Senior running back Jeff Demps almost decided not to return to the Florida Gators football team for his fourth and final season of eligibility. Also a track and field star at Florida, he had an opportunity to turn pro and was weighing a decision to sign a lucrative offer from Nike or come back and play football for one more year.
Demps had made his decision days earlier, but head coach Will Muschamp officially announced on July 26 that one of the team’s most explosive players would come back to play and report with the rest of the squad at the beginning of August.
“When I came to Florida I wanted to compete at a very high level in both sports and I’ve done that,” Demps said in a school release at the time. “Football has been my first love but I also love running track. All of my coaches have been supportive and I’ve always been able to concentrate on whatever sport I’m competing in during that season. I concentrated on track this past spring and summer and I’m now ready to concentrate on football. I’m looking forward to getting back together with my football teammates and having a great senior season.”
After suffering through injuries in 2010 that saw him gain career-lows in yards, rushing average and touchdowns, he hoped to regain his primary role in 2011 under a new regime. Instead, a healthy Demps took somewhat of a backseat to redshirt senior RB Chris Rainey and got just six more carries than he did in his injury-plagued season, running for 569 yards while finding the end zone six times.
On Thursday, the University of Florida announced that Demps has decided to forego the 2012 NFL Draft and rejoin the Gators track and field program as he attempts to earn a spot with the United States in the 2012 London Olympics.
“Once I got done with the Gator Bowl, I kind of already had my mind made up, it was just when was I going to tell everyone,” Demps said Thursday in the release. “I enjoy track and it’s something I love to do. When I’m out here, I’m enjoying myself and having fun with the guys. I wanted to come back and run. It’s somewhat of an individual sport, but it’s also a team sport. You win championships as a team.”
Gators track and field coach Mike Holloway, who was named in Feb. 2011 as an assistant for the sprinters and hurdlers on the U.S. Olympic Team, is excited to have one of his best athletes back in the fold.
“The biggest thing for me – and Jeff and I have talked about this a lot since last summer – I just wanted Jeff to be happy,” Holloway said. “Jeff has never really been a full-time track guy. He has always been a guy that played football and ran track. For him to have accomplished the things he has accomplished is phenomenal. I’m ecstatic. Obviously it’s big for our program. Jeff brings a different kind of energy to the track. When the other guys see him out there working as hard as he does, it gets them to step their game up a bit. We are a big family out here and he’s a member of the family.”
While Rainey, redshirt senior defensive tackle Jaye Howard, redshirt senior quarterback John Brantley and other players will pursue professional football careers this year, Demps said that track was “always something in the back of my mind” but that he wanted to be there for Florida football and his teammates during the program’s transition period.
Now he will have a chance to shine at what many believe he is the best at – running straight ahead as fast as possible. And when the Olympics are over, whether or not Demps brings home a medal, his playing experience with the Gators could always afford him an opportunity at one day playing in the NFL.
Photo Credit: Jim Burgess