GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) -- Kestahn Moore has moved up and down the depth chart, been in and out of the starting lineup and endured more highs and lows than he cares to remember in two years at Florida.
He plans to be much steadier this season.
The sixth-ranked and defending national champion Gators are counting on it, too.
Moore, a junior from Arlington, Texas, has emerged as Florida's starting tailback heading into next weekend's season opener against Western Kentucky. He could have secured the job long before, but fumbles, injuries and inconsistency slowed his progress.
The Gators believe he's past those problems now and ready to carry the load.
"I just think he's going to be a heck of a player," coach Urban Meyer said. "He's prepared himself to have a great year, and I'll be crushed like he will if he doesn't. He's faster than he's ever been, he's more mature than he's ever been and I'm really excited about him."
Meyer hasn't always been excited about his backs.
He called the running game "pathetic" following his first game in 2005 and said the Gators might not win again if it didn't improve.
Meyer called the group "trash" in spring 2006 and threatened to play without a back if no one stepped up.
DeShawn Wynn led Florida in rushing in each of Meyer's first two years, but he wasn't a big-play threat and never developed into a leader.
Moore intends to be both this fall.
"I feel I do have a lot to prove," Moore said. "Some people say I can't break a long one. I did that all my life. I've broken a lot. It's a process you've got to do. You've got to keep hitting them hard, keep breaking tackles and then as the game progresses you're going to break those long runs."
He also has worked on his leadership skills, accepting the role in meeting rooms, the weight room and on the practice field. He even hosted an impromptu pizza party for some teammates a few weeks back, and they spent nearly the entire night talking football.
"I'm not really the vocal type, but this year I'm learning to be more vocal in the group and as a team leader," Moore said. "I'm very quiet and I don't really like to talk that much. I usually keep to myself, but they've told me to become more vocal as a leader this year. I'm just trying hard to do that."
Moore has 102 carries for 559 yards and three touchdowns, hardly proof that he's ready to be the go-to guy. But he convinced Meyer during spring practice and has been even better during three weeks of fall practice.
"He's without question our starting tailback, and he's not a guy that's our starting tailback and by the way get him out there every time we can and get another receiver in there," Meyer said. "He's a guy that we're looking forward to letting him see what he can do with the football."
Moore probably will have to perform to stay on the field because Florida has a host of other talented receivers and running backs ready to carry the ball.
Receivers Andre Caldwell and Percy Harvin proved last season they can make plays from the tailback position. Sophomore Jarred Fayson expects to get some chances to do the same.
And running backs Brandon James and Chris Rainey also are vying for carries.
The Gators didn't have the same luxury in Meyer's first two seasons.
"We haven't had that versatility," running backs coach Stan Drayton said. "We only had guys that were vertical runners, and not really even good vertical runners. Kestahn has turned into a good vertical runner in this offseason. But we just didn't have the dynamics in space. Right now you've got Chris Rainey and Brandon James who are providing that dynamic in space. Just to be able to have the combination of the two as a threat (is big)."
It starts with Moore, though.
And after missing practice time last year with a bulging disc in his back, he's ready for the opportunity.
"When I got healthy again, I knew I could prove to (coach Meyer) that I could be that guy that he needed," Moore said.
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