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Saturday, December 09, 2023

On Saturday, Kestahn Moore will exit the locker room at The Swamp and sprint onto Florida Field while being announced as the Gators' starting running back.

He has anticipated that pre-game routine since the national championship after spending most of last season second on the depth chart.

Moore, a junior with six career starts, replaces DeShawn Wynn as the Gators' unquestioned top tailback to open this season.

"I talked with my dad and my mom. They're excited about it," Moore said of the Gators' opener against Western Kentucky. "Being my junior year, the seasons are going fast for me. It seemed like yesterday it was my freshman year. I?m excited to get back on the field and into the stadium."

Wynn ran 19 times for 69 yards and a touchdown in his final game as a Gators player.

Moore also played against Ohio State, but you might have missed him while dipping your chips or cracking open a beverage. He rushed twice for 7 yards.

For the season, Moore ran for 282 yards, a disappointment after gaining 277 yards as a freshman.

After the national championship, Moore went home to Arlington, Texas, for a week and showed off his sparkling bling: three rings.

He left them with his mom and started looking ahead.

"I just talk about the new season," Moore said.

Back in Gainesville, he served as the reliable fall-back option in spring practice. He would start if nobody else stepped up.

Fans anxiously awaited a surge from sophomore Mon Williams, the Gators' most electrifying runner since Ciatrick Fason, but Williams succumbed to a torn left ACL.

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Moore fended off Brandon James, Chevon Walker and a hernia in spring workouts to keep the job.

Preseason camp brought challenges from freshman Chris Rainey and wide receiver Jarred Fayson, both flashier players than Moore but lacking the Texan's backfield experience and blocking skills.

Again, Moore came out on top.

"I know I tend to get excited. I just think he?s going to be a heck of a player," UF coach Urban Meyer said. "He?s prepared himself to have a great year, and I'll be crushed like he will if he doesn't because he's faster than he's ever been. He's more mature than he?s ever been.C

Meyer rarely praises his running backs, so to get that kind of endorsement really means something. In two years, he has called his backs "pathetic" and "trash."

As Meyer lost faith in Wynn and Moore at times last season, they combined for 197 attempts.

Backup quarterback Tim Tebow and wide receivers Percy Harvin and Andre Caldwell stole 151 carries from the running backs.

That motivates Moore.

"Coach Meyer is trying to prove that if the running backs don't come out there, there are other people that can run the ball," Moore said. "If you are not going to run the ball and prove to him that you are the guy, then they have other people."

Meyer hopes Moore has stepped up enough to give the Gators a potent running back attack for the first time in his three seasons.

"He's without question our starting tailback," Meyer said. "He's a guy that we're looking forward to letting him see what he can do with the football."

Critics will argue it's only a matter of time before Moore loses his job. If his fumbling problems creep up again, he might be replaced mid-season.

And even if he makes it through the year, Moore will have an even tougher battle next spring against Southern California transfer Emmanuel Moody and a rested and healthy Williams.

Before looking ahead, Moore can bask in the sweltering sun in Gainesville on Saturday afternoon and know that he - for the time being - is No. 1.

"They count on me right now," Moore said. "I'm a leader right now."

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