Redshirt freshman defensive lineman Jamari Lyons and redshirt sophomore linebacker Scooby Williams made their presence known in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium Saturday.
In the Florida Gators’ home opener against the McNeese State Cowboys, Williams swarmed to the backfield and dropped Cowboys quarterback Nate Glantz for his first career sack and UF’s first sack of the season.
Williams, who played as an edge rusher in high school, said the sack brought him back to his former position.
“It did bring me back to high school a little bit and it felt good,” he said.
The journey to changing positions has helped the player become more dynamic and not one dimensional, he said. UF head coach Billy Napier reinforced how the change has helped Willaims improve as a football player.
Since Williams started as an edge rusher, the natural thought was the desire to see him do more, Napier said.
“Scooby and I had a lot of heart to hearts, just like ‘hey, let’s go,’” Napier said in press conference Wednesday.
The transition involved Williams having to improve as a decision maker, have better eye discipline, get better in coverage among other things, Napier said. While Williams said he is still working to improve, Napier has taken notice of the work he’s put in.
“He was an edge player that moved inside, there was a transition there, but man, he’s got all the traits you’re looking for and I’m really proud of him,” Napier said.
The redshirt sophomore linebacker was in coverage when he noticed the McNeese State quarterback trying to break out of the pocket and cut upfield. Hearing the roar of the crowd and having his teammates and coaches cheer him on made him feel satisfied with his efforts, he said.
“I was like, ‘I’ve gotta make this play. I can’t miss this tackle,’” Williams said. “It just meant a lot to me knowing how far I came.”
Williams’ chance to make an impact did not come immediately. He sat behind former Gators Ventrell Miller and Amari Burney on the depth chart in his first two seasons before finally earning the starting position for 2023.
He learned a lot from Burney and Miller, he said, and was grateful for their roles as leaders to the young players on the team. When Williams won the job he knew his work was far from over.
“‘Meant a lot to me, but it was like an ‘Okay, let’s go win,’” he said.
Williams finished the game with three total tackles including one tackle for loss along with his sack.
The Gators won the game against McNeese State 49-7 Saturday. Lyons contributed to the blowout with a safety. Lyons roared into the backfield and brought Cowboys running back D’Angelo Durham down in the endzone for the two points.
“Hearing the fans explode when I made that play,” Lyons said. “Just something I can’t even feel in my head and get over at all. I’m very excited just to make the play.”
Lyons’ path to playing on the defensive line took time after he suffered a shoulder injury in February of his senior year of high school. He tore a ligament and had to get surgery on it.
He came to UF out of shape and had to adjust to the conditioning at Florida, he said. He wasn’t used to the Gainesville weather and it made conditioning the most difficult part about working his way back from his injury.
Napier emphasized how Lyon’s started on the scout team when he first came to UF as he recovered from his injury, but he’s always been a talented player.
“He’s done a lot from the maturity and football intelligence. But ultimately he’s twitchy. He’s hard to block,” Napier said in a press conference Wednesday.
His goal on every play is to bring as much energy as possible, he said.
“Since I didn't really get to play a lot last year, I take every moment and just run with it,” Lyons said. “Every moment, every chance I get I just run with it.”
Lyons finished the game with three total tackles including his tackle for loss to cause the safety.
Both players are putting an emphasis on execution with their upcoming matchup against the No. 11 Tennessee Volunteers. They’ve been prepped for the rivalry game and are ready to take on the Volunteers’ vaunted offense.
The Gators will kick off against the Volunteers at 7 p.m. Saturday in the Swamp. The game will be broadcast on ESPN.
Jackson Reyes is a UF journalism senior and The Alligator's Fall 2023 Sports Editor. He previously served as Digital Managing Editor and was a reporter and assistant editor on the sports desk. In his free time, he enjoys collecting records, long walks on the beach and watching Bo Nix.