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Five-Stars with an Asterisk: Lingard finding his stride at Florida

April 7, 2020
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Through two full recruiting cycles as head coach of the Florida Gators, Dan Mullen and his staff have signed just one composite five-star prospect from the high school ranks.

However, they’ve utilized the transfer portal perhaps more effectively than any other team in the country as they try to close the talent gap between themselves and the top teams in the country. They’ve landed three former five-stars in the past eight months via transfers: defensive end/linebacker Brenton Cox, running back Lorenzo Lingard and wide receiver Justin Shorter.

Obviously, they have the talent to succeed at Florida. You don’t get ranked as a five-star without possessing an elevated skill-set. However, it takes more than pure talent to compete with the nation’s elite, and each of the three players failed at their initial stop for various reasons.

Why were they ranked as five-stars to begin with? Why did they fail out at their first schools? Why might things be different for them at UF? Inside the Gators went on a mission to find those who know them best for the answers.

Up today is Lingard.

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Lingard worked out on Tuesday with four-star Leary. Find out what they talked about and what Florida's coaches are telling the four-star

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When Lorenzo Lingard visited University High School in Orange City recently, Offensive Coordinator Justin Roberts noticed a change in his former star pupil since he transferred from Miami to Florida in January.

“Since I’ve seen him back, it’s been the happiest I’ve seen him,” he said. “He kind of reminds me of his sophomore or junior year self in high school.”

In retrospect, the five-star running back in the Class of 2018 was probably never a good fit at Miami on or off the field.

After his true freshman campaign, head coach Mark Richt abruptly resigned. New head coach Manny Diaz opted to part ways with the entire offensive staff that recruited Lingard to the school.

Schematically, the Hurricanes ran a lot of longer-developing run plays that required the running backs to be patient and read the defense, Roberts said. He believes Lingard is at his best when he’s able to make one cut and get downhill quickly, which is a staple of Dan Mullen’s offense.

Roberts also thinks Lingard was under an intense amount of pressure at Miami. They were coming off their best season since the early 2000s, and their 2018 recruiting class was their best in several years. As the gem of the class, Lingard was expected to restore “The U” to its championship glory. That pressure might have negatively affected him.

Off the field, the Miami culture didn’t mesh well with his personality, Roberts said.

“He’s not a city type kid,” he said. “He’s not an extrovert, going out or anything like that. He’s much to himself. You put him in some woods or on a lake, and he’ll entertain himself for the whole day. So, I think [Florida’s] just a better fit from a whole town perspective.”

He chose Miami largely due to his relationship with Richt, said Brian Kells, his head coach at University High School. He liked UF too, but the Gators went 4-7 in 2017 and had an entirely new staff coming in.

“I think had the current staff been in place then, I think it probably would have been his first choice,” Kells said.

His Hurricanes career never left the ground. He played in three games in 2018 and carried the ball 17 times for 136 yards and two touchdowns before suffering a season-ending knee injury in October. The knee injury carried over to the start of the 2019 season and caused him to miss the first month of the season. He played on special teams in just two games and elected for a redshirt.

“I know he worked hard,” Kells said. “He won a bunch of the awards for them, the top-ranked back award for lifting and working out quite a bit in the offseason and different things like that. So, I’m not sure exactly why they didn’t really give him an opportunity to prove what he can do.”

Lingard entered the transfer portal in late December. He zeroed in on the Gators quickly and committed just a few days later.

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READ OUR ANONYMOUS PLAYER Q&A FOR THOUGHTS ON COX, LINGARD & MUCH MORE

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Several factors pointed him toward the Orange and Blue. First, his father is “pretty sick,” Kells said. Whereas some players embellish their personal struggles to tap into the NCAA’s sympathy and earn an immediate eligibility waiver, his dad’s health is very much a serious issue for him. Because Gainesville is only about two hours away from Orange City, he can visit his family more often, and they can come watch him play.

Second, he wanted a program that would give him the opportunity to play. With Lamical Perine gone and Dameon Pierce the only major contributor returning at the position, the door is wide open for him to earn playing time right away.

However, he wasn’t looking for any guarantees about his playing time or number of carries. He just wanted a team that would give him a chance. Florida proved to be the ideal fit in that regard.

“They play their running backs,” Kells said. “Not just one, but they move guys through. They give guys opportunities, and that’s really just what he’s really looking for is the opportunity to prove what he can do. He doesn’t want anything given to him. He just wants the opportunity, and I think that UF has proven with what they do offensively that they give guys opportunities.”

Lingard enrolled at UF in January and would’ve gone through spring practice if not for the coronavirus pandemic. He’ll need a waiver by the NCAA to play in 2020.

He is 100 percent healthy now, Roberts said, and is acclimating himself to his new coaches and teammates. He’s enjoyed being a Gator so far.

“What he’s told me already, it’s all of his teammates at Florida, they’re all about football,” he said. “They hang out together more than they did at Miami. They’re just much more of a team type atmosphere.”

He said the Gators can expect Lingard to be a contributor in whatever ways the coaches ask of him. When he was in high school, he started on the kickoff team and played defensive end late in games when they needed him to. The coaches often had to pull him out of the game to keep him from overworking himself.

“He was the model player,” Roberts said. “He was a great teammate, easily coachable. I think what made him special the most was his practice habits and his willingness just to be an all-around football player.

“I think, given the opportunity, he’s going to be a guy that’s going to contribute on their offense. He’ll be the first in line at every drill for kickoff, punt return, punt block, you name it.”

Kells first watched Lingard play when he was in the fifth or sixth grade as part of his regular evaluations of the local youth football leagues. He immediately stood out to Kells, who said it was like watching “a man amongst boys” when Lingard was in the eighth grade.

Lingard made the varsity team as a freshman and scored four touchdowns in his first game, Kells said. He amassed just under 1,000 rushing yards prior to week four.

He’s known as an extremely fast, explosive runner. He won a state championship in high school as a hurdler on the track team.

“He’s as fast as it gets,” Kells said. “I honestly have never had a guy run as fast as he runs.”

However, though he’s listed at just 200 pounds, Lingard is more physical than he appears, Roberts said.

“The thing with him is once he gets the ball, he wants to go hit somebody,” he said. “He wants to get downhill. He likes to run behind his shoulder pads.”

One of his biggest focuses this offseason is to increase his upper body strength, he said. Though he was only on campus for a couple of months before the players got locked out of the facilities, he’s already made a lot of progress.

“When he came back from Miami a few times, it didn’t look like he had developed like you would expect a Division 1 athlete to develop,” Roberts said. “He certainly looked the part going out of school, but we didn’t notice much change. I know the first time he came back after just a couple months at Florida … he even showed up at my house and surprised me one time, and it looked like he had put on 10-15 pounds of muscle.”

With the rough start to his college career behind him, Lingard will look to live up to his five-star billing with the Gators. If nothing else, he should at least have more fun trying.

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Five-Stars with an Asterisk: Lingard finding his stride at Florida

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