Florida coach Dan Mullen is navigating a few last-minute roster tweaks before the season opener. One of them could be huge for the Gators this fall.
Mullen kicked defensive back John Huggins off the team Saturday for “not living up to what we expect” and had backup offensive lineman Noah Banks announce his retirement the following day after another epileptic episode. Those departures could affect Florida’s depth in 2019, but the surprising addition of highly touted linebacker Brenton Cox might make a bigger — and more immediate — splash.
Cox left Georgia last week, entered the NCAA transfer portal and landed in Gainesville a few days later.
Mullen said Monday the school is petitioning the NCAA and the Southeastern Conference for a waiver that would allow Cox to play right away and not have to sit out a year under transfer rules.
“We feel good about it,” Mullen said. “You look at all the previous scenarios that are out there around the country, we feel we have a good opportunity.”
A 6-foot-4, 247-pound sophomore from Stockbridge, Georgia, Cox played in 13 games last season and finished with 20 tackles. He had a career-high six tackles in Georgia’s 28-21 loss to Texas in the Sugar Bowl while playing in place of injured standout D’Andre Walker.
“He knew a lot of the guys on the team, understood defensively he was a great fit for the scheme we run on defense, the positional fit,” Mullen said. “He’s not going real far from home. His mom can come watch him play still and be close to home.”
The Gators open the season Aug. 24 against in-state rival Miami in Orlando. Even if Cox gets a waiver, he would be a long shot to play against the Hurricanes.
Huggins and Banks definitely won’t be available.
Huggins missed the first two weeks of preseason camp while dealing with what the Gators called a “family issue.” Huggins also was suspended several games last season after a 19-year-old University of Florida student accused him of choking her during a tutoring session.
The woman did not pursue a criminal case, and no charges were filed from the battery complaint. Mullen said Huggins’ most recent absence had nothing to do with the alleged incident in October.
“It was evolving,” Mullen said. “There were things we were looking at him having to do. It was a constant process.”
Huggins was one of five men in Mullen’s program — quarterback Jalon Jones, defensive back Brian Edwards, assistant director of player personnel Otis Yelverton and athlete Justin Watkins — to be named in incidents involving violence against women during the past 13 months.
None of the five remains with the team.
“I’m comfortable with me and I’m comfortable with how we run a program,” Mullen said. “People outside are going to have their opinion on me, I’m sure, good or bad. I don’t pay much attention to it.”
Banks spent the last six-plus years living with epilepsy, but his symptoms worsened in the past year. He sat out spring practice in hopes of getting better and returned earlier this month, but opted to retire after “another minor episode” following a recent practice.
“He was excited to come back,” Mullen said. “I think it just took a toll on him a little bit and just decided it wasn’t for his best, you know, his health, for the long term and the future.”