Last year I walked up to Andre Debose at the 2013 Florida Gators football media day. Debose was leaning back in his chair with an angry look on his face as he stared down at the screen of his cell phone. The team had been gathered to answer questions from the media and it looked like the last place on Earth that Debose wanted to be.
I walked up to him and asked him the most obvious question of the day; did you ever expect to be sitting here, five years after signing your national letter of intent, answering questions in Gainesville?
“I’ve had two head coaches, three offensive coordinators and five position coaches, so you tell me,” Debose said.
Debose was angry. Can you blame him?
A heralded 5-star recruit coming out of Seminole High School, Debose admitted that as a high school senior he thought he would spend three years in college before turning into the NFL talent that we all assumed he would be.
He looked at college football as a business and, quite frankly, seemed ready to get what he thought would be his last season over with and move on from Gainesville.
Then disaster struck for the then fifth year senior. Running in practice, Debose felt a sharp pain in his knee. He wasn’t hit low by a teammate, he wasn’t even touched at all but in the blink of an eye his season was over. A torn ACL was the prognosis and the fifth-year senior — who expected to have gone into his second season with a NFL team by this point in his career — would instead have to apply for a medical hardship waiver to return to Florida for a sixth season.
“The injury was a humbling experience, man. I wouldn’t wish that on anybody,” Debose said. “I wouldn’t put my worst enemy in that position. Being a senior, finally getting my chance to play and it all just goes away. Those emotions I wouldn’t put on anybody.”
Debose was forced to watch the 2013 season. He was humbled by the whole experience but instead of feeling sorry for himself, he allowed his circumstances to change his perspective. He had felt used by the system heading into his fifth season, now he’s just happy to get another opportunity to play the game he loves. That enjoyment even spilled over into the more tedious parts of being a student-athlete at a big university. Yeah, that’s right, Debose even enjoyed getting questions from the media.
“I’m just enjoying the process,” Debose said. “I never would have thought that I would be in this position again, here today talking to you guys, having you guys ask me questions. It’s just something that I enjoy, I’m enjoying all this now.”
He smiled the entire time this year, joking around with his teammates and taking selfies with them in-between questions. Even when the touchy subject of how many position coaches he has had while in Gainesville came up, Debose laughed it off. It’s old hat to him now.
“This is six. One each year,” he laughed. “It was definitely unexpected. I had just had a conversation with Coach Phillips before he told us that he was leaving. It was just unexpected. I’ve been through it before so it wasn’t really a big deal.”
Debose is now embracing his new role on the team. He’ll be asked to fix the special teams return unit. It’s where he’s made a name for himself but it’s not what he sees as his most important role on the team. He’s like a grandfather now, in terms of age, and he wants to help guide the younger players on the roster.
“Ill never have another first day of practice, second day of practice, you know? So if I have a message to one of the young guys, I would just say take every day like it’s your last,” Debose said.
“You never know if it’s the end. I mean I have a whole different perspective from when I was a young guy. I took a lot of stuff for granted. Like just practicing and stuff like that, I was just going through the motions and that’s something I would never do now. Just enjoy everything you do.”
Debose woke up on Monday morning for his last first day of camp. He got dressed in the locker room he has called home for more than half a decade and got on a bus to the lacrosse fields with his teammates. The day went off without a hitch. Debose looked fast and impressed the coaching staff that hasn’t seen him in action for quite some time.
“I thought he looked really good this morning, looked fast on the field,” Will Muschamp said. “I’ve been nothing but pleased with his rehab coming back from where he was.”
Debose finished practice healthy and most importantly happy and grateful for another opportunity to play football.
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