If you were unaware of Florida Gators sophomore cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy before Saturday’s game against South Carolina, he made sure you knew his name on the first play from scrimmage when he came off a corner blitz and sacked quarterback Connor Shaw, forcing a fumble that swung the momentum in Florida’s favor and led to the Gators’ first points of the game.
If you somehow cast him aside after that huge play, Purifoy ensured that your eyes stayed on him for the remainder of the game when, on the ensuing kickoff, he forced a fumble on the return though that was eventually recovered by USC.
“Purifoy has a knack for making plays,” defensive coordinator Dan Quinn said on Wednesday. “It’s that way in practice. It shows up on special teams. You can see his speed. He brings an energy to the defense and special teams in terms of the way he covers and he’s physical. When he plays outside at corner, he’s just as strong in his run support as he is playing a guy down the field. I’m real pleased with where he’s headed.”
Purifoy first got on Florida fans’ radar when he brashly chose the jersey number 15 after it had been dormant for a year following the graduation of Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow. Living up to that jersey is a tall task for any player, especially one who did not see the field until late in his freshman season.
[EXPAND CLICK TO EXPAND and read the rest of this story.]“He’s grown a lot, man. His freshman year, he was a head case. He was a head case,” redshirt senior defensive tackle Omar Hunter said on Wednesday. “Now he’s much more mature. I love being around Loucheiz. He brings excitement to the team. He looks up to Matt Elam, so he takes on Matt Elam’s personality a little bit. It’s fun watching them two together. Loucheiz is really stepping it up for us.”
One year after being a roleplayer who did not see much field time until late in the 2011 season, Purifoy is standing out as a key player for the Gators.
He is fourth on the team in total tackles with 27, 22 of which he made on his own. He has racked up those numbers by playing both defense and special teams, hitting running backs, receivers and quarterbacks hard but also rocking both kick and punt returners even harder when they dare try and gain some yardage on special teams.
Fans have become enthralled with his playmaking ability, which his teammates explained this week is not something he only exhibits on game day.
“He just has a knack for the ball. Even if it’s not interceptions, he just knows how to get the ball off [of you],” junior CB Jaylen Watkins said on Tuesday. “He’s like that in practice. The receivers hate him, the running backs hate him because if they’re running and they’re slowing down and they got the ball [down], he’s knocking it out. That was nothing new to us that we saw in the game when he knocked the ball out.”
Purifoy smiled wide when he was told Tuesday that the offensive players hate him.
“It definitely pays off a lot,” he said with a grin. “As you can tell, how many turnovers do we have this season [on offense]?”
Purifoy’s playfulness and hard-working attitude have become motivators for his teammates. His willingness to do whatever his coaches ask of him has also been a nice surprise as he is now the only player on the team that plays in all three phases of the game – defense, special teams and the occasional snap on offense.
He even came inches away from catching the first touchdown of his career on Saturday when he saw the field on offense as a wide receiver.
“They asked me to go force fair catches and make plays [as a gunner], so I try to take it like it’s one snap of defense,” he explained. “That’s what I’m good at – running. That’s what they tell me to use, my running. So I run down there and if the returner so happens not to call a fair catch, he just gets blew up.”
With Florida trending in the right direction and boasting one of the best defenses and special teams units in the entire country, Purifoy’s contributions in both phases of the game will continue to be instrumental if the Gators hope to have the same type of production and success going forward.
Photo Credit: Gerry Melendez/The State/MCT[/EXPAND]