Photo credit: Alex Shepherd, AllGators.com
A heavily criticized unit in the preseason has proved doubters across the country wrong through the first three weeks of action.
That sentiment can be echoed by the group's individual centerpiece.
Prior to the 2021 season, the Florida Gators offensive line was considered to be the worst unit the team fielded and a cause for concern given the evident shift of the offensive scheme from pass-heavy to run dominant.
However, now entering week four, the Gators have proven to be one of — if not the most — dominant offensive lines the SEC has to offer, ranking second in the nation in rushing and eighth in total offense.
A catalyst to that unexpected success upfront has been first-time starting center Kingsley Eguakun. While outsiders counted him out, Equakun waited his turn, knowing he would one day have an opportunity to prove his worth, but first, he had to mature.
“I felt that I was a better player than everyone made me out to be,” Eguakun said when speaking with media on Tuesday. “Personally, I just know how I’ve had to grow up and the things I’ve had to go through. It just built a lot of character in myself. I just feel like I can be one of the best to do it.
“So that’s really the chip on my shoulder. I want to prove everybody wrong.”
Given the nod late in the preseason as the UF starting center, Eguakun has taken his opportunity and ran with it. Playing 200 total snaps in three games this season, Equakun has dominated in both run blocking and pass protection.
Splitting the snaps 55/45 in favor of the run, Eguakun has found success in making substantial push off the line of scrimmage and creating open running lanes for a bevy of viable rushing options occupying the Florida backfield.
In fact, he — alongside starting left guard Ethan White — has brought an added mean streak and propensity to finish through the whistle, a portion of the game missing from the offensive line since 2018.
In 91 pass protection reps, Eguakun has posted remarkable zeros across the board in all categories including sacks, pressures, hits and hurries.
Hailing from Sandalwood High School in Jacksonville, Florida, Eguakun announced his pledge to join the Gators in December 2018 as part of the 2019 recruiting class.
His road to a starting role has been unorthodox but he has made already made a name for himself as the undenied glue and leader of the offensive line.
This is something many saw coming with the work he put into his craft starting last season.
“I’ll say, Kingsley’s sophomore year, when I seen him going inside, going out late nights, getting extra steps, extra work in the weight room, getting stronger, actually he’s one of the strongest lower-body people on our team, and that’s when I noticed he’s going to be a big, top guy,” said Gators tight end Kemore Gamble.
However, his production is not the only aspect of his game that has made him a valuable piece in the Gators' resurgence up front. Rather, his familiarity with starting quarterback Emory Jones and willingness to embrace the role as a leader has been the keys to individual and team success.
He has become the voice of the offensive line according to Jones.
“Definitely Kingsley. I always tell him to help me out over those guys. We always like to go tempo and it's just kind of hard to get everybody on the team to get going, which is why I put the load on him sometimes. To get the lineman to speed up the tempo sometimes for me to help me out.”
Eguakun has served as a crutch for the first-year starting quarterback at times this season. However, both being reserves last season, it is no surprise that the quarterback-center relationship is thriving in Gainesville.
Having Tennessee on the schedule Saturday night in The Swamp, Eguakun and Co. are looking to bounce back from their heartbreaking loss to Alabama last weekend.
Coming up just 36 inches short, the unit is focused on ensuring that next time they’re in that situation, they can create a push needed to reign victorious.
It all starts with mindset, something he believes has shifted in the right direction for the O-line room.
"We just want to go, assert our dominance, assert our will on people, and like, really show them we're gonna run the ball and you can't stop us."
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