As we look forward to a new era in Florida Football, both with a new set of leadership from players and coaches, we also look forward to ushering in a new decade in 35 short days. Before we jump on the John Brantley/Gerald Christian/Sharif Floyd train, let’s take a journey back through the past decade at some of the Gators that took our breath away on the field.
Before we start, a little criteria for the All-Decade team. First of all, please don’t argue with me about the semantics of when a decade begins and ends. Some say 2000-2010, some say 2001-2010, some say 2000-2009. Just stop it. This list is for players who played in the seasons 2000 (the one ending in a Sugar Bowl game vs. Miami) through 2009 (the one ending in a Sugar Bowl game vs. Cincinnati). And that’s that with that. It’s my list anyhow.
On to the criteria… Obviously players with great statistics will rise to the top of the list; however, with the amount of players that have come through the program, sometimes a guy will gain or lose ground due to certain factors. For instance, weighing the value of yardage gained vs. touchdowns scored. The following are some other factors to help create the 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- This is a category that can separate a “grinder” like DeShawn Wynn from a player like Ciatrick Faison. DWynn would carry it a million times if you’d let him, but his 3 yards and a cloud of dust style is outshined by C4’s brilliance despite his short career with UF.
– Performance under pressure- Performance in big games and big situations counts. Because of this, the list becomes “Meyer era” heavy and has less of the Zooker’s players. Zook’s teams were famous for playing close games and blowing leads late. Meyer is known for winning the big games and many of the tight ones.
– 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 list…
1st Team: Tim Tebow
This was my chance to shock the world and go against the grain, but I’m not biting. Tebow is not my favorite QB that has played for UF and I was a huge critic of his early, but the proof is in the pudding. Tebow’s 55 touchdown season in 2007 was absolutely remarkable and it was absolutely ruined by the sieve of a defense that Florida had that year.
2nd Team: Chris Leak
All time yardage passing leader for the Gators and almost pitched a perfect game in the National Championship game vs. Ohio State. He’ll never get credit for how much he accomplished at Florida, but the championship ring puts him ahead of…
Honorable mention: Rex Grossman
Should have won the Heisman instead of Eric Crouch. Had we tackled Travis Stephens on Dec. 2, 2001, he would have. Great QB, played in Spurrier’s system, then Zook/Zaumbrecher’s “Run and Duck” offense. Still the only Gator QB to start a Super Bowl at QB. Ironically… he lost to Peyton Manning.
1st Team- Earnest Graham
This might be a surprise to some. There’s a certain player you’re probably thinking of that I decided not to list at RB. Graham played a full career and did everything asked of him; running, catching the ball out of the backfield, blocking. As it turns out, Graham appears to be a very polished NFL running back. Graham didn’t get to play in many big games during big seasons, but was an all around great player.
2nd Team: Ciatrick Fason (C4)
Fason broke in on the team as special teamer and a “hype man” to get the crowd going. C4 was an electrifying back who carried some of the crappier Zook offenses. I almost awarded him first team status for his rumored in class introduction where the instructor asked each student to stand and tell the class their name and something about themselves. C4 stole the show by saying, “I’m C4 and I like porn and white women”. Leaving a year early and never being seen again got him dropped to 2nd team.
Honorable mention: Tim Tebow
Couldn’t give him the nod at two positions, but he was the most productive runner at Florida for 3 seasons. The TD count is mind blowing, although most were very short yardage until late 2008 and 2009. Had he not almost been killed against Kentucky, he’s a 1000 yard rusher in 2009.
1st Team- Aaron Hernandez
At first glance, Hernandez seemed to be piling up catches from shovel passes due to the nature of the spread offense (ala Chad Jackson). In 2009, Hernandez proved himself a great route runner and pass catcher. Nobody was both big enough and fast enough to guard him. I’m heartbroken that we won’t get to see him and John Brantley play together. Hernandez’ huge plays vs. Oklahoma in 2008 put him over the top.
2nd Team: Ben Troupe
A highlight in some of Zook’s offenses. Troupe would electrify the crowd by hurdling defenders trying to dive at his legs. A huge target in the end zone and a big blocker to boot.
Honorable mention: Cornelius Ingram
Injuries pummeled his chance at making the list. Also, the fact that he was a QB for two years prior to moving to tight end killed some of his eligibility. Uncoverable when he was healthy.
1st Team- William Percival Harvin, III
Percy Harvin was 6’0”, 190 lbs of pure, unadulterated, electrifying football player. Percy makes first team on this list despite his injury issues over his career and the opinion that off the field, he might have been kind of a dick. Percy was simultaneously the best running back and wide receiver on the field just about all the time. There is a reason why the 2009 Florida offense “sputtered” around and wasn’t as explosive as it had been. Harvin filled up the stat books with explosive plays catching it, running it, taking direct snaps and would have been a world class kick returner if Urban hadn’t been scared off by Bubba Caldwell’s injury while returning kicks.
Another receiver with some questionable character issues on his resume (very early in his career). Gaffney was absolutely un-coverable by SEC receivers whether Jesse Palmer or Rex Grossman was under center. He was a very different receiver than those in the Meyer era. Meyer’s receivers tend to catch and run with it, while Gaffney ran free and open down the field making catches. He holds the freshman record for TD catches in the SEC, a feat much more bally-hooed players like AJ Green and Julio Jones didn’t even sniff.
Honorable mentions: Dallas Baker and the Caldwell brothers
Baker’s 5 year career is often overlooked because he wasn’t a blazing fast receiver, but at times he was the single legitimate receiving threat on the offense. Bubba and Reche’ both had excellent careers this past decade in drastically different offenses. Reche’ developed the “dropsies” really bad in the NFL.
Disclaimer: I’m not ranking these by position, nor do I have many stats to back up any of this in this category. If you want that kind of analysis, go to GatorCountry.com.
1st Team- Maurkice Pouncey, Mike DeGory, and Max Starks.
There has been an array of quality O-Linemen through the program during the decade but those three stand out. Pouncey anchored the 2008 O-line that was dominant in a rushing game that featured four 600+ yard rushers. I contemplated banning any lineman that played on the 2005 team whose line allowed 35 sacks and had about 756 false start penalties learning the spread.
Kick/Punt Return- Brandon James
As if there was a question about this one… Brandon should be lucky that Coach Meyer decided to not have Percy return kicks, because this allowed James to have such a huge role on the team. BJames was a monster returning kicks in 2007 and 2008, including personally owning several shares of the University of Tennessee due to what he’s done to them… flags or no flags. In 2009 he was an abject disaster as a returner, but teams focused in tightly on kicking away, short, rugby style, etc… At least he didn’t fumble.
I refuse to rank a kicker simply because I’ve NEVER felt comfortable with any kicker we’ve had this decade. I guess Jeff Chandler counts, but the Matt Leach – Chris Hetland – Jonathan Phillips pu-pu platter never allowed to me assume extra points, much less field goals. Caleb Sturgis’ kick against Georgia in 2009 (57 yds) may win him at least 2nd team honors here.
That’s it for the All-Decade offense.
Tune in later this week for the unveiling of my Florida All-Decade defensive team. Thanks for reading!