A dual-sport star and the only man or woman in the history of the Florida Gators athletic program to win national championships in two sports (football, track & field), Jeff Demps is one of the most accomplished athletes to come out of the University of Florida and has only added to his resume this past year.
As a football player, Demps played running back and took 367 carries for 2,470 yards (6.73 yards per carry) while registering 23 touchdowns over four seasons. He also had a 99-yard kick return touchdown in his senior season against Georgia. Demps started the 2009 BCS National Championship as a freshman and won both a national title and Southeastern Conference title as part of the football program.
As a track star, he was a five-time All-American who won four individual national championships, five individual SEC championships and was part of a men’s track program that dominated both national and conference meets, winning multiple titles in both indoor and outdoor competitions.
Demps decided to concentrate on track after college and participated in the 2012 U.S. Olympic Team Trials. He fell short of qualifying for the 2012 London Olympics but earned a spot as an injury replacement and brought home a silver medal.
After returning to the United States, he signed a three-year deal with the New England Patriots as an undrafted free agent but missed the entire season with a leg injury. Demps is expected to play his rookie season in 2013.
He has spent the last few months working as an ambassador for the Special Olympics and sat down with OGGOA recently for a wide-ranging interview.
ADAM SILVERSTEIN: Let’s jump back to the beginning and start with your recruitment. I remember a lot of people always thought you would end up at Florida but what was it in the end that made you decide to go to UF over Tennessee?
JEFF DEMPS: “Florida just felt like home. I didn’t really want to go too far from home. Tennessee came down to recruit me, and I liked what they were talking about, but at the end of the day I knew I was always going to end up at Florida.”
AS: You got into the mix right away, scoring in the SEC Championship and starting at running back in the national title game. What was it like being a freshman and getting thrown into the lineup on a team that was having so much success?
JD: “It was fun. I knew coming in that, if I worked hard enough and learned the plays, I would have some kind of role on the offense as a freshman. That’s what I did and I was able to do those things like start in the championship and score in the SEC Championship and things like that.”
AS: Your sophomore season was something special as the Gators were looking to win back-to-back titles. How much pressure would you say the team felt each game to live up to the hype and deliver on winning another championship?
JD: “We had a lot of pressure. We were coming back and expected to win the championship. I’d say everybody wanted to see us hold up to the standard. We knew each team was going to bring their ‘A’ game and play us like we were the most important opponent on their schedule. It was really tough.”
Read the rest of OGGOA’s exclusive interview with Jeff Demps…after the break!
AS: Obviously losing the SEC Championship was devastating to the team. How low was that moment for you and the team, and how did you guys bounce back to go dominate in the Sugar Bowl a month later?
JD: “It was tough. We were all expecting to go back to the national championship and win another title. To lose the SEC Championship Game kind of killed the dream. It was tough. A lot of the guys were down but we all got ready for the bowl game. We were able to bring it all together and come out successful in the bowl game.”
AS: I’m assuming, like the rest of the team, you were shocked when Urban Meyer resigned the first time but what did that next season feel like with the team not performing up to standards? Did it seem like he was as heavily involved and into coaching the team as he was in your first two seasons?
JD: “It wasn’t coached different, but I would say we lost our edge. We were a powerhouse team. With the coaching changes and things like that, it kind of threw everybody off. The next year we felt like we lost our edge.”
AS: During your junior year, you injured your foot against Tennessee. When fans heard “sprained foot,” they probably thought it would be something relatively minor but it affected you all season, didn’t it? How hard was it to play with that injury?
JD: “It was hard. The fans didn’t expect that and I didn’t expect it either. I thought I was going to have my best year. For me to have to deal with that injury all year was really tough for me. I was doing rehab every day, getting different treatments. It came to the point where I couldn’t even practice. I would just have to go out on game day and try to do the best that I could.”
AS: Obviously your last two years running track for Florida were outstanding. You won four individual national championships, five SEC championships, got a bunch of honors and were a part of national title teams as well. Did you have a feeling you would be that successful?
JD: “Coming in to college, I felt like I was one of the top sprinters coming out of high school. I battled through an injury my freshman year. Once I got back on track, I knew that I’d be able to get the training that I needed to perform well.”
AS: When the U.S. Olympic Team Trials came and went and you had not made it onto Team UA, where did that put you mentally in regards to the decision you made to concentrate in track and your career going forward?
JD: “At the time, I still wanted to pursue track. Even though I didn’t make the team, I knew that I was cut short by some injuries. I knew that I still had a long way to go in that. I didn’t really have that mindset of going back to the gridiron to play ball. I still was focused on track.”
AS: When that call came in and you realized you got chosen to go to London, England, how special was that for you and what was the first thing you did?
JD: “It didn’t hit me [right away]. I got the call so early in the morning, I was still sleeping and went back to sleep. It didn’t hit me until I started to tell my parents and stuff about it. That’s when it kind of felt real – I was going to the Olympics. I was on a total high.”
AS: It has been well documented how many Gators (athletes, coaches, fans) were over in London for the Olympics. What was it like to be at an international event like that but to have so many familiar faces?
JD: “I know a lot of the guys and a lot of the team members as well. It was just kind of like all of us uniting in a different country. It was great. I knew mostly everybody and we all had a great time.”
AS: Were you aware of how strong the support was from Gator Nation back home?
JD: “No, I wasn’t aware at first. But eventually I found out how much support we had from people in London and over in the United States. It was great and it definitely motivated all of us to do well.”
AS: How important has Mike Holloway been to your career and how does he stand out as not only a track coach but just a coach in general?
JD: “Coach Holloway had a pretty big part in my career. He was there to teach me a lot of stuff on the track as well as off the track. I looked at him as not only my coach but somebody that’s kind of like a father figure. We had a great relationship off the track. He looked out for me and helped out with everything I needed. He was always there. He definitely had a big part in it whether it was football or track, he was there to support me 100 percent.”
AS: Your agent told me you had some idea you wanted to give professional football a try before you got called over to London to participate in the Olympics. When you declared after your senior season that you were going to focus on track, did you always have thoughts in the back of your head about playing football again or did those not come back after the Olympic trials?
JD: “I knew it would always be an option for me just because I grew up playing football and that’s what I wanted to do. I decided to focus on track at the time. I knew the option was going to be there. I did not know I was going to play after the trials because I was just focused on running, but I knew it was going to be an option.”
AS: I know there were a lot of factors that went into your decision on which team you would sign with but what kind of impact did having guys like Brandon Spikes, Jermaine Cunningham and Chico [Aaron Hernandez] on the roster have to helping you decide to sign with New England?
JD: “It definitely was a factor. It always helps out when you have guys you played with, especially when you’re moving to a different place and have to adjust to the environment. They can help lead you in the right direction. It was definitely a bonus.
AS: Did any of them call you and try to convince you or anything?
JD: “No, not really. They were just telling me to make the right choice for me and they’d be there for me either way.”
AS: Obviously football and track are completely different sports, but do you prepare for games and races differently or the same whether it’s your mental process, how you have to stretch, what music you listen to, etc.
JD: “I have different preparations for each one. For football, I listen to some rap music and just get real energized, try to get my adrenaline going so when I get on the field I can do work. For track, I listen to more relaxing music not the rah-rah stuff. It lets me just focus more and do what I got to do.”
AS: What goes through your mind just before the gun goes off?
JD: “You’re just thinking about, when you hear the gun, perfecting your technique. That’s what I think about anyways. How I’m going to come out the block, how I’m going to execute and things like that.”
AS: What gives you the better feeling – running for a touchdown late in a game to give your team the lead or running a good race, turning around and seeing the time you want pop up on the screen?
JD: “To be honest, when you score a touchdown, just because I’ve been doing it for so long, I’ve scored a lot of touchdowns during little league and high school. To score a touchdown in college is great, you go crazy. But running a fast time, it’s just a different feeling.”
AS: What did you think of Will Muschamp in the spring when he first took over the program and how did your opinion of him or respect for him transform after you got to know him and by the time the season was over?
JD: “I got to know him as a hard-nosed guy. I heard things about him being a good coach, but I had to experience it myself. At the time, I was thinking about not coming back for my senior season. He always stayed in contact with me about coming back, letting me know how important I was to the team. He didn’t even know me, so for him to do that meant a lot. After the season got started, we got a lot closer and he was the same guy the whole time. He doesn’t change for anybody. He’s always, 100 percent, Florida Gator.”
AS: Are you surprised at all how well Florida is playing this year? Did you have the chance to go back at all or talk to any of the guys and see how things are going there now? What do you think of the team?
JD: “I’m not surprised. It was just [Muschamp] coming into the new program; he had to figure out how he wanted his team to be. It was going to take him a little time to actually get that right. The way they’re going now, it looks like he has the team he wants. Maybe not all the way there, but he’s close. He’s got the team back where it should be – one of the top programs.”
AS: Watching from home, was it easy for you to notice how much the offensive line has improved from last year even though its mostly the same players out there?
JD: “Yeah, I noticed it. They just looked a lot more physical and stronger than they did last year. Everybody can tell that. The way they are coming out and finishing games in the second half, you can tell they’re stronger and more mentally tough.”
AS: You obviously spent plenty of time watching him in practice, so did you always think Mike Gillislee could be this explosive and a big-time playmaker?
JD: “We always knew Gilly was good. It was just me and [Chris] Rainey were there, so he was our backup. Every time he got in he was making big plays. We knew, you could tell in practice, how tough he is. Once he got that chance, he was going to take advantage of it. I actually talked to him before the season. He talked about how he had a lot of pressure on him and didn’t want to let everybody down. I just told him to relax, play like he knows how to and everything would take care of itself. As you could see, he’s doing that. I just tell him to stay level-headed and stay humble, don’t get big-headed because it can get taken away from you in a second. He’s working hard and doing what got him here.”
AS: A lot of the coaches and teammates talk about Gillislee being a quiet and reserved guy. Is he always that way or did you ever see him amped up and excited?
JD: “He’s always kind of level, but me and him, we were really good friends, so I’ve seen him both ways. In the locker room though, he’s real quiet. He just shows up and does his job. That’s one thing I really respect about Gilly.”
AS: You signed up to be an ambassador for the Special Olympics, a fantastic cause. What made you decide to go ahead and do that?
JD: “I wanted to do something to give back. Getting the chance to met people at the Paralympics, these guys just want to compete and do the things that we do but aren’t able to do it the same way. I just wanted to give back and help those people out.”
AS: Anything you want to say to Florida fans?
JD: “I appreciate all the support over the years. It has really helped me out and helped me perform better. I’m a better person. Please just keep supporting me, and I appreciate everything.”
Photo Credits: John Raoux/Associated Press, Jim Burgess