In a much-needed 38-14 victory against Vanderbilt, Florida Gators tight end Arlis Boardingham broke through with an outstanding performance. The redshirt freshman set career highs with seven receptions, 99 receiving yards, and two receiving touchdowns against the Commodores.
Boardingham, who joined Billy Napier’s 2022 transition class, previously played as a receiver and linebacker in high school in Van Nuys, California. He has demonstrated his versatility and adaptability in his new role, which Napier has confidence in. Napier stated, “Last year, we had high expectations for him, but he got injured. He’s a kid who hasn’t played tight end, so he’s been a receiver and linebacker. He’s also a track athlete. So everything we’re asking him to do is completely new.”
Napier acknowledged the mental and physical challenges Boardingham faced when transitioning to the tight end position. “There’s a ton to learn in there. He’s a smart kid, but it’s almost like playing quarterback to some degree. There’s a mental part that I can’t tell you — it’s challenging. You can’t overlook that.”
“Then there’s a set of fundamentals you have to learn at tight end. It’s not like he had any background in that before he showed up, so it was all new. So mentally learning the system and fundamentally the physical component, all of that was new. It’s turned out to be a good evaluation.”
Despite the steep learning curve, Boardingham has embraced the role and is starting to adjust to the position. When asked if he is starting to feel like a true tight end, Boardingham confidently responded, “Yeah! I feel like a tight end. There are moments when I’m spread out wide that I get flashbacks, but now I truly feel like a tight end.”
Quarterback Graham Mertz praised Boardingham’s performance, highlighting his physicality and clutch plays. Mertz recalled a crucial play on 3rd and 15, where Boardingham executed the play flawlessly. “I thought Arlis played great,” Mertz said. “He played physical. We repped all week. We knew we’d get that zone look. He did a great job of catching the ball and puncturing, getting vertical and playing physical.”
Boardingham credited his strong connection with Mertz to their extensive practice sessions and open communication. “Me and Graham always have had that small connection that we’ve had has built up over time, especially through fall camp,” Boardingham explained. Their understanding of each other’s playing style and ability to read the field translated into success on game day.
As the Gators search for additional playmakers in the passing game, Napier expressed his satisfaction with Boardingham’s progress, stating, “It has turned out well. I hope we will see more of that from him in the future.”
Photo credit: Molly Kaiser, UAA Communications