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As the Florida Gators approach the 2022 season under a new regime, the offensive line unit looks for a resurgence under Billy Napier and the two on-field offensive line coaches Rob Sale and Darnell Stapleton.
Austin Barber, Yousef Mugharbil, and Jake Slaughter look to add much-needed depth on the offensive line as the Gators return five linemen who started in 2021 as well as welcome the transfer additions of Kamryn Waites and O’Cyrus Torrence from Louisiana.
While Barber and Slaughter sat the bench and learned during their redshirt year, Mugharbil did not have that same luxury, even though most wouldn’t consider sitting the bench a luxury. On Aug. 30, 2021, Mugharbil suffered serious injuries following a scooter accident where he collided with a semi-truck, which forced him to miss the entire 2021 season.
According to Gary Thompson, Mugharbil’s high school offensive line coach, Mugharbil is lucky to be alive.
“It was an extreme injury,” he said. “Coach (Tim) Brewster called me the morning it happened and told me that he had been in a scooter accident and that all was fine. Well, that’s all Coach Brewster knew.”
Rather than sit on the bench during games, play on the scout team in practices and learn the playbook, Mugharbil’s focus during the 2021 season was spent on recovery with the strength and conditioning staff under Nick Savage.
“(Mugharbil) wasn’t really getting to participate in anything except with Coach Savage,” Thompson explained. “That really hurt him when Coach Savage was let go.”
After Dan Mullen and John Hevesy were fired, no one would have blamed Mugharbil for transferring, considering the tumultuous first year in Gainesville. In fact, other schools came calling about Mugharbil’s future at Florida, according to Thompson.
“I called Yousef up and said, ‘Hey, this is what your options are.’ He said, ‘Coach, I’m a Gator. As long as they treat me fair, I like it here.’”
Mugharbil had a similar experience with Florida in high school. According to Thompson, Hevesy and Brewster wanted Mugharbil to enroll early, but because his high school team was playing a shortened spring season due to COVID, Yousef decided stayed in school.
“I said, ‘Go (to Florida). You have my blessing,’” Thompson recalled. “He said, ‘Coach, my goals have not changed and that’s to win a state championship my senior year.’ He stayed and we did.”
As Mugharbil continues to regain his strength and catch back up, Thompson said Mugharbil’s goal is to make the travel team while providing depth on the line.
“There’s no doubt in my mind, that kid will recover and work to get better than where he was and he’ll do what it takes to be successful at the University of Florida,” he said.
For Barber, he was a Gator from day one, despite the coaching change and disappointing season.
“He wanted (Florida) to be the first offer,” Mark Barber, Austin’s father, said. “Things work in mysterious ways, and at the end of the day, he knew he wanted to play for the Gators.”
Additionally, Slaughter never mentioned transferring, according to Brian Lane, one of Slaughter’s offensive line coaches at Trinity Catholic High School.
“I’ve got a good relationship with Jake,” Lane said, “and I feel fairly confident that his ties are very deep to the University of Florida.”
As the three enter a new season under a new coach, one thing is clear, the culture of the program has shifted positively.
According to Mark Barber, the culture within the program has changed 100% with everyone buying in.
“There were a lot (of players) that weren’t bought in last year, and that was one of the issues,” he said.
Lane said Slaughter has similar thoughts, saying the culture is a lot different between the number of coaches on staff and the workouts they do.
When Napier was first hired, a key proponent he wanted for his coaching staff was two on-field offensive line coaches, something rarely found in the college football world. To reach that goal, Napier brought Darnell Stapleton with him from Louisiana and reunited with Rob Sale – hiring him from the New York Giants.
So far, the offensive linemen are adjusting well to this change, but it’s been quicker for some than others.
According to Lane, Trinity Catholic uses three offensive line coaches, one who coaches the front side, another who coaches the back side and a third who works all-around.
“So, he’s kind of been a product of that system since he was in high school. So, it shouldn’t be too much different for him,” Lane said of Slaughter.
Lane said that the new coaches have Jake as the second-string center behind Kingsley Eguakun.
However, according to Barber’s father, it took some time for Barber to warm up to the change, especially with Rob Sale.
“He favors a little bit of Stapleton, but I think he’s coming around with Rob Sale,” Mark Barber said. “At the end of the day, Rob Sale’s from the NFL, comes to Florida. The kids don’t really know him. I think now that he’s warming up to Austin, Austin’s warming up to him. I think everything’s going to work itself out.”
Barber is currently working as Richard Gouraige’s backup, but he could play both tackle spots as the swing guy based on who comes out, his father said.
“I think they’ve talked about his run blocking real well,” Mark Barber added. “I think (Austin) said he needs to work a little bit on his footwork in the passing game. Other than that, they think he’s doing pretty well.”
In Mugharbil’s case, he’s working well with the new coaches, mainly Coach Sale, according to Thompson.
“He says he’s a typical coach,” Thompson said. “He’s really thrilled with the coaches and what he’s seen of them.”
The new coaches moved Mugharbil from right guard to left guard, where he is currently working with the third team, mostly due to the long-term recovery from the scooter accident.
Thompson said that Mugharbil told him that he’s catching up quickly and can play with either the first or second team.
With the 2022 season just over the horizon and each player set in their role on the team, all three have specific goals for their second season in the Orange and Blue. Mostly, this upcoming season brings the chance for the three to shine and show their personalities in their play.
“(Mugharbil)’s goal is to win a national championship with Florida,” Thompson said. “I don’t doubt that kid and his work ethic, and he’s a nasty, nasty football player.”
Barber said his son’s specific goal is to stay healthy heading into fall camp while competing for a spot on either side of the line.
“He’s been patient,” Barber said. “He wants to start. I think that’s what every kid wants to do. I think he’ll do well this year.”
Despite Slaughter primarily focusing on center, Lane said Slaughter’s versatility on the line gives him a great opportunity, describing him as rare talent due to his ability to play all five positions.
“He wants to be the best team player he can be and do what’s needed for the team,” Lane said. “I don’t think he’s out there to get any personal accolades or anything… He’s a dog, man. He’s a fighter. He’s going to give everything he’s got.”