There was a time that Andre Debose thought he would spend three quick years in Gainesville before heading to the NFL as a first round draft pick. Then, more recently, there was a time where Debose wasn’t even sure if he would ever play football again.
“After I tore my ACL, I asked my athletic trainer like can I go throughout life without having this surgery? Because in my head, I was done,” Debose said.
By now you know Debose’s story. The five-start receiver from Sanford came to Florida with a state championship and every accolade you can imagine. He was supposed to be the next in line but his career turned into a waiting line. Him waiting for an opportunity, a coaching staff that could figure out how to utilize his elite speed and playmaking ability and fans waiting around to see “the next Percy Harvin.”
Debose’s career had ups and downs. On special teams he was electric, a true home run threat on punts and kickoffs, someone who could change the course of a game in the blink of an eye. He led the team in receiving yards (432) on just 16 receptions (27 yards per catch).
His highlight reel is a 65-yard touchdown against Bama (2011) and a myriad of spectacular returns on special teams. Other than that he was absent. It made the moment — going into his redshirt senior season — even tougher as he lay on the turf of the Gators practice field, knowing there was something wrong with his knee. He was ready to call it quits. He had given everything to football, how could this be the way the game treated him after a lifetime of dedication?
“I didn’t want to go through the whole rehab. I was done with football,” he said. “My parents stayed in my ear. My trainers stayed in my ear and just kept positive energy around me.”
He petitioned the NCAA and received a waiver to play a sixth season. He was targeted one time — a screen pass that went for -3 yards. He did, however, average 24.71 yards per kickoff return and 14.04 yards per punt return with a touchdown.
It was still frustrating. The arduous season led Debose to leave the team before the Gators left for the Birmingham Bowl, a mutual decision.
“Me and Coach Durkin came to a mutual agreement for me not to play in the game,” Debose explained. “It wasn’t for any consequences or anything like that. It was just merely me deciding not to play and getting my mind right for my future.”
Debose spent the next months in Miami training. He hoped to get an invitation to the NFL Scouting combine, but like his playing time on offense it never came.
“I watched the top times. I didn’t too much sit and watch the whole combine because, you know, I wasn’t apart of it so I had to watch my teammates, for sure, but other than that I didn’t pay any attention to it,” he said. I just wasn’t involved. That ain’t gonna benefit me none, watching the combine. So I just went without it.”
Without an invitation to Indianapolis and with no private workouts to date, Debose had one shot to show that he could make it in the NFL. He prepared for Florida’s Pro Day like it was the last opportunity he would ever have to play football and he performed well. Debose was clocked — unofficially — at a 4.35 in the 40-yard dash.
Debose felt his hamstring tighten up after running the second 40 so he didn’t participate in receiver drills. He did work fielding balls out of a jugs machine as scouts put him through the paces as a returner. He walked off the field with two scouts from the New England Patriots and three workouts. He’ll visit the Chicago Bears on April 13 and then the Cincinnati Bengals three days later and Debose expects the Patriots will host him in New England after.
It was just a year ago that he didn’t even think he would be in this position. An 18-year old Debose would have expected to have spent three years in the NFL right now. Instead, he was grateful for the opportunity to perform on Tuesday at Pro Day and even more thankful to be able to spend the draft with his family — the people he owes everything to.
“Even thinking about it right now thinking about it is giving me chills. Knowing my family pushed me to make sure I stayed with it and didn’t give up on my dream,” he said. “I’ll give them both a big hug and a big kiss, man, and just thinking about it got me kind of cringing right now. It’s going to be a great day.
“It’s the best way I can thank them. They’ve been with me since Day 1, and I wouldn’t be here without them.”