By Steve Anderson
The Florida Gators, by their being the epicenter of the college football universe tend to do everything big. Big stats, big seasons, big championships in front of big crowds are the norm and the expectation when a high schooler dons the Gator blue and orange for the first time. However, there are some great Gator single player offensive and defensive seasons that should remind us of truly how talented our Gators tend to be, year in and year out.
RB Ciatrick Fason, 2004: 222 carries, 1,267 yards rushing, 10 touchdowns
Fason also chipped in 35 receptions for 266 yards for an additional two scores receiving. Between 1994 and 2012, only three Florida running backs ran for more than 1,100 yards in one season; Fred Taylor – ’97 (1,292), Mike Gillislee in 2012 (1,153) and Ciatrick Fason, who was the last Florida back to lead the SEC in rushing. Fason was a power back who played much bigger than his 6’0” 207 lb. frame would suggest, and got stronger late in games. Blessed with great vision and lean, C-4, as he was called, was fast and agile enough to be a receiving threat as well. That 2004 season was filled with ups and downs on offense, but you couldn’t blame Fason, who actually averaged twenty more yards rushing per game–109.8– rushing in the five Gators losses than in the eight Gator wins (89.8). That in itself is a statistical oddity; Fason rushed for 143 against Mississippi State and 139 against Georgia—both Gator losses. Fason was particularly adept at keeping the chains moving and short-yardage/goalline situations.
CB Ryan Smith, 2006: 8 interceptions, 44 yards, 16 passes defensed
This former Utah Ute followed new coach Urban Meyer to Florida for one year in 2006 to play cornerback and had a season to remember for the 2006 National Champions. Smith was relatively quiet at Utah (2 interceptions total at Utah) and hadn’t picked a pass off yet until Alabama’s John Parker Wilson strolled into Gainesville in a key SEC matchup September 30th. Smith picked Wilson off twice on eerily similar tipped passes helping stymie Tide momentum and helping the No. 5 Gators prevail 28-13. Everyone tends to forget the Gators were down early to the unranked Tide and fought back avenging a 31-3 woodshedding in Tuscaloosa the year prior. Smith picked off 8 passes leading the SEC and ranking second in passes defended with 16. Smith did not pad his stats against the Sisters of the Poor, either. He picked off two against LSU the week after and added one more pick in both the Florida State game and the SEC title game against Arkansas—both Gator romps. He declared for the draft as a junior that year.
WR Jack Jackson, 1994: 57 catches, 855 yards, and 15 touchdowns
The electric and eternally underrated Jackson is probably under the radar for a few reasons. He was the first undersized receiver (5’8”- 175) to really record gaudy stats in a whole line of undersized receivers to record gaudy stats in the Spurrier Era. Jackson also is likely overlooked because he shares a common last name with Willie, Terry, and Darrell Jackson all three outstanding Gator offensive players from the same era, including two that played the same position (Willie, Darrell) and two that were brothers (Willie and Terry). Jack Jackson set the precedent for the undersized, quick and speedy Gator wideout that would excel in the Run N’ Gun offense. His 1993 season was almost as good (51/949/11) but in 1994 it all came together leading the entire NCAA in receiving touchdowns. He was a consensus All-American that year and is in the top five in most Gator receiving categories, as he should be.
WR, Chad Jackson, 2005: 88 catches, 900 yards, 9 TDs
Big, strong, fast and athletic receiver had one of the great offensive seasons ever by a Gator wide receiver in 2005. Benefitting from a three-year chemistry with Chris Leak, Chad Jackson rolled up 88 catches for 900 yards that season. His 88 catches led the SEC and was 6th in Division I football. Jackson’s 88 receptions tied the Gators all-time season record set in 1969 by Carlos Alvarez. Jackson started the 2005 season in fine fashion with 10 catches for 138 yards and three scores against Wyoming in a 42-10 Gators rout. Jackson was the Gator’s go-to guy that year with only three games that he didn’t catch at least seven balls.
You’ll notice that none of the players are quarterbacks; such is the limelight that comes with that position when you’re field general for the Florida Gators. All these Gator greats provided memorable plays for Gator Nation; in Fason’s and Chad Jackson’s case they played for teams that lost more games than what fans were accustomed too. Ryan Smith stayed in Gainesville for a brilliant, albeit brief, cup of coffee and Jack Jackson played right before the Gators won their first title in 1996. None of these players would likely be on the under-the-radar list had they gone on to dominate at the next level; but there are so many factors in succeeding in the NFL that we shouldn’t discount their contributions.