Fresh faces are needed at the forefront of the Gators attack on both sides of the ball.
During the abnormal 2020 season, the Florida Gators heavily relied on veteran presence to account for a sizable portion of overall production. However, with a plethora of players moving on from UF — by way of the NFL Draft and exhaustion of eligibility— the Gators search for young talent to take big jumps in 2021.
As a result, here are six sophomores the Gators could see emerge as prominent contributors in year two of their collegiate career.
Gervon Dexter, defensive tackle
He’s that guy.
When discussing young pieces expected to take large strides in the upcoming season, the list stops and starts with defensive lineman Gervon Dexter. As one of the players holding the highest expectations on the team as a whole, Dexter displayed incredible disruptiveness from the interior defensive line as a true freshman last season.
Seeing action in every SEC game in 2020, Dexter accounted for 20 tackles, two tackles for loss, 0.5 sacks and one interception in relief of now-departed seniors Kyree Campbell and Tedarrell Slaton.
Winning via pure strength from the three-technique, Dexter flashed raw excellence in year one of his Gators campaign despite little time to grow accustomed to the collegiate game due to the pandemic.
Pairing desirable physical intangibles at 6-foot-6, 308-pounds with his continuous advancements from a technique perspective, Dexter looks to build off year one to be a menacing presence for opposing offenses to contain, specifically against the run, with consistency in 2021.
Princely Umanmielen, defensive end
Despite limited action in year one of his Gators campaign, Princely Umanmielen flashed signs of future greatness when presented the opportunity.
As an unexpected signing to the 2020 recruiting class out of Texas, the Gators gained a promising pass-rushing entity.
Despite accounting for just three tackles in 2020, Umanmielen totaled two sacks in four games played, showcasing burst off the ball and incredible bend around the edge, dipping his inside shoulder underneath the initial punch of the offensive tackle to make it difficult for them to get their hands on him.
With room to grow from a mental standpoint — specifically understanding the collegiate game — in the 2021 offseason, according to David Turner, Umanmielen will be eased into the mix. However, given the desirable tools he possesses, he is destined to be a pleasant surprise for the Turner and the Gators strong side defensive end spot in the upcoming year.
Xzavier Henderson, wide receiver
In the past two seasons, six wide receivers and seven pass catchers have moved onto the NFL from the University of Florida. Accordingly, the production that they provided to the Gators offense exits with them.
Now, largely inexperienced wideouts are called upon to replace the loss of talent.
Acquiring Xzavier Henderson as their highest-rated receiver prospect in the 2020 recruiting class, the Gators will look to another Henderson — as they did with his brother, first-round cornerback C.J. Henderson — to fill in an important role previously occupied by highly efficient talent.
As a lengthy receiver, standing at 6-foot-3, Henderson will see considerable time at the X-receiver position for Florida this season. Accounting for nine receptions, 148 yards and one touchdown in his first season, Henderson won off his physical attributes and athleticism, providing room for improvement from a polish standpoint.
With a full offseason regimen and fall camp program on the horizon, Henderson’s natural progressions — specifically with crisp footwork as a route runner — slates him for a big year two in the Gators scheme.
Rashad Torrence, safety
The UF secondary was a group filled with broken coverages and blown assignments, deriving from sloppy play from the safeties group.
However, when Florida was forced to plug true freshman Rashad Torrence in as a starter alongside Trey Dean against Missouri due to health and safety protocols, the Gators pieced together their best performance of the year defensively.
Now, that group goes into the season as the unrivaled starters in the backend, hoping to increase communication and reconcile the defense’s production.
Providing a pop of physicality in the rushing game that the Gators have been missing from their secondary group and the instincts to make plays on the ball in two-high coverage.
Seeing a larger role than all other freshmen, excluding Dexter, Torrence’s game reps primes him for a big jump in year two, which will be greatly needed as Florida’s secondary unit is thin from an experience perspective in 2021.
Demarkcus Bowman, running back
He may not be a second-year Gator, but he’s a second-year game changer.
Accounting for over 5,000 career yards, 11.2 yards per carry and 71 total touchdowns at the high school level, running back Demarkcus Bowman produced in a way that provides high expectations for his time at UF.
Coming over from Clemson after just one season with the Tigers, Bowman provides vast potential from a talent standpoint for the Florida offense in 2021. Standing at 5-foot-11, 190-pounds, Bowman is a decisive runner that is slippery between the tackles and has elite speed to break away in the open field.
As a result, the Gators will likely go four-deep in their running back corps this season, with Bowman proving to be the missing complement for Dameon Pierce, Nay’Quan Wright and Malik Davis to overcome the stagnant rushing attack of the past two seasons.
In the end, the return of Dan Mullen’s smash-mouth spread offense could present Bowman the best opportunity to thrive, consequently allowing him to become the most productive running back in the process with proper utilization.
Joshua Braun, offensive guard
As much as Bowman will mean to the Gators rushing attack, the production on the ground can only be as efficient as the big men upfront will let it.
Undergoing the second reconstruction of the offensive line during the Mullen era in Gainesville, promising youth like Joshua Braun and Ethan White anchor down the guard spots alongside veterans Richard Gouriage, Stewart Reese and Jean Delance beside them.
While White may be the most intriguing storyline given his impressive transformation since arriving at UF, sophomore guard in Braun also presents intrigue for his role in year two.
A nimble yet powerful giant amongst the front lines of the Florida offensive, Braun will need to reciprocate the nasty mean streak in between the white lines that White brings on the opposite side of the center. If his limited time in year one is any indication, accomplishing that task isn’t far-fetched.