm-ups before the SEC Championship Game against Alabama on Dec. 19 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.

With Monday’s news on Jacob Copeland, Trevon Grimes and Kadarius Toney, the rest of Florida’s receiving corps will have to step up against the Sooners. 

Star tight end Kyle Pitts is also missing the Cotton Bowl, leaving the Gators with seven scholarship receivers and three tight ends on the roster to replace four guys who combined to produce 174 catches for 2,778 yards and 34 touchdowns this season.. 

UF quarterback Kyle Trask, who said last week he’s “most likely 100-percent playing” on Wednesday, expressed confidence in his young wideouts.  

More:Florida's Trevon Grimes, Kadarius Toney announce they will skip Cotton Bowl vs. Oklahoma

“It's a huge opportunity,” Trask said. “I think we have a lot of up-and-coming weapons that a lot of fans are going to get to know before they really break out in this bowl game.

“This is what we do here at Florida. As soon as we have big-time guys leave and move on, we have more big-time guys step in and continue that winning tradition.”

Trask was referring to the Gators losing four senior wideouts and their starting running back from 2019,  yet having an even better offense this year. 

Copeland was Florida’s leading receiver in yards behind the three opt-outs, and fifth on the list is Penn State transfer Justin Shorter with 246 yards. Shorter has the same amount of receptions (23) and touchdowns (three) as Copeland. 

More:Florida's Jacob Copeland says he has COVID, to miss bowl

Running backs Malik Davis (29 receptions for 358 yards), Nay’Quan Wright (17 for 206 yards) and Dameon Pierce (15 for 136 yards and a TD) have all caught passes out of the backfield.  

Freshmen to watch: Xzavier Henderson, Ja'Quavion Fraziars

Trask also mentioned freshmen receivers Xzavier Henderson and Ja'Quavion Fraziars as names to watch. 

“You're going to see a lot of these guys coming up and making plays and filling these big shoes,” Trask said. 

Henderson (136 yards) and redshirt freshman Trent Whittemore (81 yards) both have eight receptions and a score this season, followed by redshirt senior Rick Wells (six catches for 77 yards). 

Backup tight ends Kemore Gamble and Keon Zipperer produced earlier this season with Pitts out of the lineup. His concussion vs. Georgia led to Gamble’s first career touchdown, and he finished with three catches for 51 yards. 

Pitts missed the Arkansas and Vanderbilt games as well. Zipperer caught three passes for 47 yards and a pair of scores against the Razorbacks, followed by a two-touchdown performance from Gamble the following week in Nashville. 

“We were without Kyle for a couple games this year, and Kemore and Zipperer, they both did a nice job of filling in in his absence,” UF offensive coordinator Brian Johnson said. “Just another opportunity for those guys to continue their development and go get reps on a big stage against a great Oklahoma team.”