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Gators excited about addition of Zaire to quarterback room

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Notre Dame graduate transfer quarterback Malik Zaire (USA Today Sports Images)

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One of the biggest storylines of the offseason has been the addition of Notre Dame graduate transfer Malik Zaire to Florida’s quarterback room, so Gators head coach Jim McElwain was surely going to be asked about his new signal-caller Tuesday at SEC Media Days in Hoover, Alabama.

Throughout his time talking to reporters – his first media availability since Zaire officially enrolled at UF in late June - he discussed what went into the decision to add another quarterback to the group. He noted that Zaire didn't join the Gators to simply "hold a clipboard."

“It's one of those situations where it doesn't matter the position group. We're always looking to add to everything that we do and create competition,” McElwain said.

“And ultimately it doesn't matter what the profession you're in, but true competition is something that really breeds excellence. And I'm excited about having him in there. We're now up to finally our number in the scholarship count that we want to be in the quarterback room. We've got some real options there. And that's a good thing.

"And yet, you know, he's a guy that can light up the room with his smile. He's excited to be there and excited to compete, and we're looking forward to seeing what happens this fall.”

When gathering information about Zaire during his transfer progress, McElwain said he “heard nothing but great things about him.”

“In fact, part of his letter of recommendation to our graduate school is actually from the president of Notre Dame,” McElwain said. “That should tell you something about the kid.”

Florida had to wait for the SEC to alter its graduate transfer policy at its spring meetings to be able to add Zaire in June, after 2015 graduate transfers Anthony Harrell and Mason Halter did not meet their academic requirements while at UF.

Now that all of the hurdles are cleared, Zaire joins a quarterback room that already features redshirt freshmen Feleipe Franks and Kyle Trask, redshirt junior Luke Del Rio, and freshmen Jake Allen and Kadarius Toney. Franks exited the spring as the leader in the clubhouse, while Del Rio is back to throwing after missing the spring with a shoulder injury.

The big question now is which one of those aforementioned signal-callers will start under center when Florida squares off against Michigan on Sept. 2 in Arlington, Texas. That’s something McElwain is not ready to answer just yet.

Although it was reported in Hoover that McElwain said he knew who his starting quarterback was going to be, that’s something he later claimed was misreported.

“Yeah, I don't know how that came out. Who knows. I know we will start a quarterback, I guess,” McElwain quipped. “I figured out a lot of stuff at the lake place in Montana. Starting quarterback wasn't one of them, Mike. All right?”

Many wonder how the 6-foot, 225-pound Zaire will fit into Florida’s pro-style system. He’s earned the reputation of being a “dual-threat” quarterback, something McElwain shrugged off Tuesday.

“He can throw from the pocket,” McElwain said. “That’s interesting. Dual-threat … I just know the whole dual threat, pocket threat, whatever threat, I just know I like that position to be a threat in whatever they can do. We’ve been fortunate to be around some of those guys in the past and we’ll adapt to what they do best as well.”

Regardless, so far plenty of Gators, including redshirt senior Marcell Harris, have been impressed with what they’ve seen from Zaire in less than a month of offseason workouts.

“We’ve accepted him with open arms,” Harris said. “He’s getting to know his players on the offensive side of the ball, because you have to have trust as a quarterback. You can already tell that he’s a leader, being a fifth-year guy coming in as a senior. You can tell that he’s a leader. But he definitely presents a lot of different options for an offense, as he can run the ball or he can throw the ball.

“So you have to be on all cylinders at all times, and that’s going to be scary for a lot of teams we’re going to play.”

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