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No surprise: Florida names Wisconsin transfer Graham Mertz its starting QB for opener at Utah

No surprise: Florida names Wisconsin transfer Graham Mertz its starting QB for opener at Utah


GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Wisconsin transfer Graham Mertz will be Florida’s starting quarterback when the Gators open the season at Utah later this month.

Coach Billy Napier made the announcement Friday, a day after the team’s first scrimmage of training camp.

“We’ve seen enough,” Napier said before making his decision public. “The big thing I’ve been impressed with is just his ability to come in and learn the system, translate what he knows and apply that to our system.

“And then just relentless in approach. He’s probably worked as hard as any player on our team, probably as hard as a lot of players that I’ve been around in terms of the unseen hours.”

Napier’s decision was hardly a surprise considering Mertz transferred to Florida under the guise that he would be the starter after the Gators lost Anthony Richardson to the NFL draft, released incoming freshman Jaden Rashada from his scholarship following a failed name, image and likeness deal, and kicked Jalen Kitna off the team days after his arrest.

A fourth-year junior who started 32 games across four seasons with the Badgers, Mertz officially beat out Ohio State transfer Jack Miller for the high-profile job in Gainesville. It’s a position that’s produced three Heisman Trophy winners: Steve Spurrier (1966), Danny Wuerffel (1996) and Tim Tebow (2007), as well as Rex Grossman, Kyle Trask and Richardson.

External expectations for Mertz are relatively low compared to the norm in Gainesville. He has 5,405 career yards passing, with 38 touchdowns and 26 interceptions, and is widely considered a one-year placeholder while blue-chip QB commitment DJ Lagway finishes high school. Lagway, a 6-foot-2 Texan, is expected to enroll in January 2024 and be a plug-and-play starter for Napier and the Gators.

In the meantime, they’ll turn to Mertz in hopes he can help Florida avoid a third consecutive losing season. The Gators believe Mertz’s accuracy, experience and decision-making ability could offset what he lacks in athleticism and arm talent.

Mertz completed 18 of 29 passes for 244 yards and a touchdown in the team’s spring game in April. He also was “sacked” five times in the controlled scrimmage, and his lack of arm strength was evident with every deep throw.

He’s essentially a short-term solution for a rebuilding program that lost six scholarship quarterbacks — and one potential NFL star — in the past 12 months.

In addition to Richardson, Rashada and Kitna leaving, Emory Jones (Arizona State) and Carlos Del Rio-Wilson (Syracuse) transferred last year, and the Gators withdrew a scholarship offer to four-star commitment Marcus Stokes (West Florida) in November after video emerged of him singing lyrics that contained a racial slur.

Napier hit the transfer portal to find help and landed Mertz, who has been lauded for his work ethic since arriving on campus in January.

“Graham’s done a great job and he’s worked from the minute he pulled up in the parking lot until just a while ago,” Napier said. “He’s continued to work to improve, so been very pleased in that regard. The level of professionalism here that I think is respected.”

NOTEWORTHY: Napier said edge rusher Justus Boone tore a knee ligament and will miss the season. Boone injured his knee while celebrating a defensive play in Thursday’s scrimmage. “This is a big deal,” Napier said. “This is one of our guys. He’s what a University of Florida football player should be. Ton of respect for him as a person and a teammate.”

TOP PHOTO: Former Wisconsin quarterback Graham Mertz talks to reporters during an NCAA college football news conference at the Big Ten Conference media days, at Lucas Oil Stadium, Wednesday, July 27, 2022, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

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