Justin Shorter, Gator receivers must replace first-round NFL draft picks

Alan Festo
Gator Sports
Florida Gators wideout Justin Shorter answers questions during a news conference Thursday at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

After a breakout season for the Florida offense in 2020 things are back to being a little bit of an unknown.

Heisman Trophy finalist quarterback Kyle Trask is gone as are his top three pass catchers from a year ago — Kyle Pitts, Kadarius Toney and Trevon Grimes. The three combined for 2,343 yards and 31 touchdowns through the air.

Expected to step up in their absence are redshirt juniors Justin Shorter and Jacob Copeland, among others.

Florida receiver Justin Shorter makes a cut during Friday's practice on campus.

“I would say that we’re not really replacing them. I would say we’re just bringing a new crop of wideouts in that are well-trained. I’d say our group is young, but we’re all hungry,” Shorter said. “Everyone is out there putting in the extra work to really be that big group. We’re really putting in that work and we’re all just pushing, trying to be great.”

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Shorter, a Penn State transfer, had 25 receptions for the Gators last year for 258 yards and three touchdowns. The 6-foot-5 receiver will likely play on the outside this season as he and the other pass catchers continue to work on their chemistry with new starting quarterback Emory Jones.

“Everything is about timing and our big thing was we all got reps with Emory and Anthony (Richardson) and all the quarterbacks,” Shorter said. “Every single day we have been out there on the field throwing and trying to get our timing down.”

Florida wide receiver Justin Shorter (89) catches a pass in the first quarter of the Cotton Bowl against Oklahoma on Dec. 30, 2020, in Arlington, Texas.

After missing out on spring practice and offseason workouts last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Shorter said the receiving corps has grown closer this year now that that those team activities have returned. He said his teammates are focused on winning, not personal stats. 

“No one’s really selfish in that room. Everyone loves each other,” Shorter said. “I’d say we’re all really focused on winning and whoever gets their own chance to go up there and step up, we’re going to do that.”

Besides the question marks at wide receiver, the man throwing them the ball might be an even bigger unknown. Jones threw for 221 yards and two touchdowns in 2020 while also running for 217 yards and two scores.

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And while fans generally were wowed by Jones' athleticism and ability to escape the pocket, Shorter and his teammates say it would be wise for other teams not to overlook his arm. 

"We’ve been quiet but we can’t wait for this year. When we go out there and Emory throws out that first ball folks are going to stand up and scream," Shorter said. "I’d say this year everyone is hungry, so we’re looking to go out there and show them what Florida football is all about.”