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Gators QB Emory Jones ready for moment, yet not feeling weight of role

Graham Hall
Special to The Sun
Florida quarterback Emory Jones is ready to take his turn with the Gators.

At the end of the 2019-20 season, before Kyle Trask’s ascension, Florida quarterback Emory Jones proclaimed he was ready to lead the Gators. 

That didn’t happen — for reasons not on Jones — but it’s happening now as he is clearly Florida’s starting quarterback at the culmination of spring practice. 

One would expect Jones to feel the heat of the moment, a result of the gravity of responsibility as he takes over a role that typically gets more than its fair share of credit and criticism. 

But that’s what makes Jones finally ready to lead the team’s offense — he’s no longer putting unnecessary pressure on himself, having seen what it can do; if there was any doubt as to whether or not he wants you to know he’s not sweating it, Jones made it clear immediately after the first of 15 practices. 

"First thing I would say, I don't really put a lot of pressure on myself, that doesn't really turn out good for me. I'll just say I have a lot of responsibility,” Jones said Thursday night. “I've been waiting for this time right here. I'm really just glad to be back out there for the spring and being around the guys. I'm really just glad that we're having a spring this year."

Jones, like the rest of the Gators, missed out on the majority of last season’s spring practice due to the pandemic, so the familiarity level on the field for Florida’s offense, regardless of the first- or second-string units, isn’t where it’s been in year’s past. 

On top of that, Florida didn’t have a window to prepare prior to the Cotton Bowl, and when it came time for Jones to perform with much of this season’s team in UF’s 55-20 loss to Oklahoma, the results weren’t exactly thrilling. 

Another reminder for Jones, if he still needed one, that he wasn’t ready just yet. 

“It really was an eye-opening experience to me, just going out there and actually getting a lot of reps. It really just showed me that me and the guys have a lot of work to do,” Jones admitted. “So, that's all we're focused on right now. That's all I'm focused on."

In a time where the transfer portal, playing early and positive proclamations seem to be all the rage, Jones’ development-minded focus may be seen as a breath of fresh air, and it’s one the 20-year-old credits his coaches with instilling, namely head coach Dan Mullen. 

"When I first got here, the first thing he always said to me was, 'Development, development, development’,” he said. “And I always tried to keep that in the back of my head.”

Don’t get it misconstrued — receiving Mullen’s message, a preemptive warning perhaps, didn’t make it easy to develop that mindset. Bits of playing time here and there helped, however. 

“It was tough going through all the years just playing a couple plays. It definitely was tough, but just going in made me confident,” Jones said. “So I've just been working my tail off every year just trying to get better. That's all I'm focused on."

Now it’s his team, his offense, although don’t expect too much to change just because the man under center has. 

"The offense, it's not going to change a lot. We still run the same things, it's just different outlets. And right now, just being able to use all our resources and just take advantage of everything the defense gives us,” Jones said. “My athletic ability, I feel like I can do a lot of things on the field and it’s just a lot for the defense to deal with.”

Jones, in addition to back-up quarterback Anthony Richardson, is expected to open up the field for the Gators this season with their legs in ways Trask, a capable runner yet ultimately a pro-style quarterback, could not. 

From the sound of those who have helped him remain imperturbable throughout the maturation process, Jones has never been more ready for the task. 

No pressure though, remember.

“It’s just unnecessary pressure that no one needs. I don’t need to do that to myself. … I’ve played in every big game,” Jones said, referring to his appearances against Alabama, Auburn, LSU and FSU. “My freshman year I played in the biggest game that year, the Georgia game, and made a couple of plays. And it helps me out now because I’ve been on the big stage, so now I’m more comfortable wherever I am.”