Moral Stephens’ mom had always told him to be patient and wait for his time to come.
He needed to have patience sitting on the sideline watching the Florida football team struggle, helpless to make an impact because he wasn’t given the chance to. He needed to have patience for a coaching staff seemingly passing Stephens by with every new recruit that came in every year.
The patience for when his time finally does come and he can show his athleticism.
“Yeah it can get frustrating but I stayed patient,” Stephens said. “Stayed patient and I believe in God so I just stayed and had faith, faith in God.”
Stephens, a redshirt senior tight end, has been on the team since 2014, but hasn’t seen the field much outside of special teams.
That praying, and patience, has been answered. He now has a more prominent role under first-year Florida coach Dan Mullen, a position Stephens has been waiting on for nearly four years.
“I think one of the things is, when I got here, he was just underdeveloped,” Mullen said. “I looked at his numbers, his testing numbers in the weight room and I’m like, ‘What have you done for the last couple of years?’”
Underdeveloped is an understatement.
Stephens said the previous strength and conditioning program focused heavily on cardio, not so much on strength. He was in great shape, but wasn’t building any muscle to show for it.
Stephens wasn’t just underdeveloped, he was undersized.
That all changed when Mullen and strength and conditioning coach Nick Savage implemented a new system that focused on both cardio and strength. Stephens got bigger and built a body perfect for his position. He went from 251 pounds last year to 247 and bulked up in muscle mass.
“And (I’ve) seen better improvements, faster improvements like with my body and stuff,” Stephens said. “Then as far as with Coach Mullen, I feel like as soon as he got here, he noticed my talent and he put me in positions to make plays for the team.”
Stephens already has six catches for 76 yards and three touchdowns through six games and is on pace to break his career high in receiving yards.
He used to only come into games as a reserve tight end and on special teams. Under Mullen’s regime, however, Stephens has been more involved in Florida’s scoring efforts.
One of those came against Mississippi State on Sept. 29. Teammate Kadarius Toney caught a lateral from quarterback Feleipe Franks in the third quarter. Toney, who usually takes off downfield with the ball, instead threw to Stephens in the end zone for a 20-yard touchdown. The score gave the Gators the lead and ultimately won them the game.
Stephens also had touchdowns against Kentucky and, most recently, LSU.
He is producing in his final year, enough so that Mullen said he wished he had the redshirt senior for at least another season.
“It’s a tragedy that we don’t have him for longer, where he can get a real offseason to let his body develop,” Mullen said. “He might have a future even beyond this year if he decides to work at it.”
Stephens has only one more year left, and so far he is making the most of it. When asked if he wished he could stay another year or so, he expressed how good Mullen’s system is.
“Man if I could stay three or four years in this offense, ain’t no telling what could happen for me,” Stephens said with a chuckle. “It could be something really, really special.”
Follow Jake Dreilinger on Twitter @DreilingerJake or contact him at [email protected].