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Monday, March 04, 2024

Florida football position previews: quarterback

New faces and second chances highlight the Gators’ signal callers

Graham Mertz attempts a pass in the Orange and Blue Spring Game Thursday, Aug. 15, 2023.
Graham Mertz attempts a pass in the Orange and Blue Spring Game Thursday, Aug. 15, 2023.

The Florida Gators will begin a new era under center for the 2023 season. 

The new starter will have to fill the shoes of former starting quarterback Anthony Richardson, who is off to begin his professional football career after being selected fourth overall in the 2023 NFL draft by the Indianapolis Colts. 

Richardson’s departure — and the dismissal of last year’s backup Jalen Kitna — leaves UF head coach Billy Napier with a mixed bag of fresh faces.

The Gators’ quarterback room is led by redshirt junior Graham Mertz. Mertz transferred to Gainesville from Wisconsin after three seasons leading the Badgers. He came to Wisconsin with considerable hype; Mertz was the highest-rated quarterback recruit in school history and started his college career in incredible fashion. 

Mertz completed 20 of 21 passes for 248 yards and five touchdowns in his first start for Wisconsin but never built on that sterling performance and struggled the last two seasons. The Overland Park, Kansas, product said he cherishes this new opportunity with Florida.

“I’m so grateful for this university,” Mertz said at an Aug. 15 press conference. “Everybody here, they love Florida, and I can gladly say I love Florida too.”

Napier recruited Mertz out of the transfer portal this offseason, and he said he’s been impressed with Mertz’ adjustment to a new system and preparation with a new team.

“[He’s] probably worked as hard as any player on our team, probably as hard as a lot of players I’ve been around,” Napier said at an Aug. 11 press conference.

While Mertz and his 34 games of college experience give Florida a solid starter, the backup quarterback spot remains in flux. Jack Miller battled Mertz for the starting role in the Spring, but the redshirt sophomore struggled with injuries throughout his Florida career.

Miller recently missed practice time with shoulder tendonitis, and the depth quarterbacks have battled for the No. 2 spot in his absence. 

Graduate student Micah Leon joined UF in the offseason as a preferred walk-on after limited action in stints at Connecticut and North Carolina State. Despite starting near the bottom of the depth chart, Leon has earned the coach’s trust during practice.

“Micah has proved to be very effective,” Napier said. “He's smart, he’s a student of the game, guy throws a really good ball.”

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Redshirt freshman Max Brown is also competing for backup reps this fall. The former 3-star recruit played for the Gators baseball team in the Spring, and he continues to develop on the gridiron as well.

While the backup role is yet to be finalized, Leon, Brown and a healthy Miller are all in the mix to step in should Mertz get sidelined.

Mertz and the Gators will open the season with a cross-country road trip to the No. 14 Utah Utes. The game is scheduled for 8 p.m. Aug. 31 and will be broadcast on ESPN.

Contact Topher Adams at tadams@alligator.org. Follow him on Twitter @Topher_Adams.

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Topher Adams

Topher Adams is a fourth-year communications major and in his fourth semester with the Alligator. He previously covered football, baseball and women's basketball. He also enjoys professional lacrosse and Major League Soccer.


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