After all the world expected him to transfer from Florida after starting for the Gators in their Gasparilla Bowl loss to UCF last December, quarterback Emory Jones did not do that, staying in Gainesville long enough to at least take part in spring practices after the Gators opened them under new head coach Billy Napier earlier this week.
But while Jones returning became a leading story of these practices, it won’t remain one, seemingly: ESPN’s Pete Thamel reports that Jones informed Florida coaches he will enter the transfer portal on Friday, likely meaning that he has taken his last snaps as a Gator, in practice or otherwise.
Jones was expected by many — myself included — to transfer from Florida after last fall’s uneven campaign, in which he set school records in a pass-happy game against Samford, led Florida in rushing with 758 yards on the ground, and helped the Gators nearly upset Alabama in September, but also threw as many interceptions as touchdowns in games not against Samford and was repeatedly upstaged by fine performances from redshirt freshman Anthony Richardson, who seemed to take Florida’s starting job from Jones at multiple junctures late in the season.
That he stayed in Gainesville even for a taste of practices under Napier despite Richardson also sticking around as the likely fan favorite for the QB1 role and Florida bringing in Ohio State transfer Jack Miller to compete for the top spot is a testament to something that proved true about Jones throughout his Florida career: Despite having to wait years to play and enduring plenty of criticism about his play, he treated the opportunity of playing quarterback for the Florida Gators as a sacred one worth waiting and working for. For that, he should be saluted and remembered fondly, even if his performances were often subpar.
But Jones spending a week in spring practices and deciding that his best route forward takes him out of Gainesville is also probably smart, as his chances of both winning a quarterback competition and then subsequently starring for Florida under Napier appeared quite small to most. Richardson — who has recovered from offseason knee surgery to the point that he has been practicing without a knee brace this week — is presumed widely to have pole position for any QB derby happening in Gainesville, and Jones is close enough to having his Florida degree that he should be able to have immediate eligibility as a graduate transfer at any school he might select after entering the portal.
Florida losing Jones is a hit to its quarterback depth, certainly, but the Gators might well hold their doors open for incoming grad transfers later this spring. And while Jones would have obviously been by far the signal-caller with the most experience on a Florida team that had continued under Dan Mullen, Napier installing his own system nulls much of that experience — something all intimately involved with this decision surely knew.
Jones heading out of Gainesville without the success he wanted — and that most Florida fans wanted for him — is a sad story about how expectations go unmet more often than not in college football. But he can leave with his head high — and enough fans recognizing that he should, too, would make the story one with a happy ending of sorts.