Gators Wide Receiver Coach Billy Gonzales Has Proven to Be an Asset
Develop and produce, those are two things that college football seeks to get out of young high school athletes entering their prime years. If done successfully, it can not only benefit the schools due to wins, but it will also benefit the players in fulfilling their dreams of entering the NFL.
This year, the Gators' most successful position group reaching the next level came at wide receiver, led by position coach and co-offensive coordinator Billy Gonzales.
With three receivers entering the NFL via the draft, and one through undrafted free agency, the Gators were the most successful school in college football at getting their players selected, the 2020 Gators draft class also became the most-successful Gators' receiver class in history, never before sending three or more receivers into the NFL in one class in the modern draft era.
Over the past two seasons under Gonzales and head coach Dan Mullen, the Gators have changed the way their receiver group works.
While typically the team will use a true No. 1 receiver within their offense, the Gators operate out of a more unconventional system, which, if you buy into it, is rewarding. It's part of why players such as Van Jefferson, Tyrie Cleveland, Freddie Swain, and Josh Hammond are currently on NFL rosters at the moment.
While the head football coach for a given team typically gets the brunt of the praise from outside observers, the Gators have lauded Gonzales for his work with the receivers for years. The ability to develop and get production out of multiple receivers in any given season is an accomplishment in its own right.
Last season, the Gators' top-four receivers, which include the four now currently on NFL rosters, were able to somewhat evenly distribute the targets and receptions among each other. Jefferson led the pack in 2019 with 49 receptions, Swain, 38, Hammond, 27, and Cleveland, 25.
Each receiver posted at least 351 receiving yards on the year. No other team in the SEC East was able to net their top-4 receivers at least 25 receptions and at least 351 receiving yards on the season, according to College Football Reference.
While these statistics may not present obvious NFL talents, the fact that four receivers were able to contribute this highly is a testament to their development over the years.
Earlier last week, Hammond told Sports Illustrated's AllGators his reasoning for the team's success in the wide receiver room, stating:
Everybody's number got called throughout the season and all of us came through to make those plays when we had to. I think that's the one thing I admired the most, just how unselfish we were. I think I get more excited when somebody else scores rather than myself.
That unselfishness was born out of the direction of not only Mullen but of Gonzales as well.
Jefferson, shortly after being selected by the Los Angeles Rams last month spoke on what coach Gonzales was able to teach him, citing hand usage along with simply team chemistry aspects of the receivers room.
"Just teamwork too, as well," Jefferson said to the Rams media. "I think we had a lot of receivers that we spread the ball around, so everybody’s not going to get the ball, so everybody was just practicing patience. That’s some of the things that I learned while I was there.”
Mullen echoed those sentiments last season as well.
"I also think the leadership of the receiver core and what Coach Gonzales has done is unbelievable. If you look at those guys and how they celebrate together, I mean, according to this (stat sheet) our leading receiver had four catches on the day," Mullen stated following the team's game against Vanderbilt last season. "We completed 25 passes. The leading receiver had four. They celebrate with each other. [There are] no arguments or fights over series."
Mullen later added that what the receivers were able to do last season showed the "leadership of that position and what Coach G’s been able to do with them.”
Gonzales has been with Mullen for years. The two first connected with each other in 2001 at Bowling Green University, Mullen a quarterbacks coach, Gonzales the team's wide receivers coach. The two would move on together every step of the way, including a four-year stint at Florida under Urben Meyer from 2005-08.
The two wouldn't reconnect until 2013 and the rest is history.
Having someone of Gonzales' pedigree has also helped in the recruiting realm. Of course, there are misses, and it would be obtuse or disingenuous to dismiss them. Players such as wide receiver Sam Brown (2019, West Virginia) and Koy Moore (2020, LSU) are misses on his resume.
However, there have been several hits since coach Gonzales has begun his second stint in Gainesville.
For example, Gonzales is listed as the primary recruiter, according to 247Sports, on players such as cornerback Kaiir Elam (four stars, 2019), wide receiver Jacob Copeland (four stars, 2018) and Daejon Reynolds (four stars, 2021), while also contributing as the secondary recruiter in players such as linebacker Derek Wingo (four stars, 2020), wide receiver Xavier Henderson (four stars, 2020) and receiver Jaquavion Fraziars (four stars, 2020).
During his first stint with the team, Gonzales was instrumental in bringing in Gators legend Percy Harvin as well.
There are faults to every coach, absolutely, however with Gonzales in charge the Gators should be able to depend on one of the more important position groups on the team, able to make the quarterback's life easier while converting wins through a unique, but effective usage of several key weapons.
Moving forward, the true test to Gonzales' coaching ability will be on full display as the less-experienced, but talented, receivers such as Copeland, Henderson and Trevon Grimes take centerstage in 2020.