- Jeff Barlis, College Football
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Will Grier knows the deal. He has been hearing from Gator fans for months, knows how excited they are about his future and is flattered by the attention.
Some have even called him a savior.
"Yeah, I see that all the time," Grier said. He's rated the No. 3 quarterback prospect in the nation and is one of the most anticipated recruits in Florida's top-10 class. He gets it.
"When a program is down a little bit, they're looking for anything to put their hope into. It's just something that I hear, and it's great. I thank you for your support, that kind of thing. But I've got a long ways to go. So we'll see."
It's easy to understand the buzz. Grier is 6-foot-2, 186 pounds with a live arm, advanced footwork and a truckload of accolades and accomplishments.
The two-time Gatorade North Carolina Player of the Year finished his career at Davidson Day School with 14,565 yards passing, 2,955 yards rushing and 226 touchdowns in three years of varsity play. He made headlines in 2012 when his 837-yard game set a national record for single-game passing yardage.
The success didn't get to Grier, though. He's a calm, mature, level-headed 18-year-old.
He's excited about the future, too. Grier is enrolled in his first college semester, 17 credits. He wants to major in business and minor in communications, but it's more like a dual-major with football. Grier is taking a crash course with offensive coordinator Kurt Roper.
It's a situation his father and high school coach, Chad Grier, hopes will go according to script.
"The perfect scenario would be for [Will] to be able to go play behind an All-American, a Heisman candidate, an NFL prospect," Chad said. "He could learn from a guy that's having success at that level and watch his practice habits and off-field habits and get a feel for playing in the SEC in general.
"On a much smaller scale, when I went to college I was in a similar situation. I played behind a guy who was an NFL prospect and an All-American candidate. It was ideal. He taught me a lot. It was great to have him take me under his wing and get me prepared for what was going to happen. Unfortunately he ended up getting hurt and I had to play as a true freshman."
Will has always had a lot to learn from his dad, the coach and former player. Now that he's preparing to play the same position in college, Will can turn to Chad for even more advice.
Chad started his career at Division I-AA Richmond, backing up Bob Bleier in the mid-80s. Then he transferred to East Carolina, where eventually he was Jeff Blake's backup.
"I was the most popular guy in Greenville," Chad said. "Jeff struggled a little bit [in 1990]. He was hurt a little bit. So, man, every time he threw a bad ball I could hear 'em screaming for me. They'd chant my name. That's because I wasn't the guy. If you're the guy doing well, they're going to love you. If you're the guy not doing well, they're going to love your backup.
"So that may be what [Will is] getting into. I don't know Jeff Driskel from Adam's house cat, but I see a big, good-looking kid that's got a big arm and can run. I think he came with a lot of expectations. And I hope he gets healthy, and I hope he has a tremendous year. But if he doesn't they're going to start calling for Will, and I'd hate for that to happen to Driskel. Because the very same thing, it could be Will one day.
"When you're the backup, you're the next guy. Until you get out there and face live bullets, everybody thinks you're the greatest thing ever."
Undoubtedly, there is pressure on Will Grier. He comes to Florida with high hopes and a good chance that he'll be one injury away from taking over at quarterback.
As a dad, as a coach and as a former player, Chad knows exactly what Will is getting into. He says backup quarterback is the toughest position in football.
"If you're the backup running back, the backup safety, the backup linebacker, backup anything else, you're going to play," Chad said. "You may not be in the program as a starter, but you're going to play. If you're the backup quarterback you have to be ready to play. The next play you might be the guy for the rest of the game, the rest of the year.
"But it's very hard when you're hyper-competitive to prepare yourself for that and be all excited, ready to go, and then game day comes and goes and you never break a sweat."
As an ECU Pirate, that pretty much summed up Chad's career.
"I've got one record that still stands from East Carolina," he said, "and that's the most consecutive quarters wearing a baseball hat."
His own fond memories aside, Chad believes Will has the right mindset for his first year at UF.
"If they want him to redshirt, he'll redshirt," he said. "He's ready to go run the scout team. … He's champing at the bit to get into it."
But one thing Chad can't advise Will on is the hype his son has heard, seen and felt before even taking a snap.
"I've heard it," Will said. "Especially nowadays with social media stuff. But I think overall, they're fans. That's what they're supposed to do. I don't expect anything less. You know, it's something I acknowledge, and I want to show my appreciation for their support and that type of thing. But I just don't get too much into it.
"They'll be excited until I throw my first interception."
Thanks to his dad, whenever that happens Will should be well prepared for what comes next.
1dGreg Ostendorf and Alex Scarborough