Seeing Emmitt Smith’s Hall of Fame induction speech sure brought back some memories. It reminded me why I liked him so much pre-professional career and post-professional career. He’s a great guy and was one hell of a football player. While I didn’t care for him much as a Dallas Cowboy (being that I was raised in Northern New Jersey), I always respected his work ethic, professionalism, and man could that guy run the rock. Great moment for UF having Emmitt enshrined amongst Pro Football’s finest.
Now, we move forward to talk about some Gators from the past decade who might have had a decent chance at stopping Emmitt if he were a much younger man and went to a different school. Remember the criteria for being on this list.
– Productivity- A player’s health counts when making the list and missing several games in a season or career can keep you off the list.
– Explosiveness- In a single blocking situation, could you stop him? Can he shut down your best receiver?
– Performance under pressure- When you needed a stop, could he get you a big play?
– Longevity- Simple math on this one. A 4 year player will likely be more productive than a 2 year contributor or transfer. If you only contributed for a year or two, you have to be a crazy stud to make the list (See Reggie Nelson).
– The “Eyeball test”- Some players just flat out “have it” and regardless of the numbers they put up and how they stack up with others, when you’ve seen them play, you just know they were better than others you’ve seen play.
– Character matters- You can’t make this list if you’re a total asshole or caused problems off the field
On to the defense…
1st Team: Alex Brown
Alex Brown only had a year in the decade, but just couldn’t be overlooked. Alex’s greatest moments took place in the late 90’s with his 6 sack game vs. Rocky Top, but Brownie’s motor was great and he was an absolute beast to block.
Moss was a great success story. For 2 years (1 redshirting), Moss was too “light in the cakes” to get on the field and make a difference and then a growth spurt and a recommitment to the weight room (read: change of coaching staff) changed Moss forever. He makes this team simply for the game he had in 2006 in Florida’s 17-16 win vs. South Carolina.
2nd Team: Derrick Harvey, Jeremy Mincey
Mirror images of one each other as a pass rushing end. Right down to their lack of NFL impact. Harvey was a force coming off the edge in his time in Gainesville. Mincey was equally as good, but stuck on some 7-5 teams.
“Honorable” mention- Carlos Dunlap
Had he just gone home and went to sleep instead of trying to drive wherever the hell he was going that fateful night last December, he’s the #1 guy on this list. Someday I’ll forgive him, but can’t help but wonder what that SEC title game would have been like had Bama had to game plan for him.
1st Team- Ian Scott, Gerard Warren
Both had limited time playing in the 2000’s, however both Scott and Warren anchored a couple of Spurrier’s defenses. Warren was unblockable at times and Ian Scott was just as solid as they come. The problem with them is that of all the tackles and plays they made… can you remember one in particular? I can’t…
2nd Team: Torrey Davis
This is a ridiculous ranking because Torrey didn’t pan out the way we thought he would in G’ville. Troubles led him to leave the team before his time and eligibility was up. However, Torrey made what may have been the biggest play of the 2008 BCS title game knifing in and stopping Oklahoma RB Charlie Brown at the goal line on 4th and goal from the 1. Great play… immature kid, but he gets the nod here.
Honorable mention: Markus Thomas
Keeping with the theme of troubled DTs under Urban Meyer, Thomas was kicked off the 2006 team three-quarters of the way through the season because he couldn’t stop smoking weed. Again, had he been able to behave himself, he’s #1 on this list. Urban Meyer’s teams have been littered with Top 5 defensive tackles that can’t get on the field or can’t stay out of trouble. Here’s to hoping Sharif Floyd changes that trend…
1st Team- Ryan Stamper
This seems like a very “Meyer-centric” pick to take Stamper in this spot. He is probably the least athletic of all the outside backers in the decade, but in Stamper’s 5 year run with the Gators, he was a huge contributor and in 2009 played outside backer, but filled in at middle backer when Brandon Spikes was out and was the leading tackler in all those games that he did that.
2nd Team: Earl Everett
Was a playmaker for both Zook and Meyer. Everett’s numbers are staggering: 271 total tackles in his 4 year career. In the “memorable play” category, Everett’s helmetless tackle of Heisman Trophy winner Troy Smith in the 2006 BCS Title game is as much a part of Florida legend as anything. Not sure why Earl didn’t get a sniff in the NFL, but he’s now a Nike Battle Armor model… go figure.
Honorable mention: Mike Nattiel, Dustin Doe
Nattiel was a solid strong side backer early in the decade. He tallied 310 career tackles, about half of those in 2002 alone (148) and Doe racked up 188 tackles and 2 titles in his career.
1st Team- Brandon Spikes
Spikes tallied 307 career tackles, 6.5 sacks, and 4 interceptions. While Tim Tebow got a lot of the credit for inspiring and motivating the team in 2008, it is widely known around the team that if #15 was the heart of that squad, #51 was the soul. Spikes’ two signature plays came against rivals Georgia and LSU. On the first play from scrimmage in 2008 against UGA, Knowshon Moreno ran off tackle right. Spikes met him a yard behind the line and went facemask to facemask with him while still on the ground… probably telling him that this would not be the first time they would meet that day. That set the tone for that game, a year after Moreno ran for about 833 yards against the Gators. Against LSU, Spikes intercepted a pass and ran into the end zone. Upon his arrival, he punted the football into the stands. LSU never recovered.
2nd Team- Channing Crowder
Crowder was a monster in the middle for the Gators in the mid 2000’s. Though Crowder only played two season with the Gators, he racked up 179 tackles and a Sporting News freshman of the year honors. Crowder was a very popular player in the Gainesville social scene, however, he’ll be remembered in Gainesville for starting the Football players vs. Fraternity fight that would be the 2nd to last straw in Ron Zook’s employment coffin. Rumor has is that he walked into one of the common rooms in the house and yelled, “Who wants to fight Channing Crowder?!?!” He was REALLY good though.
Honorable mentions: Brandon Siler
Great leader. Great player. Great guy. The leader of the 2006 defense that put the clamps on Ohio State. Came out a year early and instantly wished he didn’t. Starting to get his legs under him with San Diego.
1st Team- Keiwan Ratliff
OK, here’s where everyone gets in a tizzy because we remember our two National Championship corners so well, but lest we forget Keiwan was a one man, ball hawking wrecking crew early in the decade. Ratliff had 133 career tackles and an eye popping 12 interceptions, weighted heavily by his 9 picks in 2003.
There… now everyone can calm down. Joe Haden was an absolute monster at corner. He was physical, he was quick, and he was trustworthy as a tackler, which allowed the defense to do a lot more things they wanted to because they knew leaving Joe on an island was OK. Haden had 218 career tackles and 8 picks. It’s worth saying that in the 2009 season, most teams didn’t bother throwing anywhere near his direction. Three years as the starting corner for Florida is not bad for a high school QB who was ranked 3rd by Rivals.com at that position coming out.
8 career interceptions and an overall solid career for Lito. His stock is more valued because of his performance in big games (Georgia) and fans chanted his name when he was back to return punts… that’s always fun.
Smith transferred from Utah the year after Coach Meyer did. He was able to play right away because of the new NCAA rule at the time that if you completed your degree and had eligibility left, you could go elsewhere without sitting out a year. Smith came to Gainesville and fit in right away. In his one season in Orange and Blue, Smith picked off 8 passes and batted down another 16. He was a second team All-American that year as well. Might have been a first teamer on this list had he come back for his last year of eligibility and if so much of his productivity wasn’t tied to…
1st Team- Reggie Nelson
… “The Eraser”. I have a hard time putting into words what Reggie Nelson meant to the teams he was a part of. His stats in his two seasons with the team were not eye-popping… only 7 career interceptions in his two years, but to have watched him play was a pleasure. He was fast, he was always in the right place, and Ryan Smith benefitted in huge ways from always having Reggie behind him. If you have any doubts about Nelson’s abilities and how ferocious he was on the field, check out this clip:
I toyed with not picking a second team in this category, out of respect for the Eraser… So I won’t.
Honorable mention: Major Wright
Big hitter that probably would have been better served to play Strong Safety. Really developed in his three years in Gainesville.
1st Team- Todd Johnson
TJ tallied 286 tackles and 9 picks in his career at strong safety for the Gators. Todd was an outstanding student and far exceeded expectations of him. He put together a 100+ tackle season in 2000, as a sophomore. Todd also put together a very nice run in the NFL with the Chicago Bears after leaving Gainesville.
2nd Team- Ahmad Black
I think this is our first ACTIVE player on the list. Black’s three years in Orange and Blue have resulted in 135+ tackles and 8 picks. The “time share” at defensive back last season probably inhibited him from running around and making plays like he did as a sophomore, but hopefully he’ll get used to it because it’s coming again this season. Black made a huge interception of a Sam Bradford pass in the 2008 title game by snatching the ball out of the receiver’s grasp late in the 3rd quarter.
Honorable mention: Tony Joiner
A true gamer and a nice story of a kid who almost didn’t make it, but Urban and the coaching staff gave him some direction and he made the most of his opportunity, becoming co-captain of the 2006 title team.
Cade Holliday gets the nod as a special teams gunner. Partially because he’s the only one I can really remember, and partially because he’s a walk on and walk ons were made for special teams. An honorable mention goes to Matt Petrowicz, a kicker who tallied a lot more tackles than a kicker ever should.
Eric Wilbur gets the nod here, but just by a hair over Chas Henry.
If Henry ever got on the field, he’d win this by a landslide because Wilbur was kind of a prick as a person, but man could that guy punt.
That’s it for the All-Decade defense.
Our look back at the past will wrap up with my next post where we’ll revisit the 5 best Gator games of the decade and then move forward and break down the University of Florida’s controversial decision to continue fielding a football team and keeping the University open despite the departure of Tim Tebow.
Until then… cheers.