Early Entree Review: Westphal remains focused despite coaching change

Westphal adjusting well to college life

by Alyssa Britton-Harr
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Florida freshman offensive lineman Fletcher Westphal joined the Gators football team in January as an early enrollee. In his first six months, he has worked closely with the coaching staff and strength and conditioning coaches to help prepare his mind and body for his first collegiate season.

“I would say it’s been a season of growth,” his mother Libby Westphal said of the offseason to date. “He hasn’t been used to the rigor of their lifting, but he has quickly adapted. They are very systematic in how they approach things and ensure that he is constantly growing and increasing weight along with the injury prevention built in.”

Westphal attended Leesburg (Va.) Tuscarora for high school before he landed a spot on the Gators’ roster. Fletcher’s training philosophies with his old strength and conditioning coach parallel strongly with what he was placed into at Florida, Westphal said.

While Fletcher is used to a strict mentality of training, the way things are executed has changed a bit since he joined the Gators. One of his biggest adjustments was learning the playbook and adapting to the pace of the game.

“In high school, you learn the technique, but when you go on the field, it’s not delivered as clean,” Westphal said. “In this next level of play, I think that there has been a learning curve with not using your size to overpower people; it’s more about the technique and being consistent.”

Fletcher was fortunate enough to receive plenty of reps in high school, averaging 100 plays a game, Westphal said. Therefore, he has more endurance built up than most players, but the size of the guys has increased, requiring him to use more power and build strength.

“He has lost weight as far as numbers on the scale,” Westphal said. “He has gained more weight in the form of muscle mass with an increase of six percent and is on track with the numbers in the weight room.”

The annual Orange and Blue game was a true testament for the younger players to showcase their skills for the first time in the swamp. The team had three months to prepare for the game in April while working on improvements in the offseason.

“I think [the spring game] was an opportunity of growth for him,” Westphal said. “As far as the depth chart goes, he was number three or four, and with a few injuries that took guys out, he moved to a two. In the blink of an eye, he had no transition; he became the backup.”

Fletcher started on the Orange team with a list of the usual starters. As an early enrollee, he was gifted with the ability to obtain a head start, unlike players who begin their training in the summer. He was able to learn how fast they play being thrown into the fire and get a sense of what the competition is going to be like, Westphal said. He excelled in his skill set, and Napier said the same thing.

“Fletcher was awarded Touchdown Club Virginia player of the year,” Westphal said. I asked him if his teammates knew, and he said it doesn’t matter because I am on a team of them; everyone on my team is first class players.”

At the next level, where the competition stakes are high, and everyone gives 110 percent daily, the rigor and standards are held at a higher stake.

Fletcher has proven that he has a vital football IQ, and he learns the techniques and plays fast, contributing to his strong points when on the field. An understatement for many players of the game is knowing all aspects of the field; this knowledge allows certain players to stand out as they enhance their situational awareness of the field. However, Fletcher could improve his pass protection and technique on the field, Westphal said.

“Fletcher was recruited by Coach [Darnell] Stapelton, who ended up leaving and was replaced with new offensive line coach Jonathan Decoaster, but that was never a huge worry for him, “Westphal said. “There was a little bit of an adjustment here, but it’s honestly been seamless. He knew that if coaches left with the team being in the caliber it is, you’re going to get in other great coaches as the expectation.”

A big part of coaching is matching coaches with players who can bring a team together to win games, Westphal said.

Like many freshmen, adapting to college and living on your own can be a daunting experience, but playing a D1 sport on top of that is a huge learning curve.

“I always say it’s not just going to college,” Westphal said. “He moved to a new state, he lives alone, he has new teammates, and is learning a new town where to go grocery shopping, so you have to learn a lot fast.”

When I spoke to Fletcher back in December for Inside the Gators, Getting to Know series, he shared that one of his favorite hobbies is to cook. Cooking has been his saving grace. If he needs a little extra for food or something different, he knows he can actually cook it himself, Westphal said. He has shared some of his favorite recipes and meals with his teammates, which has helped him make new friends.

“I hear him talk about other players like DJ Lagway and Mike Williams, since he is in his position group and is from the DC area where he moved from, “Westphal said. “[Walk-on] Chase Stevens is up there too because they have a common bond with food and cooking.”

However, as a freshman Fletcher has received guidance from the upperclassmen, especially Austin Barber, whom he was paired with during his official visit. Even during the spring practices, some upperclassmen stepped aside to tell us that he is doing great, Westphal said.

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