Throughout the history of the Florida Gators football team, they have put on the field stellar quarterbacks. From Steve Spurrier and Danny Wuerffel to John Reaves and Tim Tebow, these quarterbacks were not only superb athletes but also ambassadors for the game of football at Florida, winning Heisman trophies and being recognized as first-team All-Americans.
On December 20th, 2017, the Gators were able to recruit a young quarterback, looking to bring the Swamp back to relevance in college football. For incoming freshman Emory Jones, he is ready to compete for the starting job and to make this offense a top 10 unit in the country.
Born and raised in Franklin, Georgia, Jones knew from a young age how entrenched football is into the state’s identity and culture. At 6’2, 192 pounds, Emory committed to Heard County High School, eager to grow as a quarterback.
When he was a freshman in high school, the young quarterback was in the midst of a zealous competition for the starting role. As Jones’s high school coach Tim Barron said: “There was a senior who was a good high school player. Nothing against him, he was a really good high school player, but he wasn’t Emory Jones.”
While the struggles of managing expectations and performing on the field were evident, the ninth grader turned it around and led his high school team to the third round of the Georgia AA State Playoffs.
As his high school career came to a close, it was clear that Jones was becoming a dual-threat quarterback, one that could not only make efficient passes but scramble and take off on the ground. In his four years at Heard County High, he would rack up 7,250 total yards and 66 touchdowns, 48 through the air and 18 on the ground.
Jones’s senior year would be his best statistically, where he would throw for 2,270 yards with 16 TDs and run for 891 yards with 13 TDs. This made him a four-star prospect heading into recruiting, making him an irresistible asset for schools who desperately need offensive production.
In recent years, quarterbacks that can pass and run effectively create offenses that are more versatile. This made Emory Jones incredibly valuable to schools, landing offers from Florida State, Ohio State and the University of Florida.
At his age, Jones’s throwing mechanics are off the charts. He is not afraid of making deep passes and has the ability to throw short, seam passes into tight spaces. He is most effective when he can scramble outside of the pocket, keeping plays alive with his feet.
Emory’s athleticism and speed are extremely evident to coaches. Running a 40-yard dash at 4.67 seconds demonstrates his ability to run with the football and extend plays with his legs past the line of scrimmage.
“Immediately the minute you saw him on the football [field] you knew there was something different about this kid,” Barron says. “He already had some length to him, he was already being coached by quarterback coaches. He was just well advanced for his age.”
Last season, the Gators’ offensive performance was dismal, only averaging 22.1 points per game. Out of 130 schools in the FBS, Florida’s offense was ranked 123rd, averaging only 336 yards per game. They were ranked 101st in passing (179.5 yards per game) and 79th in rushing (156.4 yards per game).
This is why the perennial SEC school brought in head coach Dan Mullen, the former boss at Mississippi State, to improve the team’s offensive identity. He has a strong track record of training and producing stellar quarterback talent, including coaching now Dallas Cowboys starting QB Dak Prescott.
In the spring game, Jones shined in the brief time he was in the game. The quarterback threw seven passes for 93 yards, including a touchdown, which caught the attention of Coach Mullen.
“I think Emory’s got a great future in front of him,” says Mullen. The key is making sure we’re developing him and developing him the right way and putting him in positions early in his career where he can be successful. Because that gets to building the confidence.”
By signing Jones, Mullen and the coaching staff have their hands full, deciding on which quarterback to start come September. They have Felipe Franks, who started eight games last year, throwing only 1,438 yards and eight touchdowns. The Gators could also start Kyle Trask, who completed 12-of-24 passes for 178 yards in the spring game, but he hasn’t played much.
What the other quarterbacks have over Jones is age. But being a freshman should not deter the Gators from starting him, especially if he is the right fit for the role.
Last season, as the starting quarterback, Georgia Bulldogs Jake Fromm threw for 2,173 yards with 21 TDs, leading his school to the National Championship Game as the SEC’s best team. Given Fromm’s instant success last year as a freshman, it is clear that the Gators have the personnel to mold Jones into a successful starting quarterback.
“What I did with a Tim Tebow, what I did with a Dak Prescott … what you do is you protect those guys and put them in certain situations that they’re going to succeed in and then they’re going to have the confidence to handle more situations,” said Coach Mullen. We’ll keep evaluating that in fall camp as it keeps going and see where he’ll be at.”