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He was hailed as the “next Percy Harvin,” though he never requested or embraced that moniker. He was supposed to be the next great wide receiver for the Florida Gators, an accolade he thought he would earn after just a few weeks on the collegiate gridiron.
Now four years after he was first supposed to electrify Ben Hill Griffin Stadium but instead missed the entire season after having surgery on a biceps femoris injury in his knee/hamstring that lingered from high school, redshirt senior Andre Debose knows he has just over a dozen games left to prove that he can continue playing football on the next level.
“I definitely would have told you that was nonsense,” Debose said Thursday at Florida’s media day when asked by InsidetheGators.com‘s Bryan Holt if he expected to play out his eligibility with the Gators. “I would have never thought I would have been here for my fifth year. I could obviously tell you that.”
Judging by his three active seasons, that reality has gradually sunk in for the former five-star prospect who has failed to impress two separate coaching staffs.
Expected to be a dominant receiver, Debose has only caught 29 balls and totaled 543 yards in three years. He struggled to get on the field in 2010 but stepped up and made a dent for Florida with a pair of 75-yard touchdowns in 2011 – finishing the year with 432 yards and four scores – only to once again fall out of his coaches’ good graces. Debose caught just three passes for 15 measly yards last season.
“I really don’t want to talk about last year. I don’t like last year like that,” he said.
There have been consistent questions about Debose’s, well, inconsistency. His work ethic and commitment to excellence have been anything but stellar, and he therefore has made his greatest impact for the Gators were his athleticism has come the most naturally – in the return game.
Debose has averaged 27.4 yards per kickoff return over the last three seasons, racking up 1,592 total yards and four touchdown returns. But that is not enough to get him a job on the next level, and he is well aware of that fact now that he is older and more mature.
“I feel like every position I’ve been put in, it was because of me. It wasn’t because of anybody else. I want to let that be clear. I’m in this position because of me,” he admitted.
“Over these years, I’ve known that it’s not family-oriented. This is a business. It’s a sport and it’s about winning. Whatever makes you win, that’s what they’re going to do.”
He continued: “I could have done a lot more stuff outside of the building rather than just doing it inside the stadium. It took me a while to realize you’ve got to do more than what the coaches expect you to be.”
Whether those realizations have come too late to work in Debose’s favor remain to be seen, though head coach Will Muschamp and junior starting quarterback Jeff Driskel both gave him positive reviews on Thursday.
“I think Andre, based on the offseason, he had a really good spring. He didn’t miss a practice in the spring,” Muschamp said. “I’m excited about him going into his senior year and understanding what he has at stake. He’s a senior, and some of us mature quicker than others at times. Again, I’m excited about his senior year.”
Added Driskel: “He knows this is his last go-round. He knows that. I’ve talked to him about that. I’m really excited for him. He has put in a lot of work. I think his attitude’s really changed. He’s having a better outlook on everything. He realizes this is his last chance, so he’s gotta make it count. I definitely see some improvement on that end.”
One cannot blame Debose for worrying about his future, but his mental and physical improvements can also go a long way to ensuring Florida gets back to producing the high-scoring offensive outings that became common under former head coach Urban Meyer, the man who recruited him to join the Gators.
Muschamp and Driskel both said Thursday that Florida needs to open up the offense and complete more passes down the field.
Though redshirt junior Quinton Dunbar, senior Solomon Patton and freshman Demarcus Robinson will be just three of the many players counted on to ensure that happens, a rejuvenated and focused Debose could seriously help turn the Gators’ sometimes feeble passing game into a force with which to be reckoned.
He has millions of reasons to ensure that happens.
Photo Credit: The Gainesville Sun