Florida Football: An improved offensive line starts with Jake Slaughter anchoring it

Jake Slaughter's perseverance has solidified his role as Florida's anchor at center in 2024.
Matt Pendleton / USA TODAY NETWORK

For the first couple of seasons in his Florida Gators career, Jake Slaughter had to bide his time, patiently waiting for an opportunity to showcase his talents. With injuries creating an opening last year, the big offensive lineman seized his chance and never looked back.

Now, heading into the 2024 campaign, Slaughter has established himself as the clear-cut starting center and foundational piece for the Gators up front after an eye-opening 2023 season.

"Every week it just kept getting better for me," Slaughter reflected on his breakout year. "Everybody around me helped me. I felt like I was able to make improvements because the guys were so important to me."

Slaughter's steady ascension has been noted by Pro Football Focus (PFF). The sports data company ranked the redshirt senior as the 8th-best returning interior offensive lineman nationally for 2024, praising his skills in run blocking.

"Slaughter's 82.4 run-blocking grade on zone runs tied for fifth among that same group," PFF analysts noted, referencing Power Five conference centers.

Slaughter redshirted his freshman year in 2021 and was used almost exclusively on special teams in 2022. While he wasn't developing for those years in front of fans, he was putting in the work behind the scenes.

"Coach Sale, Coach Decoster, Coach Stapleton, what they were able to pour into us and how they helped and how they developed us, that was the biggest thing," Slaughter said, crediting his position coaches for accelerating his growth.

That development manifested in Slaughter earning the starting nod at center for 8 of Florida's 12 games in 2023, a role he had been groomed for until an injury to Kingsley Eguakun forced him into the lineup. Slaughter made the most of his inaugural opportunity as the full-time anchor.

With Eguakun now departed to the NFL, the path has been cleared for Slaughter to build upon that breakout junior campaign over a full season as the starter in 2024. His combination of stout run blocking and growing experience is vital for a Gators offensive line.

If Slaughter's steady year-over-year progression is any indication, he's ready to embrace the challenges and responsibilities to being a veteran leader and centerpiece up front.