Gators' C.J. McWilliams Gets Rave Reviews From Grantham, TE Kyle Pitts

Demetrius Harvey

Sometimes the best path to success is that of a rough trek through a sandstorm.

Getting to the other side with a new beginning is difficult, but manageable. That is what Gators STAR C.J. McWilliams will hope to achieve as he works his way back into the team's starting lineup after a year off due to injury.

On Monday, the Gators released its first two-deep projected depth chart of the season ahead of its week one matchup against the Ole Miss Rebels on Saturday. One of the surprising additions was McWilliams listed as the starting STAR, a position that is used in a variety of ways, including as the team's primary nickel cornerback. 

"C.J. is a guy that, quite honestly, he's kind of always gotten hurt - not been able to finish, and to the guy's credit, the guys really busted his tail, he's worked hard," Gators defensive coordinator said on Tuesday when asked about the redshirt senior and his status as the starting STAR.

"He's been healthy through this whole thing. He's really done what we've asked, he's done a nice job so he'll be a part of our roster, our players. He'll be able to contribute to what we do. He's really earned it. He's done a good job of making himself into a guy that we feel that we can count on in certain situations."

Last season, McWilliams, a redshirt senior, saw his season end before it could ever begin, lost due to a torn Achilles tendon. Prior to his injury, McWilliams faced multiple battles and had heavy criticism - some warranted, some not warranted - thrown his way, particularly in the team's matchup against the Georgia Bulldogs in 2018.

According to Pro Football Focus, McWilliams gave up three receptions for 63 yards and a touchdown on just five targets. 

Now, multiple players have spoken up in his defense, crediting his hard work and dedication to his craft over the offseason and heading into week one. Gators tight end Kyle Pitts has certainly seen a difference.

“C.J. is a guy that people kind of overlooked," Pitts told the media on Wednesday via Zoom. "I feel like, after that Georgia game everybody was just bashing him, but that’s not the real C.J. The real C.J. is how he’s playing now, 100 percent."

Coming out of high school, McWilliams was a highly-rated three-star recruit out of Southwest Miami (Fla.). During his senior prep season, McWilliams posted gaudy numbers, including 73 tackles, six interceptions and a touchdown. Plenty to get Florida's attention, and why he was so highly sought-after.    

"He’s sticking, he’s hitting people hard in the open. He can guard. He can do everything that when he came here he’s doing now. I think, like I said, first game, everybody [is] going to be kind of shocked seeing him out there making plays.”

While skepticism is is certainly warranted, if only because he hasn't played in over a full calendar year, there is some reason for optimism. He's played well at times in the past, e won't have the expectations cast upon him as he did in 2018, and there is no doubt some added motivation on his part due to his past, absolutely.