Trent Whittemore becoming 'ole reliable' for Emory Jones, Gators

Ainslie Lee
The Gainesville Sun
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Florida wide receiver Trent Whittemore makes a catch during the first quarter Saturday against Vanderbilt at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

After graduating Trevon Grimes, Kadarius Toney and Kyle Pitts to the NFL last offseason, members of Florida’s receiving corps had no choice but to step up heading into the 2021 college football season. 

Together, Grimes, Toney and Pitts made up for 151 receptions, 31 touchdowns and more than 2,300 receiving yards in 2020. 

With those weapons now playing on Sundays, all eyes shifted to redshirt juniors Jacob Copeland and Justin Shorter, in addition to sophomores Xzavier Henderson and Trent Whittemore. 

"Definitely big shoes to fill," Whittemore said of the challenge in the preseason, "Tre, KT and even Kyle was a tight end, but he caught a lot of balls as well. So, definitely big shoes to fill.”

And while Florida has relied heavily on its deep running back room this season, the guys out wide have made great strides — especially Whittemore, who has rotated in and out of the slot with Rick Wells. 

Last season, Whittemore only appeared in six games after suffering a broken rib and punctured lung against the Arkansas Razorbacks. The nagging injury caused the then-freshman to miss five games, including the SEC Championship, before he returned in Florida’s 55-20 loss to Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl. 

In those six appearances, the former Buchholz High School standout recorded 10 receptions for 128 yards and a touchdown. 

Having appeared in the same number of games this season, there’s been a slight jump in production from the sophomore slot receiver. Whittemore has 13 receptions for 134 yards and a touchdown, all while splitting snaps with Wells. 

“We've had games where Trent and Rick rotate a bunch. And just try to keep them fresh in there and all the sudden Trent's on the field and gets his number called and makes some plays. And a couple weeks ago Rick had a bunch of catches in the game,” Florida coach Dan Mullen said of the slot position. 

“As you're rolling guys through it is more about our confidence in the depth of our players we're putting on the field to make plays more than, 'Hey, one guy stood out more than the other.' It just happened to be he was on the field for those calls, but we have confidence in them (both) making the plays."

The difference this season, however, is Whittemore’s ability to make plays in high-pressure situations. 

In the Gators’ two-point  loss to Alabama on Sept. 18, Florida quarterback Emory Jones looked to Whittemore on back-to-back plays midway through the fourth quarter as the Gators drove down the field to chip away at their deficit. 

Jones connected with Whittemore on third-and-19 for a gain of 17 yards and then again on fourth-and-two to keep the chains moving. Whittemore went on to haul in another pass for a 7-yard gain later in the drive, which resulted in a score that tightened the Crimson Tide’s advantage to just two points. 

Even in Saturday’s 42-0 blowout of Vanderbilt, though the Gators were never in a high-pressure situation, there were certainly moments they needed a spark during the slow-rolling first half. 

And Whittemore was the lighter fluid. 

Whittemore caught three passes, including the first big play of the game.

On second-and-10 from the Gators’ 33, Whittemore came back to a pass that was a tad underthrown after running a out-and-up for a 32-yard gain on a play that set up Florida’s opening scoring drive. 

Later in the first half, Jones and Whittemore connected on a nine-yard touchdown pass in the back corner of the end zone on third and goal to put the Gators ahead 21-0 heading into half time. 

“He's a guy that's always reliable. He's always going to be in the spot I expect him to be in. He does everything right,” Jones said. “He's a very smart guy, has a very good IQ of football. He just does everything right and he's always in the right position. He reads the defense and just does what he's supposed to do. He's just a reliable guy for me."

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