After last season's blastoff for the Florida Gators, how far will Wyatt Langford go in 2023?

David Whitley
The Gainesville Sun

Wyatt Langford looked at the sheet that was taped to the dugout wall. It had every player’s batting average, and he started scanning down the list.

When he finally got to his name, the tears welled up.

“It killed him to look at the list and see he was the worst one,” his father said.

Langford was 8, and a lot has changed in the ensuing 13 years. He’s now the main hitting attraction for Florida, which opens its season Friday night against Charleston Southern.

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When the season ends, Langford is expected to be a top-10 draft pick. Maybe even the No. 1 pick, with all the prestige and riches that entails.

Not bad, especially considering Langford’s name was still nowhere near the top of anyone’s list not that long ago.

“It’s one of those stories you can tell for the rest of your career,” UF coach Kevin O’Sullivan said.

Florida's utility Wyatt Langford (36) celebrates his home run in the bottom of the first inning against FSU, Tuesday, May 17, 2022, at Condron Family Ballpark in Gainesville, Florida. The Gators beat the Seminoles 7-5 with a walk-off home run by Sterlin Thompson (26) in the bottom of the ninth. [Cyndi Chambers/ Special to the Sun] 2022

It’s one of how Langford seemingly transformed himself into a phenom in less time than it takes to drive from Gainesville to Trenton, the one-traffic-light town Langford calls home.

That’s about 45 minutes, unless you get stuck behind a slow truck or two on State Road 26. Langford’s fast track almost looks like a typo in his biography.

2021 — Four at-bats. One hit.

“It was a swinging bunt to third base,” Langford laughed.

2022 — .365 batting average, 26 home runs, 63 RBIs.

Langford tied the school record for homers in a season. He shattered the record for questions about how it was done.

Did UF install an old phone booth at its new ballpark that transformed him into a baseball Superman?

Not exactly. The popular explanation is that Langford was buried on the depth chart. Then he hit the weights all summer, gave up Twinkies and returned as a 6-1, 225-pound masher.

There’s truth to that. Langford came in as a catcher and infielder, and the Gators were stocked at those spots. But nobody recognized the hitting machine languishing on the bench.

“He was always an elite hitter,” said Michael Langford, his father.

Well, not always.

Langford was not a Little League star

Langford couldn’t hit a lick when he was 8, largely because he’d never been taught how. Michael didn’t want to be a helicopter dad, so he sat back and let Little League coaches do their thing.

“Most of them didn’t have a clue,” he said.

So when Wyatt broke into tears over his batting average, his father started giving him pointers. The biggest was to keep the bat on the tip of his shoulder during the pitcher’s windup. That got the legs involved in the swing.

“That’s pretty much the foundation of my swing,” Langford said, “using my lower body.”

He developed the batting eye, the arm, the speed and the power. But what really set Langford apart was his attitude.

“He wants to compete,” Michael said, “and compete fiercely.”

His dad has plenty of examples. Like the time Wyatt’s peewee football team lost a game.

The other kids shook their opponents’ hands and headed to the concession stand. Wyatt lay on the field pounding his fist into the ground.

“Dad,” he cried, “am I the only one who cares?”

That passion made it tough to basically be a spectator during his first season at UF. It didn’t help that COVID-19 restrictions kept freshmen from enrolling in the summer and getting a chance to make early impressions.

Instead of crying about it like an 8-year-old, Langford used it as fuel. He played summer league ball in Charlottesville, Virginia, When he wasn’t at the park, he was at the gym pumping iron.

UF still had a glut of catchers and infielders last fall, so Langford switched to the outfield. He’d never played the position but ended up with a 1.000 fielding percentage in left field.

That means he was flawless. As for hitting, sheesh.

“My only goal was to be a starter,” Langford said. “I didn’t know what to expect, honestly.”

What he delivered was a story that people will be talking about for a long time. And the best part is, it’s only just beginning.

David Whitley is The Gainesville Sun's sports columnist. Contact him at Follow him on Twitter @DavidEWhitley