The Florida Gators’ quarterback rotation got a big boost Saturday.
The UF coaching staff may have solved a depth problem for the upcoming season when it landed a commitment from 23-year-old baseball pitcher Chris Wilkes.
The Gators had a lot of visitors for the annual Orange & Blue Debut spring scrimmage Saturday.
Wilkes, however, sat off to the side, somewhat unnoticed by those around him. The former Orlando Dr. Phillips quarterback was checking out the scene, sizing up the Gators’ quarterbacks situation as he sat with his brother, Jeff, in the stands at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.
That's where Chris Wilkes plans to play in the fall.
Former Dr. Phillips coach Kevin Pettis, who is now at Sebastian River, knew the visit went well when he received a text message from Wilkes at about 3:45 p.m. reading, “I'm a Gator.”
After leaving UF's campus, Wilkes himself sent a text message to the Sentinel confirming, “Yeah, I'm a Gator.”
Freshly released — by request — from his contract with Major League baseball’s San Diego Padres and its Double-A club the San Antonio Missions, Wilkes is returning to football. He graduated from Dr. Phillips in 2008. The 6-foot-4, 225-pounder signed with Ole Miss out of high school, but he chose to pursue a baseball career after being drafted the 675th player taken in the 22nd round of the Amateur Baseball Draft.
Wilkes, who will turn 24 years old in September, told UF coach Will Muschamp his intentions Saturday. Given his former professional status, he will have to be a walk-on player at UF.
“I got my release from San Diego like two weeks ago,” Wilkes said earlier on Saturday. “I’ll enroll this summer wherever I finally choose to go.”
Then he chose Florida.
Others before him have taken similar routes from baseball back to football, including former Florida State quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner Chris Weinke and current NFL and former Oklahoma State quarterback Brandon Weeden.
Wilkes got his baseball career off to a strong start in 2008, going 7-1 with 45 strikeouts in 61.2 innings for the Padres rookie league team in Arizona. After that, however, he began to struggle and lost some confidence when he was rushed a little too quickly into single A ball in Eugene.
He bounced around a bit in the minors and had some injuries, before finally deciding to give football another try.
As a senior at Dr. Phillips during the 2007 season, Wilkes passed for more than 1,600 yards and 16 touchdowns.
His commitment comes at a time when UF is searching for strong backup quarterback options behind starter Jeff Driskel. Last year's back-up quarterback, Jacoby Brissett, has transferred to NC State, leaving UF with either Tyler Murphy, a redshort junior, or senior Trey Burton, who is actually listed as a running back, as the back-ups. Burton, of course, has played numerous roles as a Gator.
Other roster QBs are redshirt freshman Skylar Mornhinweg, and two walk-ons in redshirt freshman Jacob Guy of Dade City Pasco and redshirt sophomore Ryan McGriff of Gainesville.
Florida also has highly touted incoming freshman Max Staver, a 6-foot-5, 235-pounder out of Brentwood (Tenn.) Academy, entering as part of the 2013 recruiting class.
As news got out about Wilkes’ commitment on Saturday, he acknowledged that his phone was already buzzing.
“It's alright,” he texted when asked how it felt to once again be in the news as a recruited football player. “It feels good again.”
As a DP senior he also had offers from Arizona State, Georgia Tech, Colorado, Nebraska, Southern Miss and Tulane, according to his Rivals.com profile.
Chris Hays is the Sentinel's recruiting coverage coordinator and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Twitter at @Os_Recruiting and Facebook at Orlando Sentinel Recruiting and now on Pinterest at Orlando Recruiting.
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