Redshirt freshman tight end Wilcox Gage suffered a “potentially career-ending injury” during one of Florida’s early spring practices, Florida head coach Billy Napier Thursday announced after the team’s first spring scrimmage.
Wilcox was not observed practice at each of Florida’s last four sessions, though it is not clear when he got hurt or what happened.
“Very unfortunate for Gage, but certainly while he was here with us he did a fantastic job,” Napier said. “Tough, but part of the game.”
A former four-star prospect on the 247Sports Composite, Wilcox appeared in two games as a true freshman last year and did not catch a pass.
With Wilcox out, Florida’s tight ends room is tremendously thin.
Redshirt freshman tight end Nick Elksnis and sophomore tight end Jonathan Odom will miss the remainder of the Gators’ spring practices due to a broken scapula and torn labrum, respectively.
To supplement their depth at the position, the Gators moved senior defensive end Dante Zanders to tight end on Thursday and have also utilized walk-on junior linebacker Noah Keeter there throughout the spring. Defensive tackle Griffin McDowell has also worked with the unit and caught a pass during the scrimmage on Thursday as did one of the team’s long snappers.
Napier said Zanders has “been a godsend” since moving over to the tight ends room.
“Dante Zanders has moved from defensive line to tight end and has really done well,” Napier said. “There’s no question in my mind that, not only is he going to be able to play, but he’s going to be able to do his job.”
The move is not totally unfamiliar for Zanders or Keeter. Zanders, a former three-star prospect out of Baco Raton (Fla.) High School was initially recruited as a tight end and played the position in two games as a true freshman in 2018 and 13 games as a redshirt freshman a year later. Zanders made the switch to defensive end in 2020 and has remained there since.
On Nov. 29, 2021, Zanders became the first Florida player to enter the NCAA transfer portal after head coach Billy Napier was hired but thing to withdraw his name in early January. Entering spring, he was expected to provide depth along the Gators’ defensive line where he’s recorded 11 tackles, 0.5 tackles for a loss and 0.5 sacks over the last two seasons.
Keeter, a 6-foot-5, 214-pounder from Bucholz High School in Gainesville, was a member of UCLA’s football team in 2019 where he worked as a defensive end. A three-star prospect on the 247Sports Composite, Keeter was a two-way player at the prep level, spending time on the defensive line and as a tight end. He has not played in three seasons at the college level.
Zipperer is the only scholarship tight end on Florida’s roster who is still practicing. The senior from Lakeland, Florida, saw action in all 13 of the Gators’ games last year and caught 11 passes for 133 yards. In three seasons at Florida, Zipperer has appeared in 33 games and recorded 25 catches for 309 yards and three touchdowns.
Florida is expected to pursue at least one tight end in the NCAA transfer portal over the offseason with just three scholarship tight ends currently on the roster and three set to join the team as true freshmen over the summer.
“We’re thin,” Napier said. “When you have three guys that get injured at a position that was already thin, it throws a little wrench in your plan.”