ORLANDO — Jake McGee’s time on the field during No. 19 Florida’s 41-7 loss to No. 14 Michigan was limited to the opening coin toss.

After two seasons with the Gators — the first spent on the sidelines with a broken leg, the second catching passes — McGee’s college career came to an end one game early.

A hamstring injury suffered during the week forced the sixth-year senior and Virginia transfer to sit out the only bowl game he ever traveled to.

But that didn’t stop McGee from being an essential cog in Florida’s offense during his short time in Gainesville.

"It really asked me to do a lot," McGee said, "and ... I really think I was able to continue to grow my game and really step up."

While McGee only played one full season with the Gators, his presence was felt almost immediately.

Even when he was relegated to the sideline, McGee’s upbeat personality and ability to mentor Florida’s up-and-comers paid dividends for the Gators and for himself.

After fully recovering from his broken leg and receiving a waiver from the NCAA for a sixth year, the 24-year-old McGee provided a veteran presence to a youthful offense and served as a security blanket for quarterback Treon Harris down the stretch.

He finished fourth on the team with 381 receiving yards and four touchdowns on 41 catches — the most by a UF tight end since Jordan Reed in 2012.

"(He’s) a guy that both sides of the ball really respect," UF coach Jim McElwain said earlier in the season. "To do that in such a short time I think speaks volumes for him and what kind of guy he is."

Florida’s top tight ends coming back next year — a duo in sophomore DeAndre Goolsby and redshirt freshman C’yontai Lewis — learned under McGee over the past two years and feel prepared to take on the extra responsibility thanks to his mentoring.

Goolsby recorded 17 catches for 277 yards and a touchdown this year but had two badly timed drops on Friday. Lewis scored a pair of touchdowns in the season opener against New Mexico State but fell flat as the season progressed while he recovered from a broken hand suffered against East Carolina.

"He’s basically told us, ‘Get ready for next season,’" Goolsby said. "He’s been trusting us all year when we play."

With his UF career over, McGee will begin his path to the NFL Draft. He accepted an invitation to the Jan. 30 Senior Bowl and has a strong chance to be invited to the NFL Combine.

And while he prepares for the next chapter of his football career, he knows the Gators will be prepared for theirs as well.

"Just the practices where we weren’t really there, where we were watching from outside or the other field, you really saw what the next sort of future is capable of and you see new leadership step up," McGee said. "It’s nice to set sort of like the blueprint for what they’re able to do."

Follow Jordan McPherson on Twitter @J_McPherson1126

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