Florida football: Young tight ends take advantage of spring practice opportunities

Kevin Brockway
The Gainesville Sun

Injuries to Keon Zipperer, Dante Zanders and Jonathon Odom opened the door for younger Florida football tight ends to make an impression this spring.

Redshirt freshmen Arlis Boardingham and Hayden Hansen both rose to the occasion. They were named as two of the five most improved freshmen this spring by UF's coaching staff.

Boardingham had 3 catches for 33 yards in last week's Orange and Blue Game. Hansen stood out more for his blocking ability in the run game.

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The two players are expected to continue to grow and develop under Russ Callaway, who enters his first year as UF's tight ends coach after being promoted from a defensive analyst role last season.

"They've done a lot better than I anticipated," Callaway said. "And I think that speaks to, you know, the coaches we have on this staff at every position. It's not just me, it's all the other position coaches we have. They do a great job of motivating, bringing guys along."

Arlis Boardingham brings speed from West Coast

Boardingham initially wanted to be a receiver at Birmingham High School in Van Nuys, Calif. But his coach, Daryl Gist, quickly recognized that his future would be at another position, based on his size.

"When he came in as a freshman and I saw how big the kid was, I said by the time you're going to get out of here, you're going to be about 240," Gist said. "He prided himself on being big and fast. I think he believed that tight ends were just big slow guys who could just catch the ball and block."

Florida Gators tight end Arlis Boardingham (81) works on drills. The University of Florida Gators held their 14th Spring football practice at Sanders Practice Fields in Gainesville, FL on Tuesday, April 11, 2023. [Doug Engle/Gainesville Sun]

Still, Gist played Boardingham everywhere on the field during his high school career, including punter, kick returner, punt returner, receiver, running back, defensive end, linebacker, safety and occasionally as a read-option quarterback.

That versatility helped as Boardingham bulked up to close to 240 pounds by the time his high school career ended. But in addition to being diligent in the weight room, Boardingham ran track in the spring, where he was clocked as fast as 10.9 seconds in the 100 meters.

"I just feel like that speed is what makes me different from other tight ends," Boardingham said.

The 6-foot-3, 246-pound Boardingham sat out most of last season due to injuries, but it gave him time to learn a new system and new position under head coach Billy Napier and his staff.

"Coach Napier told me trust the process playing tight end, just learning how to do the blocking that first year even though I battled through injuries, still learning and going through that," Boardingham said. "So just being able to block and being able to route run is what I bring to the table.”

Hayden Hansen brings size from Texas

Hansen, at 6-6 and 259 pounds, is a bigger body capable of taking on opposing front seven players on the line of scrimmage. From Weatherford, Texas, Hayden demonstrated some receiving ability during his senior year in high school with 38 catches for 369 yards and 3 TDs.

Florida Gators tight end Hayden Hansen (89) runs drills with the offensive line. The University of Florida Football team held  their 2023 Football Spring Practice Tuesday afternoon, April 4, 2023 at Sanders Football Practice Field at the University of Florida in Gainesville, FL. [Doug Engle/Ocala Star Banner]2023 t

Hansen was a former high school quarterback before switching to tight end. Like Boardingham, Hansen redshirted last season.

"He's done a tremendous job," Callaway said. "He's a former quarterback. He's a very bright young man. Being a quarterback you wouldn't think he'd be as physical as he is. But he is extremely physical, does a really nice job in the run. To be a bigger guy, he has smooth and soft hands and can make plays in the pass game."