Florida football: WR Ricky Pearsall says 'trust' played into his decision to return

Kevin Brockway
The Gainesville Sun

Ricky Pearsall’s decision to return for another season with the Florida Gators came down to trust.

Pearsall left open the option to turn pro after Florida’s disappointing 30-3 loss to Oregon State in the Las Vegas Bowl last December. That capped a 6-7 record in head coach Billy Napier’s first season.

But Pearsall views a chance to change the narrative for the Gators in 2023 and build off a season that showed he could more than hold his own as a playmaking slot receiver in the SEC.

“I just put all my trust into Coach Napier and everything that he was saying to me,” Pearsall said. “I’ve got trust in this team.  Really a lot of key pieces coming back so I just wanted to be a part of the big plans that we have coming up this season.”

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After transferring from Arizona State, Pearsall led the Gators in receiving yards (661) and receiving touchdowns (5) last season. That included torching rival Florida State for 5 catches for 148 yards and 2 TDs.

Pearsall picked up where he left off in the Orange and Blue Game last week with 4 catches for 62 yards, including a 41-yard catch that set up the Orange team’s lone touchdown.

“We want to be a super explosive offense,” Pearsall said. “That’s our main concern, is making big plays at all times no matter where we are at on the field and that’s a personal goal of mine as well, just to be a scary offense, to be elite out there.”

Athletic bloodlines

Pearsall’s passion from the game comes from athletic roots. His father, Rick Pearsall, was a former receiver and punt returner at Northern Arizona University. His mother, Erin, played for Northern Arizona’s volleyball team.

“My dad put a football in my hand when I was like 2 years old,” Pearsall said. “He was honing my skills each time I caught the ball, so it started off from a young age.”

Florida Gators wide receiver Ricky Pearsall (1) is brought down by Florida Gators cornerback Jalen Kimber (8) during the first half of the University of Florida Orange & Blue game at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, FL on Thursday, April 13, 2023. [Doug Engle/Gainesville Sun]

Rick Pearsall was born and raised in Flagstaff, Ariz., before moving the family to the Phoenix metropolitan area, where he worked his way up to captain in the Phoenix Fire Department.

“I was super competitive growing up, competing in pretty much anything I did,” Rick Pearsall said. “When I knew I was going to have a son, he pretty much didn’t have a choice. I put a football in his hand early, taught him how to catch and throw, and he took to it pretty well.”

From there, Pearsall transitioned from youth soccer to flag football to youth football to high school football where he played read-option quarterback, receiver and safety. As Pearsall sprouted to 6-foot-1, colleges took notice, and he ended up starting his college career close to home at Arizona State.

Along the way, Pearsall developed a relentless routine, which included making 100 straight catches in the morning and at night on the JUGS machine to keep his pass catching-skills sharp.

Rick Pearsall said that work ethic was instilled from both parents.

 “My son is 6-1,” he said. “I’m 5-9, 5-10 on a good day. I was always undersized, always doubted, you name it. I was just this really quick kid but I kind of put a chip on my shoulder …

“My expectation for my kids is excellence, period. I don’t settle for anything but excellence because if I look at my life that way, I would hope that my children would look at their lives that way.”

Pearsall’s move from Arizona more than 2,000 miles away to play at Florida was endorsed by the family. Rick Pearsall said he made it to most of his son’s games last season.

“I understand the significance of being in the SEC for exposure,” Rick Pearsall said. “It’s football. I know what his dream is.”

Thirst for knowledge

After working under Keary Colbert last season, Pearsall began spring drills with a new receivers coach, Billy Gonzales, who is entering his third stint with the Gators. Gonzales helped develop UF receivers Percy Harvin, Louis Murphy, Riley Cooper, Van Jefferson and Kadarius Toney into NFL receivers.

Gonzales said what has stood out so far about Pearsall is how much more he wants to learn about the receiving craft.

“He’s constantly texting, wanting to ask questions as far as what can I get better at, what can we do, what can we learn, how can I get open off of this leverage,” Gonzales said. “So, he’s a football player that’s constantly asking questions to learn to make himself better. When you have that coupled with the athletic ability he has, you’ve got a really good opportunity for a special player.”

Florida Gators wide receiver Ricky Pearsall (1) faces off with Florida Gators cornerback Jason Marshall Jr. (3) during the first half during the Florida Gators Orange and Blue Spring Game at Steve Spurrier Field at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, FL on Thursday, April 13, 2023. [Matt Pendleton/Gainesville Sun]

Pearsall said he considers the mental part of playing receiver as important as the physical part of the position. With his height, Pearsall can take advantage of mismatches in the slot, but only if he can read opposing coverages.

“That’s super important, asking questions,” Pearsall said. “You should never be afraid to ask questions in the receiver room or even outside of the room, that’s how you get answers. I think that’s the main thing about being a receiver, how smart, how fast can you process information when you are out there.”

Being a leader

As a fifth-year senior and entering year two in the SEC, Pearsall has tried to serve as an example to younger teammates in the receiving room. He was named Florida’s top receiver this spring.

Two freshman early enrollees – Andy Jean and Aidan Mizell – represent the future of UF’s receiving corps. Pearsall’s goal was to demonstrate good habits to both players.

“I’m trying to take on a leadership role for sure, lead by example,” Pearsall said. “Make sure that I guide them in the right direction so that when I leave, they know how to go about their day, create routines throughout the day.”

If Pearsall can do that while honing his own skills, it would go a long way in helping the Gators rebound from back-to-back losing seasons. Pearsall said he’s mindful of the feedback he received from NFL scouts before making his decision to return. While Pearsall wouldn’t disclose the feedback publicly, he’s determined to show that he’s a well-rounded receiver capable of playing at the next level.

“There are things that I can come back and answer the questions for those guys in the (NFL),” Pearsall said. “Obviously, that’s a big reason why I came back and I’m ready to go into the next season and prove that.”