One more game.
That’s all that is left for the seniors on the Florida Gators roster.
One more opportunity to play in front of Gator Nation in the orange and blue.
Most of the senior class was part of the 2010 recruiting class. They came to Florida on the tail end of the Tim Tebow era and were the first recruiting class that followed the most successful senior class in Florida football history.
Things haven’t panned out how they thought they would when they stepped on campus as wide-eyed freshmen but none of them would trade the bonds that they have created with coaches and teammates for anything.
The center is the unquestioned leader of any offensive line. Usually he identifies blitzers and changes the blocking scheme on the fly. He’s also the only position that is guaranteed to touch the ball on every single play, especially in Florida’s offense, that likes to include some wildcat formations to mix things up. For those reasons, you’ve got to have a heady player that you can rely on in any situation. And for the last three seasons Harrison has been that guy in the middle of Florida’s offensive line. When he bends down to snap on senior day against Florida State it will be his 39th start and his 51st game played in a Florida uniform, and although this season hasn’t gone how he’d hoped, he’s still got a positive attitude.
“Obviously, it’s not an ideal season for how we wanted it to go,” Harrison said in mid-November. “But we just have to keep fighting and keep battling adversity. Life is full of adversity. Life will throw curveballs at you. It’s how you deal with them that makes you a better person.”
The elder statesman of Florida has seen it all, from the good times during his freshman year of 2008 (national championship), to Florida’s second undefeated regular season the next year to its first losing one since 1979 this year. His first two seasons were mired with chronic back problems that forced him to sit out both seasons, but he came on in a big way in 2010 when he appeared in 11 games and made 10 starts. In 2011 the injury bug struck again, this time a knee injury that forced him to sit out the whole season. Last season he rebounded to see action in 11 games, and recorded tackles in three. His health problems were enough to earn him a sixth year of eligibility, and Brown has played in five games his final season.
Koehne has been a true jack-of-all-trades for Florida, someone that is unbelievably versatile and can play any position along the offensive line. His natural spot is guard, but he’s played tackle several times in his career. Should Jonotthan Harrison go down with an injury he’d be in line to play some center as well. Now that it’s coming to an end, he looks back fondly.
“It’s a huge day, you know,” Koehne said. “Last game in The Swamp. I’ve been thinking about this senior year. It’s hard to believe that the day has actually come but I’m super excited. It’s going to be awesome to have my family out there on the field with me. It’s been an awesome experience here.”
Koehne may be an unheralded member of Florida’s senior class, but he’s an integral part of a football team’s most important position group.
The eldest of Florida’s two Burton brothers got his Florida career off to the hottest of starts. In the third game Burton played, he announced his arrival in a big way with six touchdowns against Kentucky — five rushing and one receiving — an impressive performance that meant Burton would be a staple in Florida’s offense for years to come.
He’s played every skill position you can think of, even tight end, and is by all accounts, one of the smartest players on Florida’s team. He’s also a spiritual leader in the Florida locker room; his frequent posts about his faith litter his Twitter account. When he’s not tweeting about his faith, he’s probably bragging about the Miami Heat, his favorite NBA team.
Away from the keyboard his senior season has been the most productive of his collegiate career with 445 yards receiving and 72 yards returning kickoffs. He also has a 31-yard punt return and is featured prominently in Florida’s offense through the wildcat formation, affectionately called the “Burtoncat” by fans. He’s become a reliable slot receiver for the Gators week in and week out. Through his first 11 games he’s second in the team in receptions with 38 (only one behind team leader Solomon Patton [39 receptions]). Burton will go down as an offensive player that was counted upon for his entire career as a Gator, and one who delivered.
The senior walk-on is more than just another player to many local Gator fans. He’s a native son from Gainesville, a graduate of Buchholz High. Like many walk on players, he was at one point, just happy to be on the team. Phillips got his first action as a freshman, when he handled kickoff duties in Florida’s 31-6 loss to the Alabama Crimson Tide. In his sophomore year, he went 2-3 in the 24-20 loss to Georgia as well as hitting two extra points. Coming into his senior season, Phillips was in the mix for Florida’s starting kicking job, but he still vividly remembers how it first felt to play for the Gators.
“I still remember to this day going up to meet all the coaching staff. I was so overwhelmed,” Phillips told Gator Country in August. “Four years ago I was just happy to be on the team; I never thought I’d have a chance at kicking. Now, four years later, I’m a senior and I have a chance at the starting job. Looking back I couldn’t be more excited.”
While he’s been used sparingly this season — making three out of four extra points and both field goals he’s attempted — he’ll trot to midfield on senior day as a player who despite not getting any big name college offers came to one of the best college programs in the nation and left his mark, right in his own backyard.
Halapio is a tough guy. Entering this season he had started in 33 of 41 games played and he’s battled numerous injuries including a shoulder injury that derailed his freshman season halfway through. The next year he battled a severe finger injury and before his senior year had arthroscopic knee surgery that limited his contact in spring practice. He also suffered what can be the death knell for many offensive linemen: a partially torn pectoral muscle. For a position heavily reliant on upper body strength that injury can be horrible, but Halapio missed only two games and has pushed through it all season. In his first game back against Tennessee, he didn’t wear a protective face shield for the first time in his career. Unfortunately, and learned his lesson the hard way:
Jon Halapio’s eye still looks pretty rough: pic.twitter.com/axaqH32sMU
— Richard Johnson (@RagjUF) September 25, 2013
Jacobs’ path to Gainesville wasn’t conventional. Originally committed to Florida State, Jacobs never made it to Tallahassee, attending East Mississippi Community College instead. He spent two seasons in Mississippi, winning a national title, before pledging his commitment to Florida.
Jacobs played mainly a backup role as a junior in 2012 but due to injuries was placed into a more prominent role as a senior.
Even with the way things have gone for Florida State and Florida this season, Jacobs wouldn’t change his decision to attend Florida these past two seasons.
“I wouldn’t change it. I’d rather be in this situation with these boys,” Jacobs said. “I’d rather with associated with real people. It’s just a better situation here for me than what it was down there, so I felt like here was better. And I think 2011 they signed six or seven D-tackles in the next class and that pretty much told me like, nah, that’s not the place for me.”
His career started out slowly, playing mainly on special teams without earning a start. Things picked up for Watkins as a sophomore when he played in all 13 games and made eight starts at cornerback. He has proved to be a very durable player, playing in every game since his sophomore season.
This Saturday will be the 47th consecutive game that Watkins has played since his freshman season.
As a senior, Watkins has been thrust into a leadership role as many of his teammates fell to injuries throughout the year. Watkins has also been somewhat of a team spokesperson, speaking to the media just about every week.
Watkins came to Florida fresh off of a 51-24 Sugar Bowl victory and at the tail end of the Tim Tebow era. This Florida team and program isn’t where it was when he walked through the door but Watkins views Saturday as an opportunity to leave on a high note.
“Just this has been a rough year for all of us,” Watkins said. “I’d like for all of us to go out and compete this last game and show the Gator Nation we still are here and that we’re going to keep playing no matter what.”
Kitchens has played in 44 games throughout his Florida career, the majority spent on special teams where he received a scare two seasons ago against Florida State. Kitchens made a tackle on special teams and lay motionless on the field. He has to be placed on a stretcher and wheeled off of the field but was able to bounce back and return to the team.
Kitchens created national headlines after Florida’s loss in the Sugar Bowl a season ago when he was the lone player to stay on the field for the alma mater, something he and a few other players did again following Florida’s loss to Vanderbilt this season.
Kitchens wasn’t able to stay for the alma mater after the loss to Georgia Southern but it wasn’t because he didn’t want to.
“No it wasn’t that,” he said. “I had a stinger during the game. I took a really bad blow to the head, so I had to get treatment. I needed to see the trainers right away.”
Kitchens might not be a household name, even among diehard Gator fans, but he’s a Gator that fans can be proud of. Win or lose, you’ll know where to find him after the Florida State game this weekend. He’ll be enjoying the alma mater one last time as a member of the Florida Gators.
What a way to go out for Solomon Patton. The senior came into the season with nine receptions but leads the team in 2013 with 39 receptions for 554 yards and six touchdowns.
Early on, it didn’t appear that Patton’s career would ever have the kind of impact that it has this season. He was a special teams staple for the better part of his first two seasons and a jet-sweep specialist for eight games last season before suffering a season-ending injury.
Patton has become the go-to guy on offense. His speed and sure hands have given all three quarterbacks that the Gators have used this season a reliable weapon on offense.
Patton and the rest of the team will be looking to end their season on a high note while also ending Florida State’s title aspirations.
“Yeah, I mean that’s definitely the plan,” Patton said. “I think that’s the plan every week, that we plan on beating every opponent that we play, and this being our last game, we definitely plan on doing that.”
The heat and soul of the Florida Gators, Easley chose to return to school for his senior year rather than leaving for the NFL with his good friends Matt Elam and Sharrif Floyd.
For three weeks, the move looked like a good decision as Easley was wrecking offensive linemen and creating for the rest of the defense.
He tore his ACL in practice leading up to the Kentucky game and that was it for his career in Gainesville.
Easley has spent most of the year in St. Petersburg where he had his ACL surgery and has been going through the rehabilitation process.
There hasn’t been another player lost to injury that meant more to the team from both a production standpoint and from a leadership role as well.
Easley didn’t leave the team empty-handed as his Chucky doll was left behind and carried into games by Dante Fowler Jr.
There aren’t many players who have as big a personality as their game but Easley’s quirky personality will remain in the hearts and minds of Florida fans forever. Whether it be the Chucky doll, eating animal crackers and talking about losses leaving a black pit in his heart or his dance moves on the football field, Easley is a player who won’t soon be forgotten in Gainesville.