With under 20 days to go until the Florida Gators‘ 2011-12 football season gets underway, the eighth part of OGGOA‘s new series, The Countdown, takes a look at those players expected to contribute on the field wearing jersey numbers ranging from 29-20.
28 – Jeff Demps (Winter Garden, FL)
Senior running back
5’7” 191 lbs.
Quick Bio: Arguably the fastest student-athlete in the country, Demps left South Lake High School as a four-star recruit and is a social & behavioral sciences major in his final year at the University of Florida. He played in all 28 games (drawing 17 starts) during his first two years with the Gators, scoring seven touchdowns on the ground each season and rushing for a total of 1,350 yards.
2010 Season: Demps was never the same after spraining his left foot while carrying the ball a career-high 26 times against Tennessee in the third week of the season. Through that game he had accumulated 310 rushing yards but only amassed 241 the remainder of the season, missing three games completely and carrying the ball fewer than 10 times in six of the seven contests he participated in. Demps still finished the season with a team-high 927 all-purpose yards.
2011 Outlook: Seriously considering not returning to the team in order to pursue a full-time career as a sprinter, Demps ultimately decided to rejoin the squad for his final season. He will be the starting running back again but should have his burden eased a bit by redshirt junior Chris Rainey returning to the backfield. “Both Jeff and Chris have been very impressive,” head coach Will Muschamp said. “We do a nice job on the perimeter blocking with our wideouts. We create some one-on-ones with people who aren’t used to tackling as much as far as corners and secondary people. When those guys get the ball on the edge, they’re fun to watch.” Though he hoped to accomplish the feat in 2010, Demps could eclipse 1,000 yards rushing for the first time in his career; the feat has not been accomplished by a Florida running back since 2004 (Ciatrick Fason).
26 – De’Ante Saunders (DeLand, FL)
5’8” 192 lbs.
Quick Bio: An early enrollee, Saunders was a highly-recruited three-star prospect coming out of high school who participated in the Under Armour All-American Game.
2011 Outlook: A player who Muschamp said is “going to be a really good player for Florida” after the Orange & Blue Debut in April, Saunders is not likely to earn a starting role this year but could see significant playing time both on defense and special teams. After being cited for misdemeanor marijuana possession in May, he has quit smoking (according to his attorney Huntley Johnson) and was disciplined internally. Muschamp recently praised his work filling in at cornerback and hopes to see continued improvement this fall.
Redshirt freshman linebacker
6’3” 227 lbs.
Quick Bio/2010 Season: Earning a medical redshirt after tearing his rotator cuff in preseason camp last year, Ajagbe is a three-star recruit who is majoring in social & behavioral sciences and is hoping to see his first field time this year.
2011 Outlook: With very little depth at linebacker, Ajagbe is competing with a number of other youngsters for one of the starting outside roles. His athleticism has impressed coaches this offseason after a complete recovery from surgery slightly less than one year ago.
24 – Josh Evans (Irvington, NJ)
6’1” 199 lbs.
Quick Bio: One of only five true juniors on the roster, Evans has appeared in 21 games over two seasons and notched 20 tackles as well as one interception. He was a four-star recruit coming out of high school who chose Florida over Oklahoma (among others).
2010 Season: Appearing in all 13 of the Gators’ games one year ago, Evans also earned three starts including the Outback Bowl against Penn State. He collected a career-high four tackles in that contest and grabbed his first career interception against Vanderbilt just a few weeks earlier.
2011 Outlook: With both of Florida’s starting safeties no longer with the team, Evans moves into a permanent starting role in his third season alongside sophomore Matt Elam. Muschamp recently said he needs to get his assignments down and work a little more on communication, but noted before fall practice that he has “certainly been another guy that’s shown he can [make plays and be athletic].”
23 – Mike Gillislee (DeLand, FL)
Junior running back
5’11” 198 lbs.
Quick Bio: A four-star running back coming out of high school who was listed as the No. 7 player at his position by Rivals, Gillislee has participated in 25 of 27 games over his first two seasons and enters his true junior season still looking to the lion’s share of time in the backfield.
2010 Season: After carrying the ball 31 times for 267 yards and a touchdown during his freshman season, Gillislee toted the rock 58 times for 328 yards and seven scores last year. He scored two touchdowns each against Tennessee and Vanderbilt, notched a career-best and team-high 50-yard kickoff return and took snaps as a gunner on the kickoff and punt coverage units.
2011 Outlook: Stuck behind Demps and Rainey in the backfield, Gillislee will once again have to earn his playing time on offense. He hurt his foot in the spring but is practicing at full speed in the fall. Nevertheless, he is a step behind Demps and Rainey and will have to pick things up to put a dent into their game-by-game carries.
22 – Matt Elam (Palm Beach Gardens, FL)
5’10” 206 lbs.
Quick Bio/2010 Season: A five-star prospect coming out of Dwyer High School now majoring in social & behavioral sciences, Elam played as a reserve safety and key special teams member in all 13 games as a freshman. He was on the starting unit for kickoff coverage and kickoff returns and registered 22 tackles (16 solo, 1.5 for a loss) while earning a sack, fumble recovery and pass deflection on the year.
2011 Outlook: Like Evans, Elam is penned in as a starting safety this year and will likely take over the “strong” spot previously occupied by Ahmad Black. He has been the most impressive and consistent member of the secondary in the offseason, drawing rave reviews from his coaches and teammates on both sides of the ball not only for his play but also his improved leadership. “I love being an underdog. It pushes me harder. The whole team knows we’re underdogs, and it makes us practice harder and stick together,” he said during Florida media day. “Being an underdog is very important to us. People don’t know what goes on around here. The coaches are great. We’re more as a team. We’re closer. And we’re the underdogs, so we’re working harder.”
21 – Jabari Gorman (Miami, FL)
5’9” 183 lbs.
Quick Bio: A four-star recruit and the No. 10 safety in the nation coming out of high school, Gorman is a sports medicine major who was highly recruited but always wanted to play for the Gators.
2011 Outlook: Not a candidate to get significant playing time this year, Gorman could still see his fair share on special teams or if he impresses over the next two weeks. Redshirt sophomore linebacker Jelani Jenkins said he has “been coming through” for the secondary recently when asked to single out young players who have made an impact in his mind.
20 – Valdez Showers (Madison Heights, MI)
Freshman defensive back
5’11” 198 lbs.
Quick Bio: A four-star prospect coming out of high school who is focused on both football and academics, Showers was the Gatorade Player of the Year for the state of Michigan and was also honored as The Detroit News’ Player of the Year.
2011 Outlook: Originally slated as a cornerback, Showers was moved to safety by Muschamp due to his size (5’11”) and is hoping to sneak his way into some playing time as Elam, Evans, sophomore Jaylen Watkins, redshirt freshman Joshua Shaw and sophomore Cody Riggs jockey for position.