The 2014 Gators are on a mission. Last season was unacceptable in Gainesville and you’ll hear those exact words from Will Muschamp throughout his summer speaking tour.
Florida’s road won’t be easy with trips to Knoxville, Tuscaloosa and an end of the season date with the reigning national champions and the current Heisman Trophy winner. The road isn’t easy but it’s what the Gators have grown accustomed to and they’ll need to weather the storm to save Will Muschamp’s job.
With a younger team heading into this season, Florida will need to rely on players stepping into new leadership roles. This change will put more pressure on a few players who we’ll spotlight this week as the five players that have the most pressure on their shoulders this season.
After starting the series with Austin Hardin, today we change gears slightly, focusing on a player who is in a very different point of his career — Andre Debose.
Overview: Heralded as the “Next Percy Harvin”, Debose has never lived up to the hype hat surrounded him. You can’t blame him, Harvin was a once in a lifetime type of recruit and heaping that kind of unrealistic expectation built an unattainable ceiling on Debose’s career before he even enrolled at Florida.
Debose has been a standout returner at Florida (he holds the school record for career kick return touchdowns with four) but has made little impact on offense where most projected him to be a playmaker. A five-star recruit, Debose expected to merely make a three-year pit stop in Gainesville on his way to the NFL.
Debose was forced to take a redshirt in 2009 — his first season on campus — due to an injury he suffered running track in high school. In 2010, he was named to several freshman All-SEC teams, returning two kicks for touchdowns, while hauling in 10 receptions for 96 yards. He improved on those numbers as a redshirt sophomore, catching 16 passes for 432 yards and four touchdowns — also adding another kick return touchdown.
His numbers took a backseat in Brent Pease’s offense and his would-be senior season in Gainesville was ended prematurely with an ACL injury. Debose will return to Gainesville for a sixth and final season in 2014.
Why is he so important?
Debose gives Florida a dynamic deep threat, a player that can pop the top off of any defense that Florida goes up against. He’s shown flashes of this throughout his long career but his importance to Florida’s new offense isn’t the reason he sits on this list. This season is about him.
The burden of being deemed the next Percy Harvin shaped his career. Could Debose have developed into the kind of player that Harvin was? Maybe, but probably not. How many players (excluding quarterbacks) since Harvin left school early for the NFL after the 2007-08 season have been that kind of dynamic playmaker? Is there any player in the country in that time that had the statistical and intangible impact on an offense?
This season is important for Debose because it presents an opportunity for him to make a name for himself. He’s never going to be the next Percy Harvin but he can be the best Andre Debose that Florida has ever had.
Can he live up to the pressure?
There has been pressure on Debose since before he even enrolled at Florida but the pressure this season will come from him. He’s not necessarily a make-or-break player for Kurt Roper’s offense but this will be his sixth and final season in Gainesville.
He’s been through more coaching changes than you can count on one hand and the 2014 season will be one where he has the opportunity to leave a stamp on Florida football.