First-year head coach Billy Napier called it the “story of the spring” back in April following the Gators’ orange and blue game. Fifth-year junior Dante Zanders, who had entered camp as a defensive end, led the team in receiving yards (56) and held a share of the team lead with five receptions. That performance solidified him as an impact player on UF’s offense, but how exactly did this come to be?
Swamp247’s Jacob Rudner caught up with Zanders after the first week of fall practices and learned that the move was made out of necessity.
“My first thought about moving back to tight end, I was kind of nervous because I gained so much weight and I thought I lost all the agility that you need at the tight end position and to be able to run routes and everything,” Zanders said. “But also I’m a team guy so when coach Napier asked me like, ‘Hey, these guys are banged up and we need more tight ends in the room, is there any way you can help us?’ I just stepped up.”
Stepped up might be an understatement. Zanders has shown an understanding of the tight end position that only a former defensive end could have. He says his leg up on the competition is knowing what the defense is going to do more often than a pure offensive player might. That understanding should translate into plenty of playing time, especially if Florida runs the 12-personnel look that Napier utilized at Louisiana.
Zanders has grown comfortable running a two-tight-end scheme and can see the offense growing as a group. One relationship that’s blossomed in particular is the one between quarterback Anthony Richardson and Zanders. The first-year starting quarterback recalled a moment between the two after the first practice. He wasn’t sure what to make of Zanders’ switch, but the Boca Raton High alumnus assured Richardson that he had his back.
Since that moment, Zanders has been on the rise, and he now has a solid spot on the team for the upcoming season. Remember, six months ago he was thought to be a depth guy at best. And he was in the transfer portal looking for a new home a few months before that.
All it took was a meeting between Zanders and Napier for the two to put a little faith in each other, and that has paid off handsomely during the offseason. Let’s hope the in-season returns are just good.
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