Florida fall camp: TE Dante Zanders slimmed down and eager to build on strong spring

Kevin Brockway
Gator Sports

When Dante Zanders removed his name from the transfer portal in early January and returned to Florida football, it came with a vote of confidence from new head coach Billy Napier.

“He told me, if I put my faith in him, he’d put his faith in me,” Zanders said. “So that’s what I did.”

An offseason position switch from defensive line back to tight end has rejuvenated Zanders, who is looking to carve out a role in the offense. At first, Zanders said he was nervous about the change, because at 6-foot-5 and 291 pounds, he felt he lost the agility needed to run routes.

But he slimmed down to 255 pounds through the spring and summer and now feels ready to take on the new job.

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“Napier asked me like, ‘Hey, these guys are banged up and we need more tight ends in the room, is there any way you can help us?’” Zanders said last week. “I just stepped up. Same thing happened sophomore year when I went from tight end to defensive end. They asked me to move and I’m a team player so I’m just like ... Whatever is best for the team'.”

Gators head coach Billy Napier talks with Dante Zanders (18) during spring practice, on April 2, 2022 in Gainesville. Zanders, who had a strong spring, graduated last weekend with a UF degree.

Dante Zanders continues at new position

In two seasons on defense, Zanders was a rotational player on the defensive front, finishing with a combined 11 tackles, half a tackle for loss and half a sack. He’s taken his knowledge from playing defense back to his role on offense in camp.

He recounted being able to read the body language of defensive end Princely Umanmielen on a play, telling teammates he was going to drop back and not rush.

“Playing (defensive end) helped me understand the demeanor,” Zanders said. “It helped me understand if they’re going to cut inside, if they’re going to draw, blitz, it helps me understand a lot more.”

Zanders currently projects second on the depth chart at tight end, behind returning starter Keon Zipperer. He's also reached out for help from former UF All-American tight end Kyle Pitts, who just completed a stellar rookie season in the NFL with the Atlanta Falcons.

"He’s still the No. 1 guy in my book," Zanders said. "I hit his number up whenever I need advice about the offense or need help trying to read this or that. He’s always there.” 

Gator now a college graduate, too 

Returning to Florida also allowed Zanders to complete his degree. He graduated last weekend with a bachelor’s in educational sciences.

A Boca Raton native, Zanders said he’s the first in his family to graduate.

“I just wanted to set the tone for my future kids and my little brothers and sisters and anybody else that’s below me,” he said.