Luke Del Rio had a wild college career, which set him up to thrive with his new passion
Instead of spending his last year of eligibility at Florida, Luke Del Rio elected to begin his new career in New York City. After getting his master’s degree at Florida, the former Gator quarterback decided to take his business degree up to the Big Apple and join the financial industry at a company called Broadridge.
“I wanted to see if I could do something outside of being a jock,” Del Rio told SDS on The Saturday Down South Podcast. “I felt like going straight into sports media would’ve been an easy way out.”
As a Florida graduate and the son of longtime NFL coach Jack Del Rio, surely he had enough connections to follow the typical post-career path that players take in the broadcasting field. But when Del Rio got the itch to talk about football in more than a friends and family setting, he made his own path.
“So I said, ‘I wonder if I go live if people will really care, if they’ll watch, if they’ll engage or if nobody really cares,’” Del Rio said.
At first, Del Rio’s Periscope videos on Twitter got a couple thousand views. Then he shared the story about how ex-Florida coach Jim McElwain pulled scholarships, and his video got north of 60,000 views.
And thus, “The Dropback” was off and running.
Now, Del Rio goes live 3-5 times per week from the comfort of his New York City apartment. He’s on Twitter, YouTube, Soundcloud and everywhere in between. He’ll break down all things Florida, quarterbacks, college football, NFL, college/NFL gambling or anything that he’s got an interesting take on.
“I’m lovin’ doing it,” Del Rio said. “Obviously there’s a lot of competition but I think my experience and my background kind of separates me from everyone else.”
Spend enough time talking to Del Rio and it’s pretty obvious — his experience does indeed separate him from everyone else.
Del Rio has seen it all.
Being Jack Del Rio’s son alone would’ve taken Luke to a variety of places. He spent most of his childhood in Jacksonville while his dad coached the Jaguars. When his dad was fired in Jacksonville, the Del Rio family moved to Denver, where Luke finished his college career.
At Highlands Ranch Valor Christian (Colorado), Del Rio became a prolific starting quarterback. But he repeatedly got in trouble with the coaching staff for not finishing his fakes on a handoff to his starting running back.
Del Rio just wanted to watch Christian McCaffrey go to work.
While McCaffrey stayed out West for his college career, Del Rio turned down scholarship offers from the likes of Oklahoma State and Oregon State to head back to the Southeast, where he walked on at Alabama to play .
“I think the most growth happens when you push yourself to where you don’t really want to go, but you know you probably should go,” Del Rio said.
Del Rio rose from seventh on the Alabama quarterback depth chart — not fifth or sixth, but seventh — all the way up to No. 2 by the time fall camp finished up. He said the Alabama coaching staff told him that he would be redshirted but that he, not Blake Sims, would be the guy if A.J. McCarron went down.
Former Florida quarterback Luke Del Rio
That didn’t happen. McCarron instead led Alabama to an 11-0 start, and all signs pointed to Alabama playing for another national championship.
Then “Kick 6” happened. Del Rio had a front-row seat.
“I’ve never seen a team so pissed off and un-eager to play in the Sugar Bowl. Ever,” Del Rio said. “It was the quietest I ever heard a locker room. It was really like, ‘Ok, we didn’t do it.’ We kind of wanted the season to be over with.”
When the season did eventually culminate with the Sugar Bowl loss to Oklahoma, Alabama offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier left for Michigan.
Then Lane Kiffin to Alabama happened. Del Rio didn’t want a front-row seat for that.
“Lane Kiffin and my dad and really my family as a whole have a bad history,” Del Rio said. “It was several things. I don’t want to get into it, but I don’t have a lot of respect for the guy. I knew we weren’t gonna get along.
“As soon as he got there, I was like, ‘I’m probably gonna have to leave.’”
Del Rio remembered waking up to a text at 7 a.m. from the coaching staff at Oregon State. He had been through a lot in 2014. Upon Kiffin’s arrival at Alabama and not earning a scholarship heading into his sophomore year, Del Rio transferred to Oregon State. Mike Riley honored the scholarship they offered Del Rio as a recruit.
At Oregon State, Del Rio saw the vast differences between Corvallis and Tuscaloosa. Nick Saban and Riley were about as similar as a day at the beach and hiking Mount Hood in Oregon.
Del Rio played in 3 games of mop-up duty, and devoted his time to try and master what he called “the most complicated offense he’d ever seen” in the college ranks. As much as Del Rio disliked living in the Pacific Northwest — he doesn’t understand how people live in a place where it rains 10 months per year — he had no plans of leaving.
But the text he got at 7 a.m. that morning told him otherwise.
It was a message from the coaching staff that they were having a team meeting at 7:30 a.m. That meeting was to announce that 61-year-old Riley, who just finished up his 14th season at Oregon State (in 2 separate stints), was leaving Corvallis to take the job at Nebraska.
“It was so strange the way it went down,” Del Rio said.
A year of Del Rio’s eligibility was gone, and he still wasn’t any closer to becoming a college starter. Sticking around the rain-soaked Pacific Northwest wasn’t an option he wanted to consider. But by the time Del Rio left Corvallis, he did have a relationship with his future fianceé.
“So I have no regrets going there,” Del Rio said.
The problem was that he suddenly found himself searching for his third college in 3 years.
Former Florida quarterback Luke Del Rio
Florida was the choice that made sense for a few reasons. For starters, he grew up in Jacksonville, so the idea of returning close to home and at least going to a school that he’d want to attend without football was appealing. There was also the chance to reunite with his former Alabama offensive coordinator Nussmeier, who was part of the Brady Hoke staff that was fired at Michigan after the 2014 season. Nussmeier was then hired by McElwain as Florida’s offensive coordinator.
Del Rio had known McElwain since he was in 10th grade back when he went to camp at Alabama, where McElwain was the Tide offensive coordinator. Despite that connection and the relationship with Nussmeier, Del Rio still had to convince McElwain to allow him to walk on at Florida.
McElwain obliged, and ultimately, Del Rio found the place where he’d spent the rest of his college career.
But the roller coaster was far from over in Gainesville.
There were plenty of highlights during Del Rio’s 3 years at Florida, only 2 of which he was eligible for because of NCAA transfer rules. In the first game that he was eligible, he was named the team’s starter in the beginning of 2016. That was 1 of 7 starts that Del Rio earned in his college career. There were also moments like the one he had in 2017 when he relieved Feleipe Franks and led the Gators on 2 scoring drives to extend the 31-year winning streak against Kentucky.
During his 6-1 mark as a starter — injuries ended both of his seasons — Del Rio saw the Alabama-like potential with guys like Antonio Callaway at Florida, but the veteran journeyman saw cracks in the foundation.
“(At Florida) I could see the talent that I saw from Alabama, but I just saw such a lack of discipline,” Del Rio said. “There was such a lack of consistency. You would have these freak-show talents playing their ass off for 2 games, then they would disappear for 4, whereas at Alabama, their whole mantra is around discipline and consistency.”
Four years after he witnessed “Kick 6,” Del Rio got to see another walk-off touchdown that he’ll never forget.
The Gators’ 2017 SEC opener against Tennessee turned out to be a game between 2 teams that went a combined 3-13 in SEC play. At the time, however, it was viewed as a battle of ranked teams.
After Franks’ Hail Mary fell into the arms of Tyrie Cleveland and Florida players, Del Rio had a not-so-popular take on his team’s rest-of-season outlook.
“When we played Tennessee and we had to win on a Hail Mary against a bad Tennessee team, I was like, ‘We might not make a bowl game,’” Del Rio said. “Some of my teammates were like, ‘Are you kidding me?’ I’m like, ‘Look who we just played. They were terrible, and we had to throw a 70-yard Hail Mary to beat ‘em.’”
Del Rio was right about that. He was also right about the inevitable breakup between McElwain and Florida.
Former Florida quarterback Luke Del Rio
According to Del Rio, “(McElwain) was fed up with (Florida administration) way before they were fed up with him.” Del Rio said that was in part because McElwain wanted Florida’s administration to give the football program the financial support similar to what Saban got at Alabama. The friction that created between the 2 parties made McElwain’s firing that much easier in the middle of the 2017 season after he faked death threats from Florida fans.
Del Rio, who calls himself a “Mac guy,” admitted that he even though he knew why Florida made the move, he didn’t understand the reasoning for firing McElwain in the middle of the season as opposed to either waiting until season’s end or doing so before the 2017 season.
“I love Florida, but I really disagree with the way they’ve handled a lot of things, and that’s one of them,” Del Rio said about McElwain’s midseason firing.
While Del Rio didn’t see eye to eye with the Florida administration in his final season, he didn’t agree with how McElwain handled the elephant in the room prior to the 2017 season.
Rather, the shark in the room.
As Del Rio recalled, he got a text from his buddy, former Michigan and current UCLA quarterback Wilton Speight. He told Del Rio that he “couldn’t believe McElwain would do that.” By “that,” Speight meant “mount a shark while being naked.”
Del Rio had to find out for himself if it really was McElwain in the viral photo as Speight and the entire internet speculated.
“(McElwain) was pissed about it. I feel like the angrier you get about something, the more validity you give it,” Del Rio said. “I asked him and I think he was just sick of answering about it. I was like, ‘Hey, what is this?’ He said it was photoshopped. ‘Do you think I’m that fat?’ Because he wasn’t. I was like, ‘No, that’s true…You’re not that fat, you’re not that fat.’”
It’s perhaps fitting that Del Rio’s breakthrough with his new passion came a year later because of a bombshell McElwain story. “The Dropback” allowed Del Rio a chance to share his extremely unique perspective without the restrictions of a sports information department or a conference network.
Del Rio seems to enjoy the uncensored freedom that he has on his new medium:
After spending the last 5 years being immersed in college football, Del Rio is enjoying life as a financial industry newcomer by day and a sports media personality by night. He doesn’t miss being sore after 3 major surgeries (collarbone, left shoulder labrum repair, right shoulder AC joint repair). Del Rio gave up his final year of eligibility at Florida to start his next new challenge in life.
It was during Del Rio’s year at Alabama where he learned an important lesson from listening to Saban. Doing the right thing is often uncomfortable. Not everyone is willing to be uncomfortable in order to succeed.
Del Rio has never had a problem getting out of his comfort zone. From taking a chance on himself as a walk-on at Alabama to putting his brutally honest takes out there on video for the world to see, “comfort” isn’t a word that defines the well-traveled former quarterback. Del Rio’s post-jock career is admittedly uncertain, given how crowded the sports podcasting space is. But one thing is for sure.
You’re gonna want a front-row seat.