FLORIDA FOOTBALL & RECRUITING COVERAGE
- Where are they Now: From Florida O&B to Army Green
- Florida Football 3-2-1: A closer look at the schedule
- Terrific 10 Targets Part I
- ITG Mock Signing Class 6.0
- Today's Take: Mullen has a history of doing more with less
Some of the ways COVID-19 has impacted college football are highly visible and quantifiable. The Big Ten and Pac 12 conferences have postponed their seasons to the spring, if they even happen at all. The SEC, ACC and Big 12 have thrown together conference-only schedules at the last minute. Spring practices were canceled, and voluntary summer workouts took place in socially distanced outdoor settings instead of cramped weight rooms.
However, not to be overlooked is the damage the pandemic has caused to individual players’ careers. Take, for example, former Florida walk-on quarterback Nick Sproles.
Sproles served as the Gators’ scout team quarterback the past few seasons and served as the third-string option late in the 2018 season. He graduated from UF in May with one season of eligibility remaining and no desire to pay for graduate school. So, he searched for a program that would offer him a scholarship and give him a chance to play. He committed to Southwestern Oklahoma State, a Division 2 school, in March.
The Great American Conference, Southwestern Oklahoma State’s conference, recently announced that it will not play sports in the fall, leaving Sproles’ future in doubt. The league currently plans to play in the spring, but that’s far from a given in this volatile world. If the season is canceled altogether, will Sproles be given an extra season of eligibility to play in the fall of 2021, or will he just be out of luck?
“When my conference just got canceled and Florida’s looking like they’re going to go as of right now, it’s definitely tough looking back and seeing that,” Sproles said.
Sproles didn’t draw much attention from scouts at Winter Park High School. Some FCS and Division 3 schools that don’t offer scholarships showed interest in him, but he received no scholarship offers. The coaching staff at Florida guaranteed him a spot on the team as long as he got accepted into the university on his own. He joined the team prior to the 2016 season and enjoyed his four years as a Gator.
“It was unbelievable,” he said. “I was with two staffs, and we had a great quarterback room. I ran a lot of scout team quarterback and got to travel for some big games and kind of be like an emergency quarterback. I loved my time there.”
While the walk-on experience is markedly different from that of a scholarship player because of the difference in playing time, financial assistance, and fanfare, Sproles said he never felt like an outsider.
“I feel like the coaches treat you pretty much the same respect-wise,” he said. “Reps and everything like that’s obviously going to be different, but in the locker room, I feel like it’s pretty similar. People aren’t being treated differently.”
Sproles had a front-row seat to one of the greatest turnarounds in school history, from the 4-7 debacle of 2017 to the back-to-back 10-win seasons of 2018-19. He said the biggest changes he noticed were the program’s culture and the chemistry in the locker room.
“I just feel like we were closer as a team, just hanging out with each other, doing different stuff,” he said. “I think the culture’s definitely the thing that changed the most.”
From a quarterbacking standpoint, he said the biggest change between coaching staffs is the increased emphasis on eye placement and the mental aspect of the position. He feels that he learned a great deal about how to read defenses and where to look on different plays.
Sproles believes the Florida program is on an upward trajectory, and he thinks big things are in store for Kyle Trask if he gets the opportunity to play in 2020.
“He’s really accurate, and he’s a good decision-maker,” he said. “He knows where to go with the ball. He’s not going to be slow about it. He’s going to throw the ball when he sees it, and he’s pretty decisive.”
Three memories stand out the most to Sproles when he thinks back on his Gator career: the win over Auburn on homecoming in 2019 and his touchdown passes in the 2018 and 2019 spring games, the latter of which he threw to Gator Great, a former walk-on himself, Chris Doering.
When Sproles entered the transfer portal in November, he initially wanted to play at the FCS level. He got some interest, but several factors prevented that from happening. First, as a scout-team quarterback, he didn’t have anywhere near as much film as other transfer candidates. Second, most of the programs he talked to wanted him to be there in time for spring ball, but he didn’t graduate from UF until May. Finally, he doesn’t think he handled the recruiting process as well as he could have. So, he ended up at Southwestern Oklahoma State.
“I feel like you have to entertain every school that contacts you, and I kind of thought I was going to go bigger, so I would kind of blow off some schools and didn’t handle it completely the right way,” he said. “Once, I had a bunch of schools talking to me, and then I was blowing off the smaller schools, and then they stopped talking to me, then I was left with not many options.”
Like many college football players around the country, Sproles faces an unenviable situation. Through no fault of his own, all he can do is wait and hope that he gets the chance to play the game again while his former team gets ready to start fall practices.