Gator Country writers Nick de la Torre, Daniel Thompson, Kevin Camps and Andrew Spivey all chip in to bring you their favorite memories from the Florida Gators football season in 2015. It was quite the ride for fans and a fun season to look back on.
Top offensive player
Andrew: Kelvin Taylor
Dan: Antonio Callaway
Kevin: Antonio Callaway
Nick: Kelvin Taylor
The Florida offense took a hit after Will Grier was suspended but two players in particular did what they could to keep the offense moving.
Kelvin Taylor had his best season in Orange and Blue by far. Some of that can be attributed to Taylor maturing as a player in his third season but the coaching change is something that really aided Taylor’s maturation process. Jim McElwain’s sideline tirade following a personal foul issued to Taylor for a throat slashing moment was played repeatedly, but the coaching techniques from both McElwain and running backs coach Tim Skipper really made Taylor develop as a player.
Enough cannot be said for the job Antonio Callaway did during his freshman season. His playmaking ability provided the Gators with a spark on both offense and special teams and as McElwain repeated throughout the year, everyone in Orange and Blue is glad that Callaway is on their team.
Top defensive player
Andrew: Jon Bullard
Dan: Jon Bullard
Kevin: Jon Bullard
Nick: Marcus Maye
Jon Bullard was ready to pack his bags and head to the NFL before getting paperwork back from the NFL regarding his draft stock. Bullard consulted Will Muschamp, D.J. Durkin and his family and ultimately decided to come back for his senior season. What a decision that turned out to be.
Bullard was a dominant force on Florida’s defensive line all season long. He was a catalyst in Florida’s pass rush, and the versatility he brought to the table helped Florida keep a healthy rotation on the defensive line. Bullard’s play this season makes him an easy choice for top defensive player.
I, however, took a different path than my colleagues. Marcus Maye deserves to be recognized as well. Maye has spent the better part of the last three seasons as a rotational player, having lost a starting job twice. This season Maye’s versatility helped Florida make up for the loss of Alex Anzalone. With a thin linebacker unit, Florida was forced to play more dime (six defensive backs) than they normally would. Maye’s size allowed him to slide down into the box as well as play up top at safety. Pro Football Focus rated Maye as one of the two best safeties for his play this season, his best during the four years he’s been in Gainesville.
Andrew: The win over Tennessee because of the way it happened.
Dan: Win over then No. 3 ranked Ole Miss.
Kevin: Win over Tennessee
Nick: Win over then No. 3 ranked Ole Miss
We’re split here.
The way that Florida won the Tennessee game, with a last minute thrilling touchdown from Will Grier to Antonio Callaway created the most electric environment in The Swamp since Tim Tebow was on the sidelines wearing number 15. It was the play of the season and extended Florida’s winning streak over Tennessee to 11 games.
Florida faced another tough task hosting then third-ranked Ole Miss. The Rebels had already taken down Alabama and their offense looked like an unstoppable force — then they faced the Gator defense.
Florida put it on the No. 3 team in the country. They dominated in every facet of the game and it showed just how far the team had come in such a short time. This game signaled that Florida, under Jim McElwain, would be able to compete with the best teams in the conference.
Andrew: Winning the SEC East
Dan: Two: Winning the SEC East and return of Antonio Callaway
Kevin: Getting back to Atlanta
Nick: Antonio Callaway’s game-winning TD against Tennessee
Every season the Florida Gators enter with a singular goal in mind: win the SEC East and get to Atlanta. It’s a feat they had not accomplished since 2009. Beating Vanderbilt clinched that for McElwain, the second coach in Florida history to lead his team to Atlanta in his first season at the helm.
For Dan and I, the Callaway return was the best moment of the season. It was a play named “train right Jill, Big Ben in” that gave Florida its best moment of the season. It wasn’t just the touchdown, which was spectacular in its own right but it was the moment that it happened it, the extra block from Brandon Powell to spring Callaway, the fact that it was a redshirt freshman throwing to a true freshman to beat a storied rival. Each time you watch the replay you can pick another thing from one singular play that makes it even more special. It was a cataclysmic moment for a young team that gave them confidence at a point in the season which was very much a fork in the road.
Most surprising player
Andrew: Antonio Callaway
Dan: Marcus Maye
Kevin: Kelvin Taylor
Nick: Marcus Maye
Antonio Callaway was a late addition to the recruiting class and, therefore, didn’t have the same kind of fanfare that others did. The freshman season that Callaway had puts his name next to Gator Greats like Jacquez Green, Percy Harvin and others. Truly a remarkable season for the Homestead product.
Marcus Maye was on the cusp the past two seasons but truly realized his potential in 2015. We already detailed how his versatility allowed Florida to continue playing defense at a high level despite the loss of Alex Anzalone.
Kelvin Taylor also had a career season. He led the Gators in carries, yards, and rushing touchdowns. All three players have a great case as most surprising performance this season.
Andrew: Antonio Callaway and CeCe Jefferson
Dan: Will Grier over Callaway because we saw how potent the offense could be with him.
Kevin: Antonio Callaway
Nick: Antonio Callaway
Antonio Callaway is the obvious choice and SEC All-Freshman CeCe Jefferson is as well, but Dan brings up an interesting player.
Grier is a freshman, albeit a redshirt freshman and it’s undeniable how Florida’s offense was affected after his suspension. When Peyton Manning missed a season with an injury and the Colts took a nosedive, ultimately winning the Andrew Luck sweepstakes, many wondered if Manning should be the league MVP. The impact of not having Manning turned the Colts from a perennial AFC contender into the No. 1 overall pick made many wonder if a player who didn’t play could be the most valuable player in the league.
Grier’s value was seen on the field, but, perhaps, it was seen even more in his absence and what that absence did to Florida’s season.
Andrew: Grier to Callaway to beat Tennessee.
Dan: Grier to Callaway to beat Tennessee.
Kevin: Austin Hardin’s game-winner against Vanderbilt
Nick: Grier to Callaway to beat Tennessee.
We’ve talked about Grier to Callaway, a play that will forever stand in Florida Gators football history, but Kevin brings up an interesting play.
Austin Hardin had been left for dead. Jorge Powell had taken over most of Florida’s kicking duties until a knee injury ended his season. Hardin drilled a 43-yard field goal to give the Gators a win, and clinch the SEC East for Florida.
The kick was improbable, given Hardin’s history and his performance to that point in the season. To see Hardin’s relief and jubilation on the field, then to have him surrounded by teammates on the sideline was quite a site to behold as the Gators celebrated getting back to Atlanta for the first time since Tim Tebow was a senior.
Andrew: Caleb Brantley
Dan: Kelvin Taylor
Kevin: Jarrad Davis
Nick: Marcus Maye
Talk about variety, right?
All of these players have been highlighted above and all are deserving of being named most improved on the team. Caleb Brantley and Kelvin Taylor did a lot of growing up off the field that led to success on the field in 2015. Jarrad Davis was a special teams phenom as a freshman, suffered an injury as sophomore and then played lights out for the Gators all season long. Marcus Maye was named a starter at some point in each of the past two seasons only to have the role taken from him. This year he was one of the best safeties in the country.
Which loss would you take back?
This was unanimous. Florida came into the game of undefeated top-10 opponents and had to deal with adversity throughout the week. Will Grier was suspended prior to the game and it was the first time Treon Harris would start since the first game of the season.
Harris played his best game of the season by far and the Gators were a fake field goal away from upsetting LSU. The way that Florida played, how close they kept it, the performance Harris had and the fact that LSU would soon slide down the SEC West rankings all add up to make this the most upsetting loss of the season and the one we unanimously voted as one the Gators would like to have back.