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Gators Freshmen Ready to Compete for Early Playing Time

Gators early playing time

Can the Young Players Step Up?

Despite having what many Gator fans would deem a down year, there were certainly some bright spots for the future. Namely, the fact that so many contributors were freshmen. Although the Gators finished the season on quite a low note, there were signs of growth from many of the young playmakers. From wide receiver “Tre” Wilson III to linebacker Shemar James, the freshman made plays all over the field. This season, many of those players can now be leaders in the locker room. Thus, these experienced young players can pave the way for the new additions that figure to see playing time. It’s easy for the fans to get discouraged with some of the losses from the transfer portal, but patience will be key with Billy Napier. Building off that, there are plenty of incoming freshmen who should see themselves competing for early playing time. When looking at the 2024 recruiting class, there were four names that figure to contribute from the first whistle.

Myles Graham

Rated as a 4-star linebacker out of Gainesville by 247sports.com, Myles Graham never wavered in his commitment. Pledging himself to Billy Napier and the Gators back in August of 2022, Graham has remained steadfast. Gator fans should be excited about not only his ability on the field but his loyalty to the program as well. A top-10 linebacker in the country, Graham figures to inject some tenacity into a young and talented linebacker room. Already enrolled on campus, Graham should compete from the get for early playing time. Finishing with six tackles for loss, Graham took part in the Under Armour All-American Game. Fans should be excited about what Graham brings to the table early on in his career.

LJ McCray

One of Florida’s 5-star commits, LJ McCray sent Gator fans into a frenzy when he announced his commitment. Staying loyal down the stretch, McCray remained with the Gators despite a number of other teams in his ear. Ranked as the number four overall player by 247sports, McCray comes into Gainesville as the number one overall defensive lineman in 2024. Already returning multiple starters along the defensive line, McCray will still push for early playing time. Seemingly able to work inside or off the edge, there will certainly be a place for McCray. With Caleb Banks and Cam Jackson coming back on the interior, this unit will be deep. Thanks to his unique traits and freak athleticism, Gator fans shouldn’t be surprised if McCray is utilized off the edge in game one against the Hurricanes.

Aaron Chiles

Another highly-rated linebacker, Aaron Chiles helped round out one of the top 2024 linebacker groups in the country. Not yet on campus, Chiles comes in rated as a top 100 player in the country, and a top ten linebacker. Coming in at 6 foot 3 and 220 pounds, Chiles also took part in the Under Armour All-American Game. Notching a defensive touchdown in that game, fans were reminded of his ability to make plays all over the field. A growing linebacker room, fans should be excited by the additions of young talent not just through the 2024 class, but the transfer portal as well. With Grayson Howard transferring in from South Carolina, and Shemar James coming back from injury, this is one of the strengths of the entire team. Once he enrolls in the summer, Chiles and fellow commit Myles Graham should both see early playing time and may even push for starting jobs.

DJ Lagway

Coming in with the biggest hype behind any prospect would certainly be DJ Lagway. All Gator fans know who this young man is and are eager to see what he can accomplish. A 5-star top player in the country, this quarterback has fans buzzing for the future. Out of Willis, Texas, Lagway won numerous accolades including the Gatorade National Player of the Year. Throwing for a whopping 59 touchdowns, Lagway completed one of the most prolific high school football careers of all time. Not expected to start this season thanks to the return of starter Graham Mertz, there will no doubt be packages that involve him on the field. Not only a poised passer, but Lagway also ran for nearly a thousand yards, showing his skills as a dual threat. Fans should expect Napier to utilize him similar to how Tebow came off the bench his freshman season.

Class as a Whole

While only a few players were highlighted above, the Gators have brought in quite a deep recruiting class. Though stumbling down the stretch recruitment-wise, Gator fans should still be excited about the playmakers they have brought in. With two 4-star speedy receivers in TJ Abrams and Jerrae Hawkins, the Gators were able to add to a wide receiver room that had lost its best player (Ricky Pearsall) to the draft. Perhaps the biggest signings, however, were along the offensive line, oftentimes seen as the weak point this past season. Bringing in two thunderous offensive tackle prospects, the Gators should see improvements along the line, often rated as subpar. With another 4-star running back and 4-star safety, the Gators’ recruiting did well in addressing several weaknesses on both sides of the football. Being one of the youngest teams in the country provided plenty of growing pains, yet with experience under their belts, many players are now looked upon to become leaders. These incoming freshmen are no different. They come in with immense talent and immense expectations.

 

Gators early playing time
Photo courtesy: Alan Youngblood-USA TODAY Sports

 

 

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