FOOTBALL

From near rival to starting center: Kingsley Eguakun's arrival and rise at UF

Graham Hall
Special to The Sun
Florida center Kingsley Eguakun (65) shoves a USF lineman out of the way to make a hole during their game Sept. 11 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa.

Florida redshirt sophomore offensive lineman Kingsley Eguakun almost didn’t make it to Gainesville, despite growing up as an avid fan of the Gators. 

The 6-foot-3 center out of Jacksonville had strung together an impressive three seasons at Sandalwood, resulting in a three-star designation from recruiting services, but a Florida offer had yet to come as his junior season concluded in 2017. 

However, Eguakun did have an in-state offer worth considering at the time — the Miami Hurricanes had offered him a scholarship, his first offer, back in April of that year — and he no longer was keen on waiting around for the Gators to offer. 

On Jan. 12, 2018, Eguakun committed to the Hurricanes. It didn’t take long for Eguakun to receive offers from other Power-5 programs. 

Soon, Tennessee called with a scholarship offer —  Eguakun’s older brother, Morris, had joined the Volunteers as a walk-on back in 2015 after transferring from Stetson University when Kingsley was 14 years old —  then Auburn reached out several days later. 

It was clear Eguakun was set to sign with a noteworthy program, but by the time his senior season rolled around, a Florida offer was still nowhere to be seen. 

The Gators would ultimately offer on Nov. 27, 2018, more than six weeks after Eguakun’s official visit to Coral Gables to see the ‘Canes — one could say the odds were against the Gators. 

But Eguakun realized he still had his heart set on playing for UF, and he flipped his commitment less than a week later from UM to Florida, just 17 days before he would sign with the Gators as an early enrollee. 

Considering the way the process played out, Eguakun says that, in retrospect, he arrived in Gainesville eager to show his new coaching staff that they were misguided in waiting so long to extend an offer. 

“I mean, obviously I felt that I was a better player than everyone made me out to be,” Eguakun said. 

Though he admits that wasn’t the right attitude to have at the time. A former three-star prospect, Eguakun realized the recruiting trail no longer matters once you put pen to paper and join the program. 

Everyone’s on equal footing. 

“But that stuff doesn’t matter, it only matters (that) you get here,” Eguakun said. “I just know how I’ve had to grow up and the things I’ve had to go through and things like that.”

He would see the field in just two games as a true freshman, making his collegiate debut in UF’s win against Towson, but the plan was for Eguakun to take advantage of the redshirt rules allowing him to play in four games and preserve a season of eligibility. 

Eguakun said that 2019 season, his introduction to collegiate football, was vital when it came to him maturing into a potential contributor along the offensive line. 

“Like my freshman year,” he said, “I came in a little too cocky, you know what I mean?”

He’s not the first high school prospect to arrive with ambitions of playing early, and he won’t be the last; Eguakun had to realize it’s a process, one that often begins and ends with following the often-brash instructions of your position coach, which in Eguakun’s case is veteran offensive line coach John Hevesy. 

Now in his third season under Hevesy’s guidance, Eguakun credits him for preparing him to start as a redshirt sophomore — an impressive feat considering the majority of starting offensive and defensive linemen in the Southeastern Conference are upperclassmen. 

"It's great, to be honest. He's very specific with what he wants and we all take pride in that,” Eguakun said of Hevesy. “I needed what coach Hevesy brought to the table.”

The ways Eguakun needed to improve weren’t his technique, or his devotion to the weight room. Eguakun says he needed modesty. 

“He definitely humbled me up. I think he prepares everybody to get in the game and be ready to play,” Eguakun said. “I like playing for coach Hevesy."

Hevesy concurred, saying Eguakun’s issue was never his talent level —  he needed to mature, which isn’t something for any 18 year old to be ashamed of upon arriving to campus. 

Let alone for someone like Eguakun, who arrived in Gainesville prior to becoming an adult. 

“You go back, he came here early and got through the spring and had to really just mature through his freshman year and mature through things,” Hevesy said. “It wasn't a talent issue. He’s got the talent. It was just more of a mental issue of the maturity of learning to be that leader, especially at that position.” 

With the Gators losing three starters along the offensive line following the 2020 season, Eguakun’s opportunity to ascend into a starting role was available — if he could put it all together. 

If it wasn’t clear after three starts this season, Eguakun is playing up to his talent level, and his teammates and coaches alike have taken notice. 

“He's controlling the offense, he's running, he's gonna control all five of those guys and make sure they're on the right page the whole time,” Hevesy said. “This last spring you saw him turn a corner and be one of five, not one of one.”

Although it’s worth noting they, like Eguakun, were well-aware of his capabilities before the season-opener.

“Kingsley’s sophomore year, when I seen him going inside, going out late nights, getting extra steps, extra work in the weight room, getting stronger,” redshirt senior tight end Kemore Gamble said, “and actually, he’s one of the strongest lower-body people on our team, and that’s when I noticed he’s going to be a big, top guy.”

In Hevesy’s rotation of starting offensive linemen, there’s no room for arrogance or a me-first attitude —  you have to be an inseparable unit, as cohesive on the field as you are off it. 

Once his fellow Gators saw that out of Eguakun, they knew his time for success on the field was right around the corner. 

“We have a dedicated group of guys. They all work really hard. It's crazy, you'll never see them, like, not together,” sixth-year UF senior Jeremiah Moon said said of the offensive line. “They’ll be the first to go do everything. They eat together, do everything together, so it's really no surprise the type of chemistry they have.”

Like Eguakun, Moon credits Hevesy and the culture he’s instilled once again at Florida. He may be demanding, but there’s little doubt his methods can result in success. 

Now that Eguakun has embraced it, the sky appears to be the limit after his start to this season. He didn’t allow a sack or pressure in the season-opener against Florida Atlantic while playing a critical role in the Florida rushing attack that is second in the nation in rushing yards through a quarter of the season. 

His promising beginning takes another step forward Saturday when the Gators welcome Tennessee to Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, and Eguakun knows it might not be happening just yet if he hadn’t swallowed his pride. Just don’t mistake it for a lack of confidence. 

“It just built a lot of character in myself. I just feel like I can be one of the best to do it,” Eguakun said. “So that’s really the chip on my shoulder. I want to prove everybody wrong and prove everybody right.”