Updated: Dec 4, 2020
Kyle Pitts officially announced his return to the gridiron with a dominating performance against the Kentucky Wildcats on Saturday, and what a return it was. 5 receptions, 99 yards and 3 touchdowns.
In view of this and a nearly complete regular season, now seemed as opportune a time as any to take stock of the Gators’ tight end room. With sophomore Dante Lang shifting from tight end to defensive line entering this season, the Gators were left with four scholarship players at the position. The talented quartet led by tight ends coach Tim Brewster consists of freshman Jonathan Odom, sophomore Keon Zipperer, redshirt junior Kemore Gamble, and the Kyle Pitts.
Jonathan Odom, the youngest and most modestly ranked player of the group coming out of high school, is waiting for his time to shine. It is true that the Tampa native was ranked* 32nd at his position and 769 overall. But, programs like Alabama and LSU hot on his tail prior to the Florida commitments shows that coaches sometimes view prospects with a different lens than recruiting services do. His impressive measurables** -- 6-foot-5 and 238 pounds -- give him a nice leg up in the development stage behind his veteran teammates at the position. Being a true freshman, Odom has not yet had an opportunity to record any statistics. However, he has made some positive noise off the field due to carrying on the Gators legacy his father, former Florida OL Jason Odom, began and more recently, Odom teased Florida's wearing of white helmets versus Vanderbilt on his Instagram account.
Next up is the highest-rated player of the bunch coming out of Lakeland High School: sophomore Keon Zipperer. Checking in* at 104 overall and 2nd among tight ends in his class, Zipperer was the marquis piece of the vaunted new wave of Lakeland “Gatornaughts” that catapulted Mullen’s 2019 recruiting class into the top 10.
Fortunately for Florida fans, the 6-foot-2, 240-pound** tight end has lived up to the billing in the limited minutes he has received across six games. His nine receptions have resulted in 131 yards and led to three touchdowns, but it is crucial to note that his best showing came against the Arkansas Razorbacks earlier this season. The discussion throughout the week, besides Feleipe Franks’ return, was if Mullen’s offense would keep its high-octane reputation while Pitts was out with a nasal injury. Indeed, it did. Zipperer posted career highs in catches (3), yards (47), and touchdowns (2) as he showed he could be counted on when called upon. Zipperer's elite blocking abilities have also led to his teammates making explosive plays and scoring touchdowns.
The most veteran player of the bunch, Kemore Gamble, has often been used more like a traditional tight end. Standing at** 6-4 and 248 pounds, the redshirt junior out of Miami brought his own level of excitement as an important piece of the 2017 recruiting class. In what would become former head coach Jim McElwain’s final class, the Gators landed* a top 300 player who was tabbed as the 7th best at his position and the best tight end in Florida.
Much in the same way that Zipperer saw his role expand with Pitts’ two and a half game absence,
Gamble made the most of his extra touches as well. Mere minutes after Pitts had sustained the injurious hit from Georgia safety Lewis Cine, Gamble did not miss a beat of Pitts' production. Wide open on a wheel route, he caught a 24-yard touchdown and gave Florida its first lead of the game. He then had his breakout game one week after Zipperer recorded his. Hauling in a pair of touchdown catches against Vanderbilt, Gamble also logged career highs in receptions (3 – tied for the most), yards (66), and touchdowns (2). He has totaled eight catches for 142 yards, plus three touchdowns so far this season. As previously alluded to, his blocking in games such as Georgia this year has been worthy of praise as well. In the age of the modern tight end, it can often be easy to overlook blocking when teams have imposing, athletic bodies at the position. Such players, i.e. Gamble and Zipperer, are certainly still needed.
Kyle Pitts has been every bit the star he was projected to be in the preseason, amassing 513 yards on 29 receptions and catching 11 of his 17 career touchdowns through 5-and-a-half games this season. His 17.69 yards per catch ranks second among SEC tight ends, and Pitts leads everyone at his position in receiving touchdowns.
It's not like nobody could have seen it coming, though. He was a highly anticipated jewel in Coach Mullen’s inaugural class, ranking* 162 overall, 5th at his position and the 2nd best tight end in the state of Pennsylvania. The 6-6, 246-pound** Pitts did not officially announce himself to the college football world, however, until Florida’s thrilling 42-28 loss to eventual national champion LSU in 2019, hauling in five receptions for 108 yards. Pitts was instrumental in giving the Bayou Bengals everything they could handle in Death Valley, even prompting Ed Orgeron to tell his defense to "Stop 84." Since then, the talented junior has used his superior catch radius to manufacture completions off diving catches (LSU, 2019), while being double covered (Ole Miss, 2020), and man coverage in the endzone (Georgia, 2020). With his accomplished Gators career likely nearing its end, most mock drafts have the tight end going in the first round of the NFL Draft and envisioning him in a Rob Gronkowski or Travis Kelce type role.
With Tennessee losing key players such as linebacker Kivon Bennett to dismissal, Pitts and Co. will look to aid Kyle Trask in clinching the East against a fading Volunteers squad in Knoxville this Saturday.
* All recruiting rankings are taken from the 247Sports Composite rankings.
** The heights and weights of all players were taken from floridagators.com.
Photo Credit: Jordan Herald/@JordanHerald5/UF Football
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